A colourful collection of five fishing villages along with their rugged hills and coastline form the Cinque Terre national park on Italy’s west coast. The Cinque Terre is one of the most picturesque UNESCO world heritage sites in the world and a must see for any traveller.
The first sign of development started in the area in the 11th century and part of its beauty and a major drawing card today is that it remains untouched by modern developments. The streets are small, cobbled and winding and the buildings are a tight jumble of technicoloured terraces, an absolutely amazing place to wander around.
The best way of travelling to the Terre is definitely by train. Just two and a half hours from Florence and an hour and a half from Pisa, trains depart quite regularly throughout the day and are cheap. You can also drive, however there is next to no parking within the Cinque Terre towns themselves and it would probably be best to leave the car at La Spazia and catch the train or a taxi across.
Walking the Cinque Terre
The five towns are Monterosso el Mare (north-west), Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggorie (south-east) are all connected via beautiful trails snaking their way through each town and along the coast. When visiting the area many people choose to break up the walk into 2-3 days spending time in each town and catching the train between them. However when we visited in July 2016 we decided to hike the entire length of the Cinque Terre in one day.
The day we arrived in Riomaggorie we discovered that the entire coastal trail was closed due to rain the previous night and a storm warning for that day. During heavy downpours, which are quite common in the summer months, the steep sloping hills of the Cinque Terre can become landslide central and too dangerous for hiking. Luckily when we took to the trail two days later we were able to pass without hassle.
We began our walk at around 8:50am at Monterosso and finished in Riomaggorie at around 4:30pm, nearly 8hrs from top to bottom. This was due in part because for some years now the coastal path between Corniglia to Manarola and Manarola to Riomaggorie has been closed and currently at the date of this post to our best sources it is still closed. But don’t be deterred! This doesn’t mean that there is no walking route between the towns, on the contrary there are many, all you need to do is take the higher ground up through the hills. Going through the alternative routes is a lot harder than what you may have planned for going along the coastal path and do only accept this challenge if you are of a good fitness level. In parts the incline is very steep and continues over a few kilometers and there are lots and lots of stairs. That being said the views from these trails are astounding and the path is almost void of people, leaving you to enjoy the Cinque Terre in a unique crowd free environment.
Monterosso el Mare
A beach front town and the most northerly of the five. If you are here to experience the Cinque Terre at a leisurely pace, then staying here would be ideal as the beaches provide plenty of space to relax. To join the trail, go south from the train station, walk towards the waterfront then turn left. The coastal path to Vernazza is an easy hike however there is a lot of uneven uphill ground so keep in mind if you have any knee, hip or back problems maybe reconsider the walk all together as this is the easiest portion of the routes when the coast path between Corniglia and Riomaggorie is closed.
Walking between Monterosso to Vernazza you are treated with one of the most beautiful sights on the Cinque Terre as you turn a corner and peak down upon the town of Vernazza. A small harboured town which juts out into the Mediterranean it houses a mixture in bright red, yellow and blue buildings. The harbour is full of restaurants which breath delicious smells of authentic Italian cooking and provide numerous shade umbrellas to sit under and enjoy the sights, smells and sounds. To rejoin the trail make sure you keep heading up the main street away from the harbour and keep your eyes peeled for the small signs which can be hard to spot.
The halfway point for the majority of travellers and unlike the rest this amazing little town sits perched on the edge of a cliff plunging down into the sea. Higher than a lot of the other towns you can walk through the streets and up to the viewing areas to get amazing views of the surrounding terraced vineyard and the Med below. Here the streets are very narrow and winding with many gelaterias and pizzerias providing an opportunity for a snack or two. If you decide to stop for lunch, a sit down meal in a restaurant it will set you back about 20EUR otherwise a slice of pizza may only be about 4EURO.
It is from here that the coastal trail is closed so be sure to have a map and decide on a trail as there are a few diverging ones and again keep your eye out for the path signs. Heading towards the train station will take you to the beginning of the closed path which you don’t want unless you’d like to walk down and then back up the sum 380 steps from town to the train station. Keep heading up as it is here you will need to go up and around through the terraced vineyards (home to Cinque Terre wine – DOC white wine – delicious!) to get to Manarola.The vineyards are amazing and a different experience to what most people will have along the coastal trail.
This town feels the most secluded of the five as you stumble upon it almost out of nowhere walking down from the vineyards. It has a wonderful main road which snakes all the way down to the sea as it follows the course of a stream. Walking down past small houses with windmills and local shops, the noise of the sea and people slowly grows. It’s not until you turn left into what appears to be a main square and down some steps you realise you’re now in the main street leading straight into the ocean.
The trail here rejoins about halfway down to the harbour and will be on your left (east) as you walk down towards the water. Again it can be hard to spot so keep your eyes peeled.
As the coastal “Lovers walk” is closed in this section again you have to clear the hill separating you from the next town. This way is not easy and involves some rope climbing along the way so mind your step.
Finally the most southerly of the towns and personally my favourite, it holds a secret little beach that curls around the edge of the cliff next to the harbour. Fishermen spend their days casting rods from the many rock ledges, and the aroma of seafood and pizza fills the air. It has many delicious restaurants so make sure you try the seafood, you won’t regret it! At the top of the town on the cliffs edge is also a cute little chapel which provides an eagle eye view of the town below.
If you are walking between all of the towns definitely make sure that you are wearing correct footwear! The path can be slippery and does consist of mud and dirt so sorry to say guys but thongs/flipflops/jandles are out. Wear a hiking boot if you’ve got one or joggers/trainers at least.
Check the weather a week or so before you go and keep checking for updates. Trails can be closed within a few hours notice if it has been raining or is forecast to rain so beware if you have your heart set on walking the trail you may need to stay a few days to better your chances.
Most guides will tell you it takes 5hrs to walk the entire length, however we got lost quite a few times as signage was not abundant. Be sure to factor in time for wandering around and stoppage in each town.
To walk the coastal path (designated as the blue trail on most maps) and enter the national park you will need to purchase a Cinque Terre pass which you can purchase from the tourist information centers in each town usually located at or near the train station. There are checkpoints along the coastal trail with park rangers checking tickets as you walk by and if you are caught without a ticket there can be an on the spot fine. However to enter the towns themselves and walk the other hill paths you do not need the pass.
In terms of accomodation any of the towns are great but we stayed in Riomaggiore as it was the largest of the towns it had more available at a cheaper price compared to the others. We ended up booking with a small hotel through booking.com and loved our lace which even had a small terraced roof at the top which we sat sitting the Terre’s famous wine.
The Cinque is expensive so prepare yourself, you will be able to save money though if you book in advance or avoid the summer months which is peak season. Being situated in Italy, the currency is the Euro and with the surge of tourists the majority of businesses will accept credit card. However the smaller restaurants and bars will only take cash. ATMs do exist within the towns but are usually few and run out of money quite quickly in peak seasons so taking cash with you is recommended.
For the Guys – A solid pair of Salomon off road runners will provide enough grip and yet still breath on the hotter days, a good hiking backpack like the Osprey stratos 24L will allow airflow between your back and the bag preventing you from sweating more than you need to.
For the Girls – If you have had trouble with your knees in the past, then a pair of LEKI Trekking Poles will give you increased support on this walk particularly with all the uphill sections. A pair of North Face zip off pants will also provide you with options as they will keep you warm in the early morning, and after zipping off the bottom part, will keep you nice and cool in the hotter part of the day.
When it comes to getting the best photos we use an OMD-EM5 Olympus camera with a landscape lense as it is lite weight and water resistant, great for hiking in humid weather. We also love to use our Go Pro whenever we get a chance.