Corniglia, a village overlooking the Cinque Terre district
Set at the top of a spectacular sheer cliff, Corniglia is the only village in the Cinque Terre district where direct access to the sea is not available.
The vast expanse of the Tyrrhenian Sea appears one hundred metres below the cliff-top settlement. The surrounding countryside presents the green natural dimension of the Cinque Terre National Park with its terraced vineyards and olive groves.
A picturesque ascent towards the village
If you arrive on one of the many trains that travel along the route between La Spezia and Levanto, and this is recommended as an alternative to travelling by car, the Scalinata Landarina (stepped pathway) leading up to the crest awaits you. As you walk up the 33 ramps and 377 steps you will feel you are floating between the rock formation and the water.
This is how you will reach the promontory upon which the village is situated (100 metres a.s.l.), immediately entering a magical landscape.
Take your time as you walk calmly through the shady streets and alleyways, admiring the stone houses and ancient religious edifices. The Parish church of St Peter is certainly worthy of note. A striking element on the façade of the building, constructed in the Ligurian-Gothic style, is a carefully embroidered rose window produced in Carrara marble. You may then move on towards the Oratorio dei Disciplinati di Santa Caterina, which dates back to the 18th century. The panoramic view from the Sanctuary of San Bernardino is highly suggestive. Enchanted by this small village, you may decide to spend a night here at one of the smaller guest houses or you may decide to rent an apartment or a single room provided by local residents. The fact that there are no large hotels at Corniglia would appear to enhance its particular charm.
A dense maze of trails
When you plan a visit to Corniglia, you should prepare a rucksack with a decent supply of water and a few snacks and use a pair of comfortable hiking shoes. At this site you will be following a network of pathways in an entirely natural environment.
If you want to go for a swim, a good solution would be to go down to the Spiaggione, a large beach not far from the railway station, or, starting at Corniglia, you might decide to follow another pathway leading towards Vernazza and stop at the Marina beach.
You should also consider climbing up to the higher areas to enjoy direct contact with the splendid hinterland and the slopes leading down to the sea. This is the most iconic landscape of the Cinque Terre, now recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
One of the most beautiful pathways starts at Corniglia and leads on towards Manarola, another gem of the Cinque Terre, and passes through the small hamlet of Volastra.
Walking on the slopes, you will follow a route that also presents very steep sections and stepped trails. You will enjoy glimpses of the coastline as you walk past groups of fruit trees, vegetable gardens, olive groves and vineyards.
The ingenious agricultural terracing method
This is a marvellous wild zone. However, as occurred elsewhere in the world, humans found a way of altering the landscape to facilitate the cultivation of certain crops. The age-old technique, already adopted in the Middle Ages, involves the creation of terracing with dry stone walls: a typical method of the entire area between the Ligurian Sea and the Apennines. Reducing slope gradients in this way, the terraces may be covered in orchards, olive groves and the renowned vineyards which are the source of Ligurian wines. This truly natural spectacle, which will accompany you during your trekking sessions, represents a masterpiece of agricultural engineering.
Once you have returned to the village after completing a rather strenuous walk you can reward yourself with a lovely glass of wine, a delicious evening meal or a few appetising snacks.
Choose the wine shop or wine bar that suits you best, and at Corniglia it’s not hard to find a good solution. Consider the extraordinary local red and white wines which present the DOC and IGT appellations of the Cinque Terre. The dessert ritual will also be interesting because you can try the rare and very precious Sciacchetrà, a sweet dried-rasin “passito” wine produced in accordance with the criteria of the “Slow Food Presidia”. This traditional wine is produced from grapes harvested in the local terraced vineyards.
Guvano, a legendary beach with an atmosphere reminiscent of the 1970s
Before leaving Corniglia you may be tempted to spend some time on the Guvano beach. In the 1970s it was a point of reference for nature lovers and ecologists. It still retains a special charm, embedded as it is in a small bay and protected by the rocks behind it. You can arrive at the beach by sea, on a private or hired boat, or walking down along a path, which is not always easily accessible. It is still a favourite venue for nudism enthusiasts.