Here and there are several great spots for training a lens at the towering cliffs, tiered vineyards and other little villages that dot the Ligurian coastline, and you don’t need a map or directions ‘cause it’s pretty much impossible to miss ‘em in a town this size. Santa Maria Belvedere at the far end of Via Fieschi; the terrace behind St. Caterina; top of the Lardarina stairway; points on the Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Trail) that heads off to Vernazza… you’ll want a lot of room on your memory card. But as difficult as it is to tear your eyes away from those candy-colored houses and deep turquoise sea, don’t forget to turn around for a glimpse of San Bernardino floating high on the hilltop.
Grey skies and haze were a complication when we were there: cross your fingers for a sunny day!
In italy, la passeggiata - the little walk - is a languid stroll customarily taken in the early evening. Corniglia is so small that if you don’t slow your steps you’ll have covered her end-to-end in minutes so it's a good place to practice your promenade, regardless of the hour!
Even if you didn’t get here by one of the hiking trails, the only way to explore the village is on foot. Other than the road that rises from the trail station far below, what they call a street here is no more than a very narrow corridor where even a Vespa couldn’t go - or not without running down some hapless tourists, anyway. Winding our way through the few shadowy, stone-walled passageways one morning, a handful of tiny trattorias, shops and stuccoed guesthouses along the way, was one of the more enchanting moments of our several days in the CT.
I might suggest doing this one early or late in the day during high season: Via Fieschi (the only main street) would be an uncomfortable squeeze if overrun with day-trippers.
St. Pete’s is the other of the village’s two chapels and another bright, airy beauty. This 14th-century (1334) church rests on the foundations of a 1000 year-old chapel - traces of which can clearly be seen along the exterior north side. A stroll all the way around the outside reveals some earlier alterations made to the current structure as well.
The lacy, marble rose window above the entrance was carved by the same Matteo and Pietro da Campigna who most likely created the equally dainty window of Monterosso’s Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista. The interior is a gentle confection of pastel frescos and delicate white detailing arching over the apse and side aisles: beautiful! Rounding out the more interesting bits are a scattering of 16th/17th century artworks and a 900 year-old baptismal font.
Diminutive as she may be (around 300 residents), Corniglia has two of the prettiest churches in the CT. Oratorio dei Disciplinati di Santa Caterina graces tiny piazzetta Largo Taragio and is technically a private meeting/prayer space for a charitable fraternity (casacce) of devotees. She looks older than she is (18th century) and her treasures are few but I loved the sky-blue ceiling and airy unfussiness. Walk around the back for a nice panorama of the Ligurian Sea.
Largo Taragio is also a very nice little piazza for grabbing a sun-shaded table, a beverage, and catching the local buzz.
Corniglia is a traveler's destination because it is on La Cinque Terre, and because it is "quaint and picturesque." It was not included on our itinerary for any other reason than because it is one of those neat little places to just wander around and experience life in a small town. Other than a few other intrepid travelers, there was little going on the afternoon of our visit, perhaps due to the chill and the mist.
Pictured are a few miscellaneous scenes from Corniglia.
A friend took us to this small establishment, Enoteca Il Pirun, in Corniglia, IT. The owner was an incredibly friendly local man who treated us all as old friends. We tasted a number of different wines, all taken from the "wine bong". Each wine was accompanied with some small snack and available for us to purchase from his store. We spent a very enjoyable afternoon at the Enoteca Il Pirun and I highly recommend stopping by to anyone visiting Corniglia or the Cinque Terre.
The highlight of a trip to the Cinque Terre is a hike between the 5 villages. The distance from Riomaggiore to Monterosso al Mare is 12kms, and a lot of the trail is steep and rocky.
The walk from Riomaggiore to Manarola is the easiest. It is paved all the way, and the hardest part is probably the flight of stairs from the station at Riomaggiore up to the start of the path. Other than that the path is fairly flat and suitable for prams and high heels. This section of the trail is called the Lovers Lane. The walk from Riomaggiore to Manarola is 1km long and takes about 15-20 minutes, depending on how long you stop to gaze at the view!
The next section of the walk is from Manarola to Corniglia. This section is 3km long and takes about 1 hour. Parts of this trail are again pretty easy, but it is steeper and at times the ground is uneven under foot. The most exhausting part of this section is at the end, once you arrive at Corniglia train station. The station is located at the bottom of the hill, by the ocean, but the town of Corniglia is located on top of the hill....and there are approx 365 stairs to climb up to get up to the village!!
My favourite part of the hike is the section between Corniglia and Vernazza. This is the most scenic part, through varied landscapes - you walk through olive groves and forest, and then along the cliff edge, with spectacular views coming into Vernazza. This section is 4km long and takes about 1.5 hours to complete, though we found ourselves stopping quite a bit to admire the views - not because we were tired or anything ; )
The section between Vernazza and Monterosso is the most difficult. It is 4kms long and has lots of ups and downs and steep stairs. It is little less scenic than the others, but you do get a good view of some of the local vineyards. The beauty of Monterosso makes up for it all, plus the availability of a gelato or refreshing vino bianco at one of the many bars helps to ease those weary legs!!
The Parish Church of San Pietro stands above the main part of the village; appearing to look down on the scene below. It is considered quite unusual for the region in terms of its architectural style, which is a mixture of Gothic and Baroque. Apparently the local nobility, the Fieschi family, who commissioned the building of the church in the mid 14th century, stipulated that it be in the Gothic style, but somehow it turned out to be closer to Baroque. The exterior, with its rose window in white marble (dating back to 1351) is reminiscent of the churches we saw elsewhere such as Riomaggiore and Monterosso, but the interior is lighter and more airy than other of the Cinque Terre churches we visited. It has the three-nave Basilica plan so popular in Italy, covered by a barrel vault, and a 12th century baptismal font.
Back outside look up above the main door to see this carving of Saint Peter with two kneeling figures. It clearly is Saint Peter – after all, the church is dedicated to him, and he holds the keys to the kingdom. Yet as far as I can make out the only name in the inscription is that of “Leonardi”. I found myself wondering who this Leonardi was and why his name should be here, but I haven’t so far been able to find an answer to that question.
At the end of town, i.e. the end of Via Fieschi, you will come to the Santa Maria Belvedere, which takes its name from a church that once stood on this spot. From here there are sweeping views of the coast. It is possible to see all of the other four Cinque Terre villages from here – Vernazza and Monterosso to the north, as in my photo, and Manarola and Riomaggiore to the south. Looking inland, to the west, you can see the village of San Bernadino high on a ridge, surrounded by the characteristic Cinque Terre vineyards.
For more good views of these vineyards take the small road signposted from Via Fieschi to the marina. You’ll come to a viewpoint over a narrow inlet with the marina itself almost directly below you and steep terraced hills opposite. Photo 2 was taken here.
The eighteenth century Oratorio di Santa Caterina looks down on the Largo Taragio from a raised area to one side of the square. It looks like a church, and indeed we took it to be one, but is actually as the name suggests an oratory – the distinction apparently being that it serves as a spiritual meeting place for the various local groups affiliated with the Catholic Church but is not an actual place of worship. I really liked the ceiling above the altar painted just like the sky (photo 2), as well as this eye-catching painting beneath the central dome.
The heart of Corniglia is its main square, the Largo Taragio. Here a number of cafés have set tables under the trees and compete for customers among the many visitors. We had a delicious spumente limone at one of them – so refreshing after that hot climb. In the centre of the square is an old well, once the main source of water for the town, pumped from natural springs. There is also a war memorial and this more modern statue, which I really liked.
The arch in the photo was iinteresting, but easy to pass by without inspection. It's on the Via Fieschi, just off the main square (Largo Taragio).
Purely a guess, but the marble slab suggests this is a place where fish (maybe meat, but fish is far more likely) was/is sold. A very functional piece of architecture and (I suspect) pretty old. It's layout is almost exactly the same as the 'shops' in Pompeii. Ostia antica and so on althogh it is clearly not Roman. But if a layout works, why change it?
Some of the best long range and scenic views are from the trail towards Vernazza. To get to the best viewpoints plan on at least hiking a good 15 minutes into the trail. If you are hiking the entire trail be sure to look back a few times or you will miss these views as about 20 to 30 minutes into the trail, Corniglia will pass out of sight. While this village may not be the most picturesque of all the villages, its one of the only villages where you can get great views of the terracing and the town together.
One of the calling cards of Cinque Terre is the unique method of farming they use which is called "terracing". This method of farming is part of what makes the region famous, it also illustrates how hard the people of these villages have had to work over the centuries to forge a living in such difficult conditions. Corniglia offers some of the best views and examples of terracing, it would be worth your while to slow down and take it all in!
The streets of Corniglia are a little bit different than the other villages in that they don't go up and down the mountain, being that its on top of the mountain they are level. However the streets are more like corridors and are the most narrow of the five villages. For this reason walking through Corniglia is a real treat, you feel as though you are in a maze with yellow and orange buildings for walls!