Cinque Terre’s renowned Via dell’Amore, or ‘Path of Love,’ has since 1931, been the most prominent and crowded hiking trail in Italy. This trail is a marvel carved into coastal cliffs, linking Riomaggiore and Manarola, two of the five scenic seaside villages that compose this UNESCO World Heritage site.
This footpath was painstakingly crafted by remote villagers in the 1920s who were eager to link their communities when the only alternative path required navigating over perilous cliffs with 600 steep steps on each side. “The creation of this path symbolizes the collaboration among communities and the remarkable bravery of those who put their lives on the line,” says local tour guide, Gianluca Pasini. It wasn’t until the 1960s that a road for automobiles was established.
By the end of the 20th century, the “Path of Love” had become a popular spot for couples seeking a romantic backdrop for a kiss, a leisurely walk, or a picture. Given its easy accessibility, it quickly became the most visited among the approximately 75 miles of trails around the five villages, which also include Monterosso, Vernazza, and Corniglia. The Via dell’Amore became a magnet for day visitors and cruise ship tourists, offering them a brief taste of the breathtaking beauty of the Cinque Terre.
However, the Via dell’Amore has remained closed since September 24, 2012—initially due to a landslide, later exacerbated by wave damage in 2018. The entire trail is slated to reopen in July 2024. A segment of it, starting from Riomaggiore, was reopened on July 1 for a three-month sneak peek. Currently, the path can only be explored through guided tours.
Let’s delve into why policymakers have restricted access to this iconic path and explore how you can still appreciate Cinque Terre without causing harm.
An area under siege by overtourism
To counteract overtourism, Fabrizia Pecunia, the mayor of Riomaggiore, devised a new plan for the 3,215-foot path. Last year, Cinque Terre, a fragile national park, saw around three million tourists, in stark contrast to its dwindling population of less than 4,000 residents.
“There is immense strain on the residents. We need to strike a balance. If we merely chase after tourist numbers, we’ll implode,” warns Pecunia. She adds that many tourists visit without any prior knowledge about Cinque Terre. “They arrive, snap selfies, enjoy a gelato, and leave,” she laments, “Many mistakenly believe Cinque Terre to be just a bunch of colorful houses.”
Contrary to this common misconception, Cinque Terre is not a fishing community. It was developed by farmers in the 11th century, who descended from the cliff tops as the threat of Saracen pirate attacks decreased and the demand for maritime wine transport increased.
Overcrowding during peak seasons can raise safety concerns. Pecunia has photos on her phone taken during the Easter holidays, showcasing tourists choking the tunnel from the Manarola train station to the village.
In October 2022, public access to Manarola’s ancient clifftop cemetery was shut down after it was overrun with tourists. “People were picnicking there, models held photoshoots,” recounts Pecunia. “Locals found visitors pitching tents on their ancestors’ graves.”
A route towards sustainable tourism?
Although Italian law prevents Pecunia from limiting the number of visitors to her town, she can regulate entry to a specific location—like the Via dell’Amore. The path will be closed at night to safeguard the $25 million restoration project, with CCTV surveillance at both entrances.
During the day, locals can access the path for free. Visitors can access the initial 525 feet of the path until September 30 as part of a pilot of the new reservation system. After booking a five euro slot online, groups of up to 30 people can partake in each 30-minute guided tour in multiple languages, departing every half hour.
The Via dell’Amore reservation system is a component of a broader initiative to promote informed tourism to Cinque Terre. The strategy? To develop a cultural circuit centered on the trail. An exhibition showcasing the region’s vineyards has already been set up in Riomaggiore’s ancient castle, with plans for a gallery featuring 19th to 20th-century artists who drew inspiration from Cinque Terre.
Pasini, a native of Riomaggiore and one of the guides for the Via dell’Amore, recalls that before the closure, authorities regularly had to remove rubbish and love locks attached to the railings. “I’ve witnessed unbelievable things. One couple lacking a lock had improvised with their underwear.”
While locals may not be pleased with the nighttime closure, Pecunia believes that transforming the Via dell’Amore into a museum will provide context to this world-renowned coastal stretch. “We can narrate the Cinque Terre story in a new way,” she suggests. “We have everything–culture, history, agriculture, landscapes, the sea—it’s unique.”
National Geographic Expeditions offers various tours of Italy, including the Iconic Italy trip, which features a stop in Cinque Terre.
Julia Buckley is an Italy-based writer. Follow her on X.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about overtourism
What is the Via dell’Amore in Cinque Terre?
The Via dell’Amore is a famous hiking path in Cinque Terre, Italy, connecting the villages of Riomaggiore and Manarola. It was carved into seaside cliffs in the 1920s by villagers to create a connection between the communities.
Why was the Via dell’Amore closed?
The path was closed since 2012 due to a landslide and further wave damage in 2018, which compromised its safety. The full trail is set to reopen in July 2024.
What is overtourism in Cinque Terre?
Cinque Terre faces an issue of overtourism, with approximately three million tourists visiting the area each year, overwhelming its fragile national park and causing strains on the local population.
How is overtourism being addressed?
To combat overtourism, the mayor of Riomaggiore devised a plan to restrict access to the Via dell’Amore. The path is now only accessible via guided tours, and visitors must make reservations online.
What other measures are being taken?
The region is striving for more responsible tourism by developing a cultural circuit with the trail at its center. This includes exhibitions about the area’s vineyards and artists who were inspired by Cinque Terre.
When can visitors access the Via dell’Amore?
Locals have free access during daytime opening hours, while out-of-towners can access the initial 525 feet of the path until September 30 through the reservation system.
How can visitors still enjoy Cinque Terre responsibly?
Tourists can explore other trails in the area, appreciate its history, culture, and stunning landscapes while being mindful of its fragility and impact on the local community.