More than a thousand years ago settlers arriving on the coast of Liguria looked at the near vertical slopes of hardy shrubs plunging down towards the sea cliffs and decided they could make a go of farming here. Ever since, human ingenuity, strength and perseverance has been dedicated to building and maintaining stone terraces to make cultivation possible.
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If it hadn’t been for grape vines the story of farming in Cinque Terre might have ended centuries ago but by the Middle Ages the wine produced from these implausibly steep hillsides had gained a reputation among the wealthy merchants of Genoa. In the centuries that followed dukes, princes and bishops couldn’t get enough of it. Up till the 1980s harvesting the grapes still meant pickers hauling baskets of grapes up the hillsides on their backs and the younger generation were understandably turning away from farming. The Cinque Terre vineyards have been given a new lease of life by an ingenious hybrid between a monorail and a miniature rack railway imported from Switzerland by enterprising vine growers. Farming round here still demands a good head for heights but the sheer physical labour required isn’t quite so great.