Experience the mystical side of Cinque Terre, on the Sanctuary Trail
Five enchanting coastal towns which, together, have become the symbol of Liguria, and five religious sanctuaries, each of which dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Since ancient times, Cinque Terre has been a land of farmers and fishermen, the first responsible for tilling the area's precipitous coastal terraces, the latter passing days, nights, even weeks at sea. For both, the sanctuaries represented important spiritual and geographical landmarks.
The Sanctuary trail
The "Sanctuary Trail" links Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore, the towns of Cinque Terre, and each town's corresponding site of worship.
Although it will take you the best part of a day to walk the entire length of the path, the route can easily be divided into various sections. In addition, each of Cinque Terre's sanctuaries can be reached via a considerably shorter (albeit steep) mule track, which starts in the town directly below
Whichever route you choose to follow, you can expect to find yourself surrounded by the most breathtaking of land and seascapes as you hike over the coastal ridges and skirt the tiny olive groves and vineyards, in which Liguria's delicious extra virgin olive oil, and fragrant Cinque Terre Doc and Sciacchetrà wines are produced.
Monterosso and the Sanctuary of the Madonna of Soviore
The trek commences in the town of Monterosso and, more precisely, at the end of the Via Roma. From here, head along pathway no.9 to reach the 7th century Sanctuary of the Madonna of Soviore: one of Liguria's oldest sites of worship.
Legend has it that a statue of the Virgin Mary was hidden here during the time of the Longobardi persecutions and that, when it was found a century or so later, it became the object of fervent Madonna worship in the area
Vernazza and the Sanctuary of the Madonna of Reggio
From the Sanctuary of the Madonna of Soviore, take path B8 to reach the Sanctuary of the Madonna of Reggio, built above the small town of Vernazza. The sanctuary is often referred to as the sanctuary of the African Madonna in reference to the black effigy of Mary housed within its walls.
Corniglia and the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Grace
The second section of the walk connects the Sanctuary of the Madonna of Reggio with the third sanctuary, that of Our Lady of Grace (Nostra Signora delle Grazie), which towers above the town of Corniglia. This sanctuary testifies to the presence of the 15th century Franciscan reformist, Bernardino da Siena, in the area.
Manarola and the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Health
The third leg of the walk leads to the medieval hamlet of Volastra and the fourth sanctuary, the 13th century Sanctuary of Our Lady of Health (Nostra Signora della Salute), located above the town of Manarola. This part of the route commences along pathway no.7, which begins close to the Sanctuary of our Lady of Grace, and takes you as far as the group of houses known as Case Fornacci. From here, proceed along a short stretch of carriageway, in the direction of Riomaggiore and as far as the Case Pianca junction, from where the 6D pathway then winds its way through woods and over streams, to reach the small village of Porciana, believed to be of Roman origin, and Volastra.
Riomaggiore and the Sanctuary of Montenero
The fourth and final section of the Sanctuary Trail continues from Volastra to Manarola, via a flight of ancient stone steps (wine lovers will want to can make the detour in the direction of Groppo, to visit the Cantina Sociale Cinque Terre winery).
From Manarola, walkers reach Riomaggiore, the last town on the itinerary, by way of the incredibly panoramic Via dell' Amore coastal path
From the main car park in Riomaggiore, an old mule track then leads up to the Sanctuary of Montenero from where a sweeping view from Punta Musco to the islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto can be seen.
Near to the sanctuary of Montenero, the National Park of Cinque Terre Visitors' Center offers refreshments and a mountain bike rental service, should you decide to cycle back to Monterosso along the splendid no.1 route.