One of the best parts about living in Florence is that you are centrally located in Italy, which means nothing is very far away. Rome is an hour and a half by high-speed train and Venice is just two hours away. Likewise, the incredible Cinque Terre (or five earths) is only a 2.5-hour drive (or train ride) from Florence. Last Sunday, I decided to take advantage of this and spent my day hiking in the Cinque Terre.
The Cinque Terre sits on the northwest coast of Italy in Liguria (a.k.a. where pesto was invented). The area is made up of five adorably colorful villages perched high above the sea on rugged rock cliffs. Fishermen initially settled in this remote region for safety and security. Over the centuries they developed farming and building techniques that allowed them to thrive in this rather harsh and steep environment.
Thanks the remoteness of the villages and difficulty reaching them, the towns remained untouched by modernity and were poorer and more traditional for much of the twentieth century (you will not find a single chain restaurant). Recent tourism, however, has brought a plethora of travelers to the region, revitalizing the towns' economies and overcrowding the one train that connects the towns.
Despite this, the Cinque Terre remains a magical and enchanting place steeped in tradition. If you love nature and hiking, I suggest spending a couple days in the area. The five towns are connected by hiking trails and the entire area was declared a national park and UNESCO heritage site (click here for information on the park and ticket information).
Unfortunately, in 2011 mudslides devastated the region and not all of the trails have reopened. Fortunately, what I think is the best and most challenging trail (it is not for the faint of heart) is the hike from Vernazza (the fourth town) to the last and largest town, Monterosso. It is an invigorating trek full of incredible views.
Visiting the Cinque Terre is also an easy day trip for those that don't want to devote several days. FlorenceForFun runs affordable day trips every Friday and Sunday in the summer and throughout the fall. I have to be honest, if you are looking for some serious beaching, I would advise heading to the Amalfi Coast. The beaches in the Cinque Terre are gorgeous, but small and rocky. I much prefer the beaches down south. Instead, I prefer to play to the region's strengths and spend my time hiking, exploring, and eating pesto!