The first time I experienced the famous Cinque Terre, the 5 lands, was in the mid 1970's. What stuck me about the villages was how they seemed untouched by time. They were full of Italians, living their lives without the intrusion of tourists.
Flash ahead several years when I returned to hike the villages with my husband and young kids. Getting off the train in Riomaggiore, headed for the trail that would lead us to the next village, the place was teeming with tourists. Or so it seemed. New York Yankee caps and Nike shirts were everywhere. Maybe it was just the current Italian fashion trend? Nope! Americans, like me, everywhere. Rick Steves' guide book in hand.
For me, that was the just the beginning of the crush of tourism for this area. Every hike in subsequent years was more and more crowded. Every village was full with more and more tourists.
Enter the Sanctuaries of the Cinque Terre. Each village has its personal Sanctuary dedicated to Mary on the hill above its respective village. And the Sanctuary Path allows you to hike all of them.
Riomaggiore- Our Lady of Montenero Manarola- Our Lady of Health
Corniglia- Our Lady of Grace Vernazzaa- Our Lady of Reggio Monterosso- Our Lady of Soviore
Similar to the hikes from village to village, the Sanctuary Path can be challenging in some areas and easier in others. And like the village paths, views along the Sanctuary Path are just as breathtaking as they wind around vineyards and perfumed woodlands offering glimpses of the sea and villages below. All without the hordes of tourists.
But the true gift of these paths are the churches of the Sanctuaries themselves. Like many churches I've seem in Italy, the outsides may seem a bit unassuming, but the insides are incredible! The first time I walked into one of these churches, I was awestruck. Like everything in Italy, the beauty grabs you and doesn't let go.