One of the most enjoyable trips for my wife and me when we were living in Varese, Italy was to head south to the Ligurian Coast to enjoy the seaside villages of Cinque Terra. The trip would often start with a speedy drive down the Autostrada, around Milan, continuing south across the poplar-dotted Lombardian plains, and then through the tunnels and around the mountains as the highway carved its way through the Apennine mountains. Finally we would leave the highway and head down the steep and winding road to the sea, through terraces of lemon and olive trees, finally arriving at the village of Monterosso al Mare. Once there, we would quickly make our way to one of the seaside restaurants for a much anticipated lunch of seafood antipasti and other frutti di mare concoctions. We would then leisurely wander around the town shopping for gifts for friends and family. Occasionally we would hike the path over to neighboring Vernazza, and then take the train back, in time for another amazing meal. The scenery is amazing, with picture-perfect Italian fishing villages surrounded by rugged cliffs juxtaposed with olive and lemon tree covered terrazzas. Cinque Terra stands for five lands and it consists of five villages, Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore, all joined by rail and hiking paths.
Here are a couple of sites which provide background info and things to do at this Unesco world heritage site, starting at the source, with the site put together by a tourism consortium based in Cinque Terre itself, www.cinqueterre.it/en/index.asp.
Another great place to head on the web is to www.about.com where a good overview is provided together with links to other resources.