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How Rick Steves and other writers may have lessened the beauty of the Cinque Terre in Italy


Overlooking Riomaggiore in Cinque Terre, Italy          Photo Credit: Suzy Guese

The Cinque Terre, or the Five Lands, in Italy once captured remarkable undiscovered beauty with its breathtaking rainbow colored towns carved into the sides of cliffs off the Ligurian Sea. However, everyone’s favorite travel nerd Rick Steves may have changed the tone of Cinque Terre, with hordes of tourists arriving every year toting Steves’ face under their arms.

Ten years ago, arriving to Italy’s famed region, Italians pointed at rental cars with the few Americans visiting the area remarking “Americani! Americani!” as if we were something of a rarity. Now the Americans, or tourists at high points in the season, may outnumber the Italians remarking “Italians! Italians!” at the sight of one native aside from the hotel concierge.

Like most beautiful places, it is easy to see why the Cinque Terre has become so popular. Italy’s Five Lands sits as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and as a national park. The five towns that make up the Cinque Terre include Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare.

In Steves’ 2001 book he remarks, “The Cinque Terre (CHINK-wuh TAY-ruh), a remote chunk of the Italian Riviera, is the traffic-free, lowbrow, underappreciated alternative to the French Riviera.” Aside from the butchering of Steves’ Italian pronunciation guide, the Cinque Terre is far from underappreciated 8 years later. Perhaps beginning with Steves, every Italy guide book writer around began advising travelers to go to the Cinque Terre.

Maybe most tourists have started to come for the hiking and not for Steves’ and other writers' many accolades given to the region. Visitors can jump from town to town all by foot, or opt to take the train in between each of the five lands. With its rampant popularity, it may be one of the few places while on vacation in a foreign country you will run into people you know from back home. If one is planning a visit, try to go in the off-season when less people make the hike and the hotel prices are about half the price.

The ultimate catch-22 of travel writers remains whether to write about untouched, undiscovered beauty or share the discovery with readers. Rick did not seem to mind sharing his find with the world, and now Cinque Terre belongs to tourists all around the world during spring and summer months. While Steves can hardly be blamed solely for this, if travelers reach Cinque Terre expect to see remarkable beauty and a Rick Steves book or two in each of the five lands.  

Looking at Riomaggiore from its neighboring town     Photo Credit: Matthew McCall


  • Ted Nelson 5 years ago

    One of the nice things about being an adventure travel writer is I do not have this dilemma. I can write about how awesome Lake Kawnippi is in Ontario, but people still have to canoe three back breaking days to get there through hords of mosquitoes and through bear country.

  • Pauline Dolinski 5 years ago

    It does look like a beautiful place. Of course, famous as Steves is, I think many places are also getting more visitors as people travel to more places, and everywhere is available on the Internet.

  • Sue 5 years ago

    Have been going to the Cinque Terra since 1994, when it was little more than a fishing village. A few tourists filtered in during the day had lunch, hiked to the next town or caught the train back to wherever. None of the hikers wanted to leave at the end of the day, because it was so beautiful. Vernazza was my favorite town, ate outside and watched the sunset every evening over the Ligurian Sea.

  • Emily Esguerra 5 years ago

    This is so true! When I went in 2005 it was hardly as commercialized as it is today. I'm afraid when my family goes next spring they won't be experiencing the same authenticity as I did.

  • Emily Esguerra 5 years ago

    Beautiful picture too!