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Cinque Terre: Do Not Visit?

Beppe Salerno
Posted by Beppe Salerno on Jan 26, 2018 8:11:31 PM

Last week an article on CNN Travel online listed 12 Destinations Travelers Might Want to Avoid in 2018. For us, it was a very disturbing and eye-opening look at the current situation at fragile touristic sites such as Cinque Terre, on the Italian coastal region of Liguria.

The issue of Cinque Terre in particular was described in the article as follows:

The five vertiginous villages of Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera drew a massive 2.5 million visitors in 2015, leading authorities to pledge a cap of 1.5 million tourists the following year.
While this statement was later rebuked and no limits have been put in to place, the concerns about mass tourism are real.
Cruise liners regularly bring in visitors who don't spend money in the area, while the huge swathes of tourists are said to have led to more landslides and rock falls.
If you must go then...
Visit outside the summer season and go to local restaurants and businesses.
Head south to the gorgeous town of Portovenere. With no rail access, it is less enamored by tourists and is all the better for it.
Through our contacts at the Cinque Terre National Park we were already aware of the issue. They have been struggling for almost three years with the idea that limiting access was a necessity. In early 2016, the Park Director announced in a generic way - but out of the blue - that they wanted to limit access. Many newspapers and travel websites published the announcement in such a frantic manner that the Park authorities had to issue a new statement announcing that they were gathering data to decide about the best way to protect the ecosystem from mass tourism.
Click Here to See a Selection of Walking and Hiking Tours in Italy
The five villages are very tiny. the local train line and the boats docking on the minuscule harbors can create enormous problems when there is not enough physical space for everyone. Not an ideal or enjoyable situation. The five villages have a total of 4,000 inhabitants. Considering there are 2.5 million visitors with relatively low impact on the local economies, I am surprised that they haven't sunk any cruise ships with catapults!

Local politicians cite cruise ships, which drop off large numbers of people at once, as one of the biggest sources of "unsustainable" tourism. Everyone, allegedly, wants a cap at 1.5 million visitors and those visitors would have to purchase the passes (called Cinque Terre cards) in advance.

In July 2016, an English journalist and I had a meeting with the chief ecologist at the park. Amy Laughinghouse, the journalist who later wrote this piece, asked very direct questions and the park representative was caving, at first. He then understood that we were competent and interested visitors and he disclosed their plan. We were impressed to learn that on the access points and trails there were electronic heat sensors to monitor access numbers. He continued by saying that in the future - now - officials hope to use this data to inform visitors how many hikers are on particular paths in real time, and encourage them to walk during off-peak hours, such as before 11 am and after 4 pm in the spring and summer. An app now shows the most congested areas in real time.

You should probably avoid Cinque Terre by cruise ship. But perhaps, there's a better way. Consider visiting Cinque Terre, but do so - only - in a manner that is as sustainable as possible for the environment and respectful of the locals. Our hiking tour of Cinque Terre includes towns and trails outside of the park and we make every effort to walk the trails in the park when they are not so crowded.  We are also committed to working with local producers and companies, so more of your tourist dollars stay in the community. 

Read also: The Heroic Winemaking of the Cinque TerrePortofino Hiking Trails


Topics: Destinations

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