Few places in the world offer hiking as spectacular as you’ll find in the Cinque Terre. The Five Towns on the Ligurian coast of Italy are linked by rail and a trail that rewards walkers with one breathtaking view after another.
The best way to get to the Cinque Terre is by train, and you can catch it from La Spezia in the south or Levanto in the north. Trains here run very frequently and the distance between villages is short. If you buy the Cinque Terre card — and you should — get one that includes rail fare in the price.
Nearly 10,000 acres of the region is now the protected Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre and the park is responsible for maintaining the trails. Sales of the Cinque Terre card help make this possible.
Plastic water bottles are no longer allowed in the park, but you can get a reusable, one-liter metal flask for one Euro. These can be filled up at the new water fountains that dispense both still and sparkling filtered water. You’ll need sturdy hiking shoes, comfortable clothes, and plenty of sunscreen for Cinque Terre hiking.
More than three million travelers hike the trails every year, so the steep, terraced trails can be packed in summer. But if you spend the night in one of the villages, you can head out early and beat the crowds.
The trail is reasonably well marked, but due to the weather, some sections may be closed during your visit.
The most popular route is the Blue Trail or Sentiero Azzurro which connects the five villages — Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. It’s also known as Sentiero No. 2. The distance is only 4-½ miles, but since the path is fairly rugged, you should plan on four or five hours. You’ll want to allow plenty of time when hiking in the Cinque Terre to savor the scenery.
The good news is that at the end of your hike, you can take the train or ferry back to your starting point.
The most challenging section of the trail is the two-mile stretch between Monterosso and Vernazza. The trail here goes up and down hill through the terraced vineyards and most hikers will need at least two hours to complete this leg of the journey. If you start the hike in Monterosso, you’ll get the toughest part over with while you’re still fresh.
On the Cinque Terre Trail
The 2-½ mile hike from Vernazza to Corniglia winds through woods and takes about 90 minutes. In places, it’s steep and narrow, with no guard rails. The village of Corniglia is above the trail. It can be reached by the 377-step Lardarina staircase. If you want to conserve energy, you can take the shuttle from the train station up to the town. Because Corniglia has no harbor, there’s no ferry service here.
From Corniglia, it’s an easy, one-hour walk along the coast to Manarola. For 5 Euros, you can cool off with a dip at Guvano Beach. The final mile of the trail is a paved walkway known as the Via dell’Amore or Lover’s Walk. Not only is this the least strenuous part of the path, it also affords some of the best views. You’ll reach Riomaggiore in less than half an hour.
Seriously fit hikers who want to avoid the crowds can tackle the High Trail, which connects Levanto with Portovenere. This hike takes eight to tens hours, but you can use one of the trails connecting the High Trail with the Blue Trail to shorten the distance. The High Trail provides amazing views looking down at the villages. Before you attempt it, pick up a detailed map from one of the park centers.
Most of the villages have a church above the town, and there are also trails leading up to them.