The Italian Riviera: Places to Explore

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Monterosso al Mare

It's the combined draw of beautiful beaches, rugged cliffs, crystal-clear turquoise waters, and plentiful small hotels and restaurants that make Monterosso al Mare into the largest of the Cinque Terre villages (population 1,800) and also the busiest in midsummer.

From the train station, heading west, you pass through a tunnel and exit into the centro storico (historic center) of the village. Nestled into the wide valley that leads to the sea, Monterosso is built above numerous streams, which now have been covered and make up the major streets of the village. Via Buranco, the oldest street in Monterosso leads out to the most characteristic piazza of the village, Piazza Matteotti (locals pass through here daily to shop at the supermarket and butcher). This piazza also contains the oldest and most typical wine shop of the village, Enoteca da Eliseo—stop here between 6 pm and midnight to share tables with fellow tourists and locals over a bottle of Cinque Terre wine. There's also the Chiesa di San Francesco, built in the 12th century, and is an excellent example of the Ligurian Gothic style. Its distinctive black stripes and marble rose window make it one of the most photographed sites in the Cinque Terre.

Fegina, the "new side" of the village (and site of the train station), has "modern" homes ranging from Stil Liberty (art nouveau) to the early 1970s. At the far eastern end of town, you'll run into the private sailing club sheltered by a vast rock (carved with an impressive statue of Neptune). From here, you can reach the challenging trail to Levanto. This trail has the added bonus of a five-minute detour, which leads to the ruins of a 14th-century monastery. The expansive view from this vantage point allowed the monks that were housed here to easily scan the waters for enemy ships that could invade the villages, therefore alerting the residents to coming danger. Have your camera ready for this Cinerama-like vista.

Though having the most nightlife on the Cinque Terre, thanks to its numerous wine bars and pubs, Monterosso is also the most family-friendly. With its expanse of free and equipped beaches, extensive pedestrian areas, large children's play park, and summer activities, Monterosso is a top spot for kids.

The local outdoor market is held on Thursday and attracts crowds of tourists and villagers from along the coast to shop for everything from pots, pans, and underwear to fruits, vegetables, and fish. Often a few stands sell local art and crafts, as well as olive oil and wine.

Monterosso has the most festivals of the five villages, starting with the Lemon Feast on the Saturday preceding Ascension Sunday, followed by the Flower Festival of Corpus Christi, celebrated yearly on the second Sunday after Pentecost. During the afternoon, the streets and alleyways of the historic center are decorated with thousands of colorful flower petals set in beautiful designs that the evening procession passes over. Finally, the Salted Anchovy and Olive Oil Festival takes place each year during the second weekend of September.

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