Riomaggiore is the most southern village of the Cinque Terre. It was first mentioned in the 13th century. The founders of the village moved from the hills to the sea, and built 3-4-storey houses on the rocky, steep territory. The houses have two entrances, one at the front, and one at the back, usually higher up. The buildings were constructed this way not only because of the steep hills, but also for safety reasons, so that the inhabitants could escape in case of Saracen attacks.
The village was built in the valley of the Rivus Maior (river), hence the name. The river was covered, it is now running under the main street. From the main street, Via Colombo, many sets of steps lead to small alleys further up the hill. The word "carruggio" refers to the tiny, narrow back alleys that you will find all around the Cinque Terre and Liguria. The houses are built close to one another, not much sun enters the back alleys, so they are nice and cool even during the hot summer months. Riomaggiore is like a labyrinth of alleys and steps, I still get lost once in a while. I don't mind it, I actually enjoy discovering new ways to get around.
Riomaggiore is divided into two by the railway line. The area by the sea with the colourful little boats (gozzi) and the drying nets is the fishing village (borgo dei pescatori) where tourists enjoy the mediterranean sun, local fishermen take a siesta, and you can watch a beautiful sunset from small seafood restaurants. The rocky beach of Riomaggiore can also be found around here, just take the trail to the left, along the sea.
Of course the fishermen work as well, at night or early morning, and many local traditional dishes are still based on the catch from the sea. From the main street, you can get to the fishing village through the underpass, following the "Marina" sign. This is one of my favourite spots in the Cinque Terre, I just can't get enough of the view of the colourful houses on top of one another. Looks best in the morning light.
The upper part is the agricultural village (borgo dei contadini), surrounded by terraces. This is where you'll find Via Colombo, the steep main street, with lot of steps on both sides. A simple walk around here is quite a workout! The main street is full of restaurants, bars and small shops. Above the railway lines a nice piazza was created, one of the few flat areas in the village. This is where kids are running around and playing soccer after school.
Further up, near the church runs Via Telemaco Signorini, named after the famous Italian impressionist painter. The Florence-born artist discovered Riomaggiore in 1860, then later returned several times, lived and worked in the village. He created beautiful paintings about the unique landscape and the life of the local people.
The main street and the railway station are connected by a long pedestrian tunnel. Pay attention to the nice mosaics! Near the station as well as on the walls of the Town Hall you will see the murals of an Italian-Argentinian artist named Silvio Benedetto. His interesting artworks are inspired by the hard work of local farmers.
Traditionally the famous coastal hiking path, the Sentiero Azzurro (Blue path) begins in Riomaggiore. The first section – between Riomaggiore and Manarola – is called Via dell'Amore (Lover's path). The path begins near the railway station with a set of steps; you will see the "Via dell'Amore" sign. Unfortunately the Via dell'Amore is currently closed because of a rock slide, and we don't know when it will be reopened. (UPDATE: A short section between the railway station of Manarola and the bar has been reopened.)
Last time I walked down the main street of Riomaggiore, I felt it was just too busy for me. Try to arrive early before the big groups arrive. If you are staying in the village, it's worth getting up early as this time of the day you will meet locals only. Get some fresh fruit and warm pastry for breakfast, and watch the fish vendor and the old ladies chatting in the street.
Quite a few seafood takeaway places popped up in Riomaggiore during the past years. Although I am a big fan of slow food, these can be good options if you just want a quick bite and something cheaper than restaurants. Try "Il Pescato Cucinato" or "Mamma Mia!". Riomaggiore is a good choice for young people who want to go out in the evening, sit around in bars and meet other travellers. Bar O'Netto and Vertical Bar are popular these days. Of course if you walk off the busy main street, you will find numerous wonderful, quiet little streets in Riomaggiore as well. I can offer accommodations in quiet places with great seaview, so Riomaggiore can also be a good base for discovering the Cinque Terre.
If you are looking for something nice to take home, look for my crazy and funny friend Oliver who has lived in Riomaggiore for about 10 years and is selling his own paintings of the villages. There are different size paintings, smaller ones as well, easy to take home as a gift. I have one on my wall and I love it! You can usually find him in the harbour of Riomaggiore or at Punta Bonfiglio in Manarola.
The church was built in 1340 but in 1870 the facade was rebuilt in a Neo-Gothic style. The Gothic doors on the right side, the rose window, the wooden crucifix and the organ from 1851 are all well worth seeing. From the square in front of the church, you can enjoy a wonderful view of the village. I love walking up here at night, Riomaggiore is really pretty with the lights.
Not much is known about the castle that stands on top of the hill between the Rio Maggiore and the Rio Finale river valleys. According to historians, it was built in the second part of the 13th century for defence purposes. In case of attacks from the sea, the inhabitants were hiding here. During the 19th century, it was used as a cemetery. Today, it is a center for conferences, cultural events and weddings. The castle can be easily found if you follow the signs. Although you have to climb a few steps, the wonderful view is definitely worthwhile.
The oratory can be found next to the castle. It was built in the 15th century in remembrance of the plague in the village.
A museum about the origin and history of the Cinque Terre, the everyday life of locals, the real values of the area and why the Cinque Terre has become a UNESCO World Heritage site. (Currently closed.)