Since 1931, the Via dell’Amore has been the most iconic—and popular—hiking path in Italy’s Cinque Terre. Etched into seaside cliffs, the trail connects Riomaggiore and Manarola, two of the five coastal villages that make up this UNESCO World Heritage-recognized area.
Isolated villagers keen to connect with their neighbors carved out the footpath in the 1920s, when the only other route between the two settlements led over the sheer cliffs, with 600 steep steps on each side. “The construction of the path was a symbol of cooperation between communities, and of the strength of character of the people who worked together, risking their own lives,” says Gianluca Pasini, a local tour guide. There was no road for cars until the 1960s.
By the late 20th century, the “Path of Love” was attracting couples for a smooch, a stroll, and a snapshot. The easy-to-access location meant that it was by far the most popular of the roughly 75 miles of trails around the five villages, which also include Monterosso, Vernazza, and Corniglia. Day-trippers and cruise passengers flocked to the Via dell’Amore for a quick taste of the Cinque Terre’s beauty.
But the Via dell’Amore has been closed since September 24, 2012—initially after a landslide, which was then compounded by wave damage in 2018. The full trail should reopen in July 2024. An initial stretch of it, starting from Riomaggiore, reopened on July 1 for a three-month preview. Now, this lovers’ lane is only accessible via guided tours.
Here’s why lawmakers are restricting access to the iconic path and how you can still enjoy Cinque Terre without harming it.
Overtourism in a fragile area
Fabrizia Pecunia, the mayor of Riomaggiore, came up with the new plan for the 3,215- foot-long path to combat overtourism. Last year, about three million tourists visited Cinque Terre, a fragile national park. In contrast, there are fewer than 4,000 residents left in the area.
“There’s an excessive pressure on residents. We have to try to find balance. If we just go after [tourist] numbers, we’ll implode,” says Pecunia. She says that many day-trippers arrive without knowing anything about the Cinque Terre. “They turn up, take selfies, eat a gelato, and go,” says Pecunia. “Often they think [Cinque Terre] is just colorful houses.”
Contrary to popular belief, the Cinque Terre are not fishing villages. Farmers developed the area beginning in the 11th century, moving down from the clifftops as the threat of attacks by Saracen pirates decreased, and the need to transport their wine by sea increased.
At peak times, overcrowding can cause safety issues. On her phone, Pecunia has photos taken during Easter break, when tourists clogged the tunnel from the Manarola train station to the village itself.
In October 2022, the council closed Manarola’s ancient clifftop cemetery to the public after it became overrun with tourists. “They went to have picnics, models were doing photoshoots,” says Pecunia. “People were finding visitors setting up camp on the tombs of their grandparents.”
A path to responsible travel?
While Italian law doesn’t allow Pecunia to cap the number of visitors to her village, she can control entry to a specific place—like the Via dell’Amore. The path will be closed at night to prevent vandalism of the $25 million restoration project; CCTV will monitor its two entrances.
Access to the via will be free for locals during daytime opening hours. Out-of-towners can access the first 525 feet of the path until September 30 as part of a trial of the new reservation system. After securing a five euro slot online, up to 30 people can join each 30-minute, multilingual tour departing every half hour.
Guides tell the story of the project: a huge span of rock face cleaned to rebuild the Via dell’Amore; the 28,000 square feet of steel netting installed to prevent further rockfall; and the special coating on the handrails, which keeps them cool to the touch.
The Via dell’Amore reservation system is part of a larger bid to encourage more informed tourism to the Cinque Terre. The idea? Create a cultural circuit with the trail at its center. A small exhibition about the area’s vineyards has already been installed in Riomaggiore’s ancient castle; a gallery is in the works spotlighting 19th to 20th century artists who were inspired by the Cinque Terre.
Pasini, Riomaggiore born and raised, is one of the Via dell’Amore guides. He says that before the path closed, the authorities regularly had to remove trash and padlocks clamped to the railings to symbolize love. “I saw indescribable things. One couple didn’t have a lock, so they’d improvised with underwear.”
Locals aren’t happy that the trail will close at night, but for Pecunia, turning the Via dell’Amore into a museum will contextualize this world-famous stretch of coast. “We can tell the story of Cinque Terre in a different way,” she says. “We have everything–culture, history, agriculture, landscapes, the sea—it’s unique.”