What You Need to Know Before Hiking The Cinque Terre…
- What You Need to Know Before Hiking The Cinque Terre…
- What is the Cinque Terre?
- Cinque Terre Map
- Hiking the Cinque Terre: Let me count the ways
- The Five Cinque Terre Villages
- How to Hike the Cinque Terre Trail
- Cinque Terre Trail Difficulty and Estimated Hiking Time
- Hiking the Cinque Terre Without a Guide
- Hiking the Cinque Terre With a Guide
- Hiking the Cinque Terre Challenges
- Decisions, Decisions – which Cinque Terra hike is right for you?
- Other Considerations – Before Hiking the Cinque Terre
- 13 TOP TIPS for HIKING the CINQUE TERRE
- Cinque Terre Trekking Pass Prices
Whether you’re an on-the-go traveler or an easy-going culture aficionado, hiking the Cinque Terre trail is one of the most exhilarating adventures Italy has to offer. And luckily, there’s more than one way to do it.
Imagine standing on the a hillside where clusters of rainbow-colored dwellings cling to the cliffs along a craggy sea coast. Imagine, at the base of the cliffs, sunlight glinting like diamonds off the deep blue Ligurian Sea. That is the intoxicating beauty of the Cinque Terre, five ancient villages nestled on the coast of the stunningly picturesque Italian Riviera.
The Cinque Terre hike was on my wish list long before I made my first trip. And after I managed to do the deed, I knew I would be back. I’ve hiked the sometimes challenging path between the Cinque Terre’s five cliff-side villages twice now, and I will do it again. It’s that much fun!
What is the Cinque Terre?
The region of the Cinque Terre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site comprised of five connecting villages perched on the coastal hillsides that form the Cinque Terre National Park.
Translated, Cinque Terre (pronounced cheen-quay-teara) means “five lands.” The five Italian villages are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore, all with their own special history and unique attractions.
Cinque Terre Map
The Blue Trail is the most popular of the hikes in the park and can be a bit physically demanding. On the bright side, there are more ways than one to have this amazing adventure. There are several options in each village in terms of starting points, lodging and complexities for the hike itself.
The best way to hike the Cinque Terre is to plan ahead according to your physical abilities and then come prepared. Truly, anyone, from teenagers to baby boomers to active seniors, can participate and enjoy the amazing Cinque Terre.
Hiking the Cinque Terre: Let me count the ways
The first time I hiked the Cinque Terre, I was touring Italy with three friends. We liked the idea of a DIY trip where we could travel by car and take side trips whenever we were inspired. The Cinque Terre trail was one of those. We ended up hiking part of the Blue Trail between one town and another, but also took the train between a couple towns.
My second Cinque Terre experience was with family…and a tour guide. We hiked the entire Blue Trail, which took about five and a half hours. Each experience was delightfully different and equally enjoyable.
On both treks we booked a boat ride for the return trip back to our vehicles. If we had tried to do it all in one day, it would’ve been dark before we finished. Unless you’re in super fit condition or plan to stay overnight and hike back the next day, I recommend taking the boat or train on the return trip.
Making the return trip by boat you’ll get a spectacular panoramic view of all five of the candy-colored hillside towns from the sea. A fiesta for the eyes, and whether you’re a beginner or an expert photographer, you’ll get some amazing photographs.
The Five Cinque Terre Villages
Monterosso al Mare, the northernmost town, is nestled at the center of a natural cove, which is surrounded by a small artificial reef. Monterosso is also the westernmost of the Cinque Terre villages and it’s the only one where a few cars will be seen.
The town was originally excluded from the historic hike because locals believed it was too big to be included. In 1949, the town was restored as one of the Cinque Terre villages and is still part of the hike today. The town itself is separated between the old town and the new, which was expanded to include a modern tourist resort. If you plan to stay overnight there are several hotels in Monterosso.
Attractions: the San Giovanni Battista Church, a Gothic structure that resembles some Florentine churches. Built somewhere between the 8th and the 14th century. The Giant, a ginormous statue that looks like part of the cliffs sits at the end of the promenade along the extensive sandy beach. Here, you’ll also find the Aurora Tower that was built to defend the city from frequent pirate attacks.
The town is also known for its lemons, mostly used to make marmalade and liqueurs. You’ll find both in the quaint town center that’s dotted with artisan shops, wine bars and cafes. We stopped for some gelato, and then after lunch, relaxed on the beach with a locally made Sciacchetra, a golden/straw colored dessert wine. Somewhere during the hike we managed to sample the limited production Cinque Terra DOC, a dry white wine.
Vernazza, known as one of the prettiest towns in Italy, is the fourth town as you’re heading south from Monterosso.
Vernazza is known for its elegant houses and is considered one of the World’s original fishing villages.
Attractions in Vernazza are Doria Castle, an old military fort with a fabulous view of the harbor and the bay of Vernazza. The hike from Vernazza to Cornglia is, to some, the most beautiful part of the Italian Riviera. Vernazza has the only natural harbor in the Cinque Terre, and it’s where you can catch a boat ride to get the most stunning views of the rugged coastline. The thirst-quenching beer and seafood risotto at the harborside Ristorante II Gambero Rosso are pretty awesome, too.
Corniglia is the smallest village in the Cinque Terre and is located on the Northern side.
It’s the only village in the Cinque Terre that does not have the sea lapping at its edges. Instead it’s 100m inland, with steep cliffs on the side. The town is only accessible by climbing the Lardarina, a very long staircase, (382 steps) or following a road from the station into the village.
Other points of interest: St. Mary’s Terrace, which you can reach from the village square, Largo Taragio. A short walk on Via Fieschi will get you to a terrace with a breathtaking view of all the Cinque Terre villages.
Manarola, one of the oldest towns of the Cinque Terre, is a municipality of Riomaggiore, the southernmost town in the Cinque Terre region.
Manarola is famous for its ancient architecture, including the Gothic Church of St. Lorenzo dating back to 1338, and its walking trail, the famous Via Dell ‘Amore between Manarola and Riomaggiore. The pathway has detoured recently due to rockslides between the two towns.
Riomaggiore is at the southern end of the Cinque Terre trail and is linked to Manarola via the Via dell’Amore, “Love’s Trail.”
Luckily, we were there before the rockslides. We passed through the arched gate to Love’s Trail, which skirted the side of the cliffs overlooking the sea. Above us, wire held the rocks in place and many tourists had fastened “love locks” to the wire as is often done on the famous bridges on the Seine in Paris.
The two trails between Monterosso to Vernazza and Vernazza to Corniglia run along the coast. The others between Corniglia, Manorla, and Riomaggiore go inland due to rockslides. A small portion (200m) of the Riomaggiore Via Dell’Amore path was reopened at one point, but lack of funding stalled it for a while. Be sure to check with the Cinque Terre National Park service online for up-to-date information.
Other points of interest in Riomaggiore are the Torre Guardiola, an old military fort converted into an Environmental Education School. Birdwatchers, this is the place to do it. You can also visit The Montenero Sanctuary, which is reached only on foot from Riomaggiore. The sanctuary was consecrated to the Virgin Mary of Montenero because a young woman in 790 saw the Virgin where the Sanctuary now stands.
Riomaggiore is known for its terraced vineyards and grapes used for making the famous Cinque Terre wine. Upon parking at the entrance to Riomaggiore, you’ll see hiking trails and terraced vineyards sliced into the steep hills above the picturesque town. Beginning the hike here is a breathtaking experience.
How to Hike the Cinque Terre Trail
For the best hiking experience, it’s a good idea to set a few days aside. You’ll want to explore as many of the towns as possible, relax in a quaint little café, of which there are many, and maybe swim in the Ligurian Sea. To do all that, give yourself a full day to complete the actual hike and allow another day or two for fun while there or nearby.
The time to hike from one village to another varies, depending on your fitness level and how much time you wish to spend at each point, but it’s widely recommended to start early in the day and give yourself an abundance of time. Both hikes I made were completed in one day, so if you only have a day, no worries, it can be done by even the most hiking challenged travelers.
Happily there are many options for hiking the Cinque Terre Trail. There is not just one path that connects you to all the towns, but rather an array of route options ranging in length and methods that combine hiking with traveling by train and/or boat. All the routes give access to exploring and taking in the beauty of each town.
Cinque Terre Trail Difficulty and Estimated Hiking Time
Hiking the Cinque Terre Without a Guide
My first experience hiking the Cinque Terre was with three best friends who wanted to cover as much of Italy as possible…in two weeks. We mapped out a plan for each day and rented an Alfa Romeo station wagon (yes, we actually drove in Italy). Armed with our trusty GPS and a map, we toured Italy from Tuscany to Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast.
The Cinque Terra part of our whirlwind tour began with a drive from Florence to Lucca, where we stayed overnight. Early the next morning, we pushed on to Riomaggiore, the Cinque Terre’s southernmost town. We did not use a tour guide for the hike, but we did a bit of research beforehand. The hike can be started from either Monterosso at the north end or Riomaggiore at the southern end.
We drove to the Cinque Terre from Lucca (84.3 kilometers/52 miles) to Riomaggiore where we left our vehicle in the parking area. No vehicles are allowed beyond this point. After touring the town, we hiked on the Via Dell Amore to Manarola, the next town heading north.
As mentioned earlier, each village has its charms, and we spent enough time in each to get a good feel for what it might be like to live in a place where most everything but the wine must be imported.
After Manarola, we hiked to Corniglia and from there, because one of my fellow travelers had hurt her foot earlier on the trip, we hopped the train to Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare, the northernmost town.
The train ride shortened our hiking time, but it didn’t detract from the enjoyment. It was fun to experience both the hike and the train ride, clacking along through dark tunnels, then breaking into the light and skirting along the edge of the cliffs between towns. You can get on and off the train at each village, spend as much time as you wish and then hop on again to the next village.
At one stop we bought more gelato and at another, we had sandwiches and beer. I had a fish sandwich (that looked like anchovies) on oven-fresh crusty Italian bread that was soft on the inside…exactly how I like it. I discovered later the delicious fish were acciughe di Monterosso, salted anchovies. They were superb and unlike any I’ve ever tasted.
The Blue Trail hike, on foot from Riomaggiorre to Monterosso, is the most popular and takes 5 to7 hours to complete. Those who do the entire hike on foot may want to find a place to stay the night. If you do plan to spend the night, Monterosso at the northern end is an ideal choice since it has the most lodging options compared to the other towns.
However, the number of hotel vacancies in the Cinque Terre during peak season is limited. So, it would be wise to consider staying in La Spezia. La Spezia is farther from the Cinque Terre, but offers an abundance of great restaurants and comfortable lodging.
La Spezia is not one of the five villages. It’s south of Riomaggiore (15.4 km) so you’ll need to take a train or drive to Riomaggiorre to begin the hike. (see the Ciinque Terre map below) On the plus side, you can leave all your luggage at your hotel.
Lodging in La Spezia:
- At Corner House, or River 44, you can get dorm beds in small apartments.
- Other affordable but more comfortable options are HH Il Gabbiano or Casa Macaia.
- And then another step up is the Hotel Crismar and the Albergo delle Spezie.
- At the top of the list is Hotel Genova, one of the most popular hotels in La Spezia.
Lodging in Monterosso:
- Hotel Baia – budget friendly, great location on the beach boardwalk, clean, bright rooms, some facing the sea.
- Porto Roca – four-star, luxury accommodations with private beach, restaurant/bar and panoramic views of the sea.
- Il Girasole offers clean, basic rooms, some with a view. Excellent location near beach, shopping and restaurants.
- Marina Piccola – down by the boats and the tourists, but with one of the village’s best restaurants.
Hiking the Cinque Terre With a Guide
My second Cinque Terre hiking experience was with my family and, as mentioned earlier, we reserved a tour with two tour guides. We began in Florence and instead of driving to the Cinque Terre, we enjoyed a chartered bus ride with fellow hikers. We arrived early (about 9 a.m.) at Monterosso at the northern end.
We hiked most of the way between towns, including the 382 steps and the narrow cliff-side pathway. The tour also included lunch, beverage stops, a train ride, and a boat trip back to the beginning where our bus was parked.
On the plus side: One of the benefits of doing the hike with a tour group is that everything is arranged and pre-booked. That means all you have to do is pay your money and arrive on time. You don’t have to worry about how you’re getting to and from the starting point, purchasing passes or researching the trail ahead of time.
It’s also safer to hike in numbers, so in case of an emergency you can get help. And hey…it’s always fun to make new friends. It’s part of why we travel.
Our tour guides were knowledgeable and funny and were always on hand to give us a bit of history about each town. We had an arranged lunch and also had time to enjoy each village while there. The hike itself with the tour guides took about 6 hours.
On the other side: The downside of booking a tour is that your time and route is not your own. With only a given amount of time, you’re not able to shop at leisure or change your route since you must stay with the group. My desire to take photographs kept me continually behind and always catching up with the group. It wasn’t a problem for anyone, though, as long as I was at each check point when the group was ready to head to the next town.
Hiking the Cinque Terre Challenges
I’m less than super fit, and yet I found the Cinque Terre path easy to navigate. Still, it’s important to be aware of some of the moderate difficulty challenges on the hike. If you’re hiking the entire Cinque Terre trail and begin in Monterosso, you can look forward to climbing some 382 steps on a steep incline to the village of Corniglia. This could be challenging for some, especially those with physical challlenges. Also be aware, here and everywhere, cobblestone streets and uneven terrain can catch even the most sure-footed off guard.
I missed climbing the steps on my first hike since we began at Riomaggiore and took the train through that area. However, I had the opportunity to do it on my second trip a couple years later. I found it not all that difficult if you take your time. Hikers older than we are managed to get to the top with relative ease. The key is to stop for rest at various step points on the way.
Another area known for its difficulty is between Monterosso and Vernazza. While these areas are moderately difficult, it doesn’t mean the hike is only for the young and fit. People with all types of challenges have made the hike. But unless you plan to take the train through each village, you should at least be comfortable navigating narrow paths, steep inclines and steps.
Decisions, Decisions – which Cinque Terra hike is right for you?
Your decision should depend on what type of Cinque Terre experience you’d like to have…the time available…and your fitness level.
While tours do cost extra money, they are definitely worthwhile if you want a hassle-free experience. If you’re the anxious type, a tour can take away the unease of not knowing what to expect or where to go.
Our tour guides at WalkaboutFlorence Tours explained a bit of history when we reached each village, and they also gave us tips on what to see while there. A tour saves you the time you’d use planning the trip and purchasing train and boat tickets.
Some might like to stay a night or two in one or more of the cities and then leisurely hike the trail over a period of days. Others may wish to take the train the entire way and return on the boat. Super athletes could have a burning desire to jog the trail both ways. More power to you!
Other Considerations – Before Hiking the Cinque Terre
Consider how fast or leisurely you’d like to do the hike. When on a group hike with guides, time is an issue since they have a schedule to keep for lunch, the train ride, and returning by boat. I stopped many times to take photographs, so I was constantly catching up with the group. I had to ensure I didn’t get too far behind because of the group’s schedule.
That said, my passion for photography, had a secondary benefit because every time I stopped for a photo I had a chance to rest.
If you’re comfortable getting around on your own and booking train rides, the hike is fairly simple to arrange yourself. Cinque Terre Maps are readily available in each village and the various routes are well-marked. Otherwise, there are many tours and guides for the hikes from almost every city in Italy.
Happily, there’s more than one way to hike the Cinque Terre Trail. There are different types of trips for everyone. You can even start the hike in one manner and decide to change things up in the middle.
As for me, I like not knowing what to expect, and I like figuring out where to go and how to do it. But whether you’re freelancing the hike or doing it with a tour guide, it’s a phenomenal experience.
The magnificent scenery and infinity vistas are beyond stunning. I recommend taking the boat at least one way. You’ll see the entire Cinque Terre coastline from the sea, and I guarantee you will not be disappointed.
Each town is unique and offers something for most every taste. The residents are delightful, interesting, and friendly. There are beaches and vineyards, plenty of restaurants, lots of shopping, ancient architecture, storied town history and natural beauty that defies description.
13 TOP TIPS for HIKING the CINQUE TERRE
Whether going it on your own, or hiking the Cinque Terre with a guide, it’s important to be well-informed and well-equipped.
- Wear comfortable hiking shoes that you’ve broken in prior to the trip. Good ankle support is important. I love my Skechers hiking shoes, but even a sturdy tennis shoe with good sole grips will work.
- Water is a must. If you don’t have a camel backpack to fill with water, pick up some bottled water beforehand to avoid high tourist prices.
- Some hikers like to use a hiking stick, which can help us be more sure-footed when the terrain is a bit uneven or rocky.
- Bring along a wide-brimmed hat to keep from getting sunburned. My favorite is the Columbia Bora Bora II hat. It’s lightweight, totally blocks the sun, wicks away moisture, flattens without ruining its shape, and it’s budget friendly.
- Even if it’s cloudy, you can still get burned. Sunblock of 30-50 SPF is recommended.
- Include basic first-aid items in your backpack.
- Go during off-peak season. Tourist season is too hot and too crowded. Early to mid-May and mid-September to early October are the best. I hiked mid-May and in late-September and, both times, the weather was uncharacteristically warm.
- If you’re going when the weather is hot, bring an extra T-shirt for a change when what you’re wearing gets all sweaty. Our GoRoamin travel-inspired Tees are perfect for those super hot days.
- Bring good-quality polarized sunglasses. The sun reflecting off the ocean can make it even brighter and that’s hard on the eyes. I prefer the glasses that restore true color. The natural beauty of the Cinque Terre must be appreciated.
- Begin early in the day. It will be cooler and you’ll have more time to relax and enjoy each village.
- There are different levels of passes and, now…finally, you can save time in line by purchasing your passes directly online from the Cinque Terre National Park.
- Pick up a Cinque Terre Map of the hiking trails at the entrance, and get a train schedule even if you don’t plan on taking the train. You never know when your plans might change due to bad weather or something else.
- And don’t forget your camera. I brought my Nikon DSLR and a couple lenses, but I quickly tired of the weight and wished I’d brought my pocket-sized Canon SX720HS instead. The smaller camera produces professional quality photos, has a 40x optical zoom, manual settings, and shoots in 1080p HD video. I think it’s one of the best budget cameras for travel out there. Many trekkers simply used their phone cameras, but in the sun it’s sometimes difficult to see what you’re shooting.
Cinque Terre Trekking Pass Prices
- The cost is €7.50 for the all-day Trekking pass that covers all the trails but not the train.
- Lower prices for children. A 2-day €14.50 Trekking pass covers all trails and the shuttle buses, but not the trains.
- A Cinque Terra all-inclusive Treno Multi-service card includes all of the above plus trains, including the train from La Spezia.
I hope sharing our Cinque Terre experiences will inspire you to hike the awesome Cinque Terre trail, regardless of how you do it. Just decide what method will work best for you and go prepared. Each of the treks, with or without a guide, by foot, train, or boat, is an adventure you’ll never forget.
It could be you standing on the historic hills of the Cinque Terre looking out at the deep blue Ligurian Sea.