The mayor of the two southernmost villages, Riomaggiore and Manarola, has put out a call for local residents to take turns guarding Manarola's cemetery and ensure that “no one can use the site for picnics, selfies, panoramic photos or other inappropriate and disrespectful activities”.
Mayor Fabrizia Pecunia has already ordered the graveyard to be kept locked after losing patience with visitors drawn to its scenic location atop a rocky outcrop, just off the coastal path that links five picture-perfect villages perched on a protected strip of Italy's north-west coast.
“We tried everything: we put up signs, reminded tour guides, we thought we could rely on good manners – there was nothing to be done,” she told Il Secolo XIX earlier this month.
“Personally I don't think anyone should need reminding that in a place of remembrance, a sacred place, you can't have a picnic or go trampling over tombstones to take photos. But evidently that's not the case and we will have to take firmer measures to ensure respect,” Pecunia said.
While the mayor acknowledges that selfish behaviour isn't limited to tourists, the Cinque Terre attract millions of visitors each year, some of whom inevitably forget their sense of decorum when trying to get the perfect shot of one of the most photographed parts of Italy.
Residents tell tales of people climbing on cemetery walls to get a better view and sunbathing or snacking amid the graves, despite a sign at the entrance – in multiple languages and with illustrations – explaining that such behaviour is forbidden.
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Vineyards above Manarola. Photo: Olivier Morin/AFP
It's just one example of the strain that mass tourism places on the Cinque Terre. While she hasn't witnessed bad behaviour in Manarola cemetery personally, travel planner Emanuela Raggio tells The Local, she has heard complaints from nearby winegrowers about visitors intruding into the vineyards that line the hills and ruining crops by brushing against delicate grapes.
“The villages are very nice, of course, but too famous now. People are really single-minded on the five villages and this creates a huge problem – in my opinion, it’s a matter of culture, of bad tourism,” says Raggio, whose company, Beautiful Liguria, aims to promote responsible, sustainable tourism in the region after the massive development of the past 30 years.
“Our main job is to pull people from Cinque Terre towards other places [in Liguria] – even if it’s not easy because we have this powerful brand and we have to exploit it, but then put people in other places,” she says.
The Cinque Terre isn't alone in struggling to balance the needs of its locals and environment with tourists. Several of Italy's most popular destinations are beginning to take measures against mass tourism, with Venice resorting to turnstiles to control the crowds in its historic centre and the island of Capri considering doing the same.
Rome deploys extra police to watch over its monuments in the busiest summer months, Florence hoses down church steps to deter tourists from snacking on them, while security guards in Pompeii are on constant alert for visitors damaging its archaeological treasures or even trying to steal them.
Turnstiles in central Venice. Photo: Andrea Pattaro/AFP
Meanwhile visitors can help ease the tension by venturing off the beaten path and saving visits to the best-known destinations for outside the peak summer season – and most importantly of all, by being considerate guests.
Here are Emanuela Raggio's top tips for visiting the Cinque Terre the right way.
Don't just drop in, get your photo and leave – especially on a cruise ship. “These are not places to be experienced in that way… You have a very small square that will lose any charm if you are there with 200 people.”
Be prepared to walk, and take advantage of being on foot to explore the nooks and crannies. “If you go a bit aside from the main ways you can find beautiful corners in the villages.”
Support local businesses, and not just souvenir shops. For instance, visitors can also tour – with permission – the terraced vineyards that help protect the coastline's glorious hills from erosion, as well as buying the wine they produce.
Take the path less travelled, literally. Aside from the famous Blue Trail that many visitors take to hike between the five villages, there are other paths higher up or beyond the classic route. “Go beyond the Cinque Terre, because there are also beautiful places half a kilometre away from there with the same charm and half the tourists.”
- Consider travelling with a local. “We usually suggest to travel with a guide,” says Raggio, “even if maybe they don't look like places [where it's] worth hiring a guide, because we don’t have museums or any big monuments – but it’s very important to be able to be in the right place at the right moment, and not to be in the wrong place with 500 people from a cruise ship.”
Photo: Catherine Edwards/The Local