If you ever get tired of life, bypass the therapist and immediately head to Cinque Terre! Here five crazily constructed fishing villages, set amid some of the most dramatic coastal scenery in the world, ought to provide enough to bolster the most jaded of spirits and has earnt it a Unesco World Heritage status site since 1997. Sinuous paths tempt the antisocial to traverse seemingly impregnable cliff sides, while a 19th-century railway line cut through a series of coastal tunnels ferries the less brave from village to village.
Rooted in antiquity, Cinque Terre’s five villages date from the early medieval period. Monterosso, the oldest, was founded in AD 643, when beleaguered hill dwellers moved down to the coast to escape from invading barbarians. Riomaggiore came next, purportedly established in the 8th century by Greek settlers fleeing persecution in Byzantium. The others are Vernazza, Corniglia and Manarola. Much of what remains in the villages today dates from the late High Middle Ages, including several castles and a quintet of illustrious parish churches.
Buildings aside, Cinque Terre’s unique historical feature are the steeply terraced cliffs bisected by a complicated system of fields and gardens that have been hacked, chiselled, shaped and layered over the course of nearly two millennia. So marked are these artificial contours that some scholars have compared the extensive muretti (low stone walls) to the Great Wall of China in their grandeur and scope.