Among cultivated terraces, and dry stone walls, heroic winemakers, and ancient traditions… Discover the most authentic Cinque Terre

No caption is needed to identify its location: The Cinque Terre. Each year over 2.5 million people visit this beautiful area. 2.5 million people! It’s no surprise. The 5 villages that make up the Cinque Terre are absolutely stunning.

The red tower house in Riomaggiore’s harbor is iconic

cinque terre riomaggiore
The red tower house in Riomaggiore’s harbor is iconic, photo by Karin Mallory

Pastel-colored buildings stack upon one another on hillsides that plummet to the sea. Unfortunately, too many visitors stop here: in the villages. In high season they are wall-to-wall tourists.

Little do visitors realize that the hillsides, rich with history and even better—solitude—are waiting to be discovered just a bit further afield.

Before tourism, the Cinque Terre was a community of farmers

Terraces of the Cinque Terre
Terraces of the Cinque Terre, photo by Alessandra Spairani

In the 11th century, locals moved down to the sea and built homes. They began the daunting job of transforming forests and steep slopes into cultivated terraces, constructed dry stone walls and planted grape vines, olive trees and vegetables. Farming was a way of life, necessitated by isolation. Italians call wine growers in the Cinque Terre “Heroic Winemakers” in reference to the physical intensity of their lives. In the past men and women carried grapes down the hillsides in baskets on their heads!

Heroic Winemaker in Cinque Terre
Heroic Winemaker in Cinque Terre, Photo by Alessandra Spairani

I’ve helped with the harvest and can tell you with absolute certainty that maneuvering the heavy baskets up and down narrow, precarious stone steps for short distances is enough of a challenge! A monorail system installed in 1980 is used to help the wine growers transport grapes and equipment up and down the hillsides. Other than this trenino (little train) wine growers are operating as they have for the past hundreds of years.

Dry stone walls create terraces providing a system of support that to this day keeps the Cinque Terre from washing into the sea. As you can imagine, it takes a lot of work to maintain these walls. The walls, muretti a secco in Italian, are an engineering masterpiece.

muretti a secco
muretti a secco, photo by Alessandra Spairani

The traditional method uses no cement to hold the stones which are strategically placed together like a giant artisanal puzzle. They are humble by nature, majestic in their simplicity, and vital in their role of preserving the Cinque Terre.

The wine growers of the Cinque Terre are the only people responsible for maintaining these walls and the work involved is staggering.

Grapes & Heroes: The Wine Growers of the Cinque Terre

Grapes & Heroes: The Wine Growers of the Cinque Terre
Grapes & Heroes: The Wine Growers of the Cinque Terre, photo by Alessandra Spairani

During the 2018 harvest an idea was born: Grapes & Heroes. A social action crowdfunding campaign to help raise funds to offset the financial burden for four wine growers in the Cinque Terre. 100% volunteer, and 100% a labor of love. The goal of the campaign: tap into the millions and millions and millions of people who love the Cinque Terre.

Grapes & Heroes: The Wine Growers of the Cinque Terre
photo by Alessandra Spairani

Ask for their support, and in exchange, offer fabulous and one-of-a kind “perks” to thank them for their contribution including:

  • The opportunity to “live like a local” in Riomaggiore for 9 nights. Days are a combination of time in a cantina helping to make the revered dessert wine of the region: Sciacchetrà, the vineyards maintain the stone walls and free time to explore on your own.
  • A full day helping to maintain the dry stone walls
  • Private hikes
  • Panoramic picnics (where your mode of transportation to the top of the hillside is that monorail I was talking about …. a big deal as it is typically only used by wine growers!)
  • Custom designed t-shirts
  • Photography and postcards
  • Gigi travel guides from Italian Fix
  • Wine … obtaining wine produced in the Cinque Terre from anywhere outside of the Cinque Terre is extremely difficult! This is a very big deal!
Cinque Terre Wine
Cinque Terre Wine, photo by Miriam Rossignoli, via Flickr

How do I get involved?

Follow this link to the Indiegogo campaign.

Until our launch date, clicking on it will bring you to our landing page. As soon as we “go live” the same link will bring you directly to our campaign page. We go live on February 14th … for just 40 days! Funds raised will be divided equally between four winegrowers: Riccardo Fino, Davide Bordone, Heydi Bonanini and Alessandro Crovara.

They will be used to compensate laborers and trained wall-builders as well as help offset the high cost of bringing stones to the vineyards by helicopter. The added bonus of the campaign: illuminating the important role the wine growers play in maintaining the walls …. and therefore the region itself. And to inspire visitors to venture beyond that beautiful red tower house and find the true Cinque Terre.


Author: Karin Mallory

I have loved the Cinque Terre since my first visit in 2007. Captivated by the combination of hillsides and sea, it was love at first sight. A chance encounter with a wine grower on that trip prompted me to switch gears, abandon my plans of hiking from village-to-village, and spend time helping in his vineyards instead. I help in the cantina and vineyards whenever I can and return to Italy regularly with my travel company, Karin Mallory Presents: Intimate Trips to Italy.




Cover image: Photo by Alessio Maffeis on Unsplash