Images from the NatGeo archive evoke the timeless atmosphere of coastal Italy

Riomaggiore, one of the festively-painted Cinque Terre of northwestern Italy. 

Photograph by Getty Images / National Geographic Creative
Published 22 Jun 2021, 16:17 BST

The aroma of bergamot drifting on warm air. Vine-draped pergolas framing views of a rustic town climbing cliffs, deep-set in the angle of a bay. The bluer-than-blue waters of the Mediterranean. The whine-and-whizz of Vespas. Rustic fishing ports brimming with salty sailors, side-by-side with sharp-dressed fashionistas. Place names with that dreamy cadence: Amalfi, Sorrento, Solerno, Capri. Streets of teetering buildings bridged by hoisted washing lines, where Espresso bars spill lively chatter out of their open doors. And amongst it all, the unshakeable feeling that you’re about to round a corner and bump into Marcello Mastroianni looking at you over the top of his sunglasses. 

(Read National Geographic's travel guides to Italy.)

A woman picks wine grapes on the steep hillside looking over Manarola. The climate and terrain right outside the towns make the region ideal for cultivating hardy coastal grapevines. 

Photograph by Howell Walker / National Geographic Creative

Whatever your impression of coastal Italy, one thing is certain: you probably have one. There are few locations so fully-formed in the minds of so many, thanks to its style-setting charisma, photogenic charm and a seductive ambience that hijacked top billing in movies such as The Talented Mr Ripley, Stromboli, La Strada, and Il Postino.

It’s now revisited anew with Disney and Pixar’s Luca, which timelessly renders the environs and cultural touchpoints of Italy’s coast – albeit with added sea monsters. (The Walt Disney Company is majority owner of National Geographic Partners.)

(Related: these undersea beasts inspired fear, superstition – and searches.)

Nostalgic disposition

Director Enrico Casarosa, who grew up in Genoa, notes Luca’s setting was inspired by the towns in north-west Italy which he spent his summers. “The Cinque Terre is really close to where I grew up. These five little towns are lovely—stuck in time, really, because they’re so small.”

Left: Top:

After dark, street musicians play under a streetlight in Portofino, 1965.

Right: Bottom:

In the port town of Positano, a man prepares to dine on zuppa di pesce – fish supper – he has caught, 1959.

Photograph by Winfield parks / National Geographic Creative(Left)(Top)
Photograph by Luis Marden / National Geographic Creative(Right)(Bottom)

The Cinque Terra – collectively a national park comprised of the fishing villages of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore – won UNESCO World Heritage Status, along with the islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto.

On the organisation's website, their qualifying virtues are spelled out: “The layout and disposition of the small towns and the shaping of the surrounding landscape, overcoming the disadvantages of a steep, uneven terrain, encapsulate the continuous history of human settlement in this region over the past millennium.”

Fiat cars descend a winding hillside road towards the town of Riomaggiore, part of the Cinque Terre region, 1963.  

Photograph by Howell Walker / National Geographic Creative

Built of steep, vine-clad slopes, stepped towns building from the sea and spectacular views, to the outside observer, the region is quintessential coastal Italy distilled – along with the subtleties that make this region, and those like it throughout Italy, so evocative. According to Luca’s Casarosa: “You really need to go and feel the textures, the light, water, the age, the flavours.” 

Gallery: images of the Italian coast from the NatGeo archive

Luca is streaming exclusively on Disney+

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