Welcome to Bonassola, a small town situated in between mountains and sea. Although Bonassola can be explored in around two hours due to its size, it is saturated in a relaxing atmosphere, where there is plenty to soak in, such as the vineyards and olive groves in the local area. However, it is not just Bonassola that is like this; the start of the Cinque Terre lies only a 10 minute train ride away, in Monterosso al Mare - the Cinque Terre area is identified and protected by UNESCO, meaning it is a world heritage site. Originally, the area was occupied by the Romans, but was settled by people in the 9th Century, where Saracens ruled over the land; eventually, local tribes occupied the land in the 11th century. However, it was only in the 15th Century where the area got the ‘Cinque Terre’ name from locals. But, let’s get stuck in to what makes up the area.
Monterosso al Mare is the most Northern of the Cinque Terre villages, and also has the most flat land of the five villages, meaning it is the easiest to walk around. In terms of places to see, all the Cinque Terre villages have relatively similar characteristics, but Monterosso stands out due to having the only sandy beach throughout the area. On top of this, it is the only village that has a sandy beach, which children will particularly enjoy in the warm climate in spring and summer, and mild climate in winter. Throughout Monterosso al Mare are numerous artisan and wine shops, both in the old and new areas of the village, to make sure you get enough understanding of your surroundings during your time there.
Closest to Monterosso al Mare is Vernazza, which is considered to be the most tourist-oriented village, and also arguably the most beautiful. The harbour in Vernazza is the only secure point to get to land from water in the whole of the Cinque Terre. In the past, this harbour was seen to have great political and economic significance, since it was associated with the Republic of Genoa. Although the whole village flooded in 2011, it has bounced back and still has a thriving, community-driven spirit. Examples of what to visit include the Church of San Francesco, and a small hamlet known as San Bernardino, which embraces a similar spirit to Vernazza itself, although it is closer to the next island, Corniglia.
Corniglia is identified as the only village in the Cinque Terre that is rural, rather than maritime. Subsequently, there are more difficulties getting to the village, meaning the only ways to get there are by car, foot or train. Whilst awkward to get to, visiting Corniglia is well worth your time. In particular, the Church of St Peter, a Gothic era church, has been standing since 1334, and provides a remarkable backdrop of history of the local area. The spirit of the town has also been preserved, where the old town centre only has narrow streets to walk down. On top of this, the Lardarina Stairway that contains 382 steps is also a sight to behold when you reach the top.
Next to Corniglia is Manarola, which is arguably the oldest village in the Cinque Terre. First built in 1261, it is similar to Corniglia, in that there is Gothic and Baroque influences, like the Church of San Lorenzo, built in 1338. Manarola is the start of the Via dell’Amore (Lovers’ Lane) walk to Riomaggiore, a two kilometre walk that is renowned for going through the hard rock face of the cliffs between the towns. Although picturesque and quaint, there are entrance fees that have to be paid, to upkeep the preservation of the area. Finally, the most southerly point of the Cinque Terre is Riomaggiore.
Riomaggiore dates back to around the 13th century, and is known as the southern entrance to the Cinque Terre. The town consists of three parts: the railway station, where the Via dell’Amore starts, the wharf, containing a rocky beach, and the old town. Visiting the Castle of Riomaggiore and the Sanctuary of Montenero are prime examples of the cultural atmosphere of the town, dating back to the time when the town was originally founded. The town is one of the most balanced when it comes to relaxing, as well as soaking up the culture of the Cinque Terre in rich, exquisite detail.
Why explore Bonassola...
After being isolated for so long, the Cinque Terre villages complement and piece together the history of the area in such great detail. Through wonderful architecture, community and food/drink, it would be difficult to miss out on any village there, since there is so much on offer.