Cinque Terre (The Five Lands)

The area of interest

The Cinque Terre form one of the most unspoilt areas of the Mediterranean and one of the most extended areas in Liguria. They are a kingdom of nature and wild scents maintained as in the past. It is a landscape unique in the world where man and nature live together in harmony since the beginning of time.

To visit the Cinque Terre means to visit five villages suspended between sea and earth, clinging on to cliffs and surrounded by green hills; it means to know the history of whom, for centuries, has fought against difficult land but it also means to taste the results of this millenarian struggle and in particular wine and products.

To visit these villages means also to learn about the culture of the dry-stone walls and of the vineyard, of the fishermen and of their fishing nets, of the steep valleys and of their paths. Who visits the Cinque Terre can choose between a dive in the sea or a hike on the hills, between a walk in the narrow alleys called “carruggi” or a boat trip, a pilgrimage to a sanctuary or a seafood lunch.

Five villages one after the other, facing the sea where the asperity of the earth has hardened the life of the people. This area of Liguria (also called Riviera di Levante, where Portovenere and Levanto are the ideally “doors” of the Cinque Terre), which covers a rocky and steep coast of 15 kilometres from Levanto to La Spezia, is an atropical territory, which means that it is different from the neighbouring areas because of the modifications carried out by the people to the original nature of its surface. Five millenaries stories with a common destiny: an exhausting, difficult and hard life, and only today some kind of redemption due to its tourist destiny that brings the five names around the world.

The “Cinque Terre“, where “Terre” (lands) stands for maritime medieval villages, have become one of Italy’s main tourist attractions during the last years. The visitors from all over the world program trips, inserting at least one day to discover these five magic villages situated over the rocks near the sea.

Today the five villages maintain many ancient parts, and they exist in a situation of isolation which guarantees quietness and peace in a spectacular environment which keeps them unique. The local borrows work to keep harmony between the requirements of the local people and the savings of the natural and artistic beauties.

The “collaboration” between the Cinque Terre‘s sea and mountains is able to form a unique and suggestive landscape: the mountains, which reach up to 815 meters, descend suddenly towards the sea, from which they are 500 to 2,500 meters away. And that part of the sea, which lies in front of the Cinque Terre, from the sounding to the surface, gives hospitality to a wide variety of animals and plants. This is also the reason why it has been inserted in the “Santuario dei Cetacei” (“cetacean sanctuary”) as an international protected area.

It is interesting to point out that the Cinque Terre have been declared human world heritage by the UNESCO

The wine

Vineyard above the sea at Cinque TerreThe fame of the Cinque Terre is largely due to its products, the dry white wine, simply called ‘Cinque Terre’ and the ‘Sciacchetrà’, a prized dessert wine made from prime grapes dried to the point of holding only a few drops of sweet juice.

A colourful addition to the Cinque Terre products is ‘limoncino’; a dessert wine made from steeping lemon peels in pure alcohol and then added sugar and water to make a fragrant and fresh liquor. The lemons, another famous product of the Cinque Terre are prominently on display in the many ‘limoneti’ (lemon groves) and at the annual Lemon Festival held each year in Monterosso during the season of Pentacost.

The “Sentieri dell’Uva” (Grape Routes) are still as they once were with fig trees planted in strategic positions to give shade during breaks from work, agaves planted to mark boundaries, to line the footpaths along steep, stony steps and to indicate the rail terminals of the recently installed monorails which are the only vertical structures emerging from this seemingly completely, horizontal landscape. Many dry stone walls support this terraced landscape.

The large wicker baskets of grapes (corbe) are arranged along the “pose” (little walls, as wide as tables, built solely for this purpose). These include Albarola (Trebbiana), Biancorotto, Bruciapagliaio, Piccabon (Pizzamosca). To make white table wines the following are used: Fiore di Bosco, Rappolungo, Fogiaccia, Ruspara, and Sesagra. Baskets full of Magnagra (Albarola), from which the famous Black Sciacchetrà is made, are handled with extreme care and set to one side.

The Cinque Terre grape tracks reach down to the sea. In the past, people used to anchor small fishing boats called “gozzi” immediately below the terraced vineyards. Baskets laden with grapes were then lowered from above into these small boats which then sailed round to the otherwise inaccessible village.

Nowadays this method is nothing but a distant memory but by visiting the Cinque Terre you are still able to sample some of the most prized wines of the world that have been created by centuries of backbreaking experience.

Wonderful food

When grapevines and olive trees cover the hillsides, wine and oil are a must on our tables. They prove excellent companions for the salted anchovies of Monterosso served in olive oil as well as the many specialty fish dishes, authentic gastronomic delights.

The cuisine of the Cinque Terre almost perfectly conserves the characteristics of yesteryear; the respect for the flavours and fragrances of the primary ingredients.
Troffie is a kind of pasta made from chestnut or wheat flour and is one of the forefathers of modern and more sophisticated pasta. Its condiment is still ‘pesto’ sauce; an original Ligurian sauce made from basil leaves, extra virgin olive oil, grated cheese, pine nuts, and marjoram.
Tagliatelle, a broad handmade pasta, is used with sauces that contain mushrooms, cabbage and potatoes, beans, chickpeas or sometimes with pesto.
The fundamental elements are repeated and interchanged to create different flavours.
The vegetable pies, prepared with a stuffing containing borage (borago officinalis) and other local herbs that grow spontaneously in the Cinque Terre during the end of winter, artichokes, Swiss chard, zucchini, potatoes, and leeks are combined with egg and ricotta cheese or with stale bread soaked in milk or béchamel sauce (depending on each family’s traditions), parmesan cheese, Italian parsley, and marjoram. The piecrust is very thin, because flour was a very precious commodity.

Rice was an elegant dish, obtainable only from outside towns. With it, a rice pie was made, following a recipe that is still used today. In Monterosso this rice pie was made even more delectable by adding a bit of dried mushrooms to the filling.

Egg ‘fritatte’, or flat omelettes, were eaten frequently. Today the frittata has rediscovered as a tasty antipasto dish.

Another important dish on the tables of the Cinque Terre population was the ‘cotoletta di acciuga’, anchovies stuffed with a breadcrumb based filling and then fried. The ‘frittelle di bianchetti’, fritters made from tiny newborn anchovies or sardines were also highly appreciated. Following the seamen’s gastronomic traditions, other dishes included stewed cuttlefish, stuffed calamari and spiced octopus.

Oregano is very important in the local cuisine. It is often added to fish dishes but it is mainly used by the inhabitants of La Spezia to enhance the flavour of tomatoes. Oregano is picked in summer at the edge of the woods and tied together in little bunches to dry in the shade. The dried flowers are put into jars and stored for later use.

The history of Cinque Terre

The history of the Cinque Terre, five small fishing villages situated on steep cliffs, goes far back in time. The name “Cinque Terre” dates back to before the fifteenth century but the history of the coast on which the small villages are located dates far back. The primitive man lived in this stretch of land, approximately 18 km long, between sea and mountains and proof of this are the antique remains, such as bones and prehistorical instruments found.

The ancient Romans conquered this area Continue reading