In a travel guide that I recently picked up the other day described one of my favorite places, Riomaggiore, as a tangle of houses leaning against each other like a bunch of drunken sailors, or something like that! Even so, that describes the first impression of Riomaggiore, particularly if you are arriving by boat.
Starting from the south, on the rocky Ligurian coast, this non-resort town is considered to be the first of the 5 hamlets that make up the Cinque Terre (5 lands) region of Italy. Perched precariously on a hillside leading down a steep edge of jagged rocks to the sea below, this tiny town in Northern Italy has a mystic and magic all its own.
And if you are tired of the thronging crowds of large, more popular destinations in Italy, then, Riomaggiore and the other towns of The Cinque Terre are the places to rest your weary bones. The atmosphere of this historical fishing hamlet is both peaceful and calming. Yes, the world has discovered the Cinque Terre, but it is still not nearly overrun with enthusiastic tourists as a city like Florence or Rome.
A little history on the name: At one time, a major river ran through the valley that is now know as Riomaggiore . local dialect river is “rio” and major is… you guessed it, “maggiore”. Today, this river ravine is paved over (same as all the rivers that once ran through these five towns). When the river was in existence, the town sported romantic arched bridges that connected the two sides of the community.
Now, those bridges are replaced with more modern roads. But, don’t think that ends the quaintness of the first stop in Cinque Terre. It has many delights that you can only find while on foot, or taking a bus up into the hills, or an elevator ride that takes you to the top of the town.
Making the trek to the top of the town is well worth it. You’ll be treated to spectacular views of the ocean and you can visit the church, perched high above or take some time to look at the murals of heroic fisherman and grape growers of the region on the walls of the city hall, painted by an Argentinean artist named, Silvio Benedetto. It’ll be the part of your trip to Italy that you’ll remember as the place you could take a break and not feel like you were missing out on anything.
Cinque Terre and the other four villages that make it part of the “five lands,” Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso have so much to offer a traveler of Italy. Between the food, the culture, the history and the amazing sea views along the trails, you’ll find plenty to do and come away with some wonderful memories. But whatever you do, go to this beautiful place, respect the locals and enjoy all that these “five lands” by the sea have to offer.