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From National Geographic Traveler Nov-Dec 2010

The cluster of seaside villages known as Cinque Terre—Five Lands—burst onto the travel scene a decade ago to become one of the most visited attractions in Italy. Travelers might reasonably expect choking traffic and tawdry souvenir shops, but “the Cinque Terre still look like Italy did a hundred years ago,” says sustainable-development authority Ed McMahon. “The towns are as beautiful, if not more beautiful, than anywhere along the Mediterranean Sea.”

What happened? How did these towns defy the conventional wisdom that popularity inevitably dilutes the appeal of a destination? The answer lies in a mix of geography—the steep, rocky coast that the towns perch on has afforded them a natural seclusion from the rest of the mainland—and savvy development.

Only two narrow, cliff-hugging roads lead to the coastal villages, which limits access—a feature that locals have chosen to keep. Most visitors arrive by train or boat, or on foot along hiking trails, which reward walkers with views of vineyards, terraced farms, and seascapes. The villages feel like a pedestrian Shangri-la, free of the perils, fumes, and honks that accompany car traffic.

Recognizing and capitalizing on this natural advantage, the communities have carefully safeguarded the qualities that make them special. Zoning regulations are clear and enforced: No large-scale or modern-looking developments are permitted. Checking into a hotel or dining out often means meeting a local family. And while tourism pays the bills for most residents, you still see fishermen mending their nets and farmers tending their fields.