The Cinque Terre area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, consisting of five villages on the very dramatic coastline of the Italian Riviera, just to the north of Pisa. Distinctive pastel coloured houses overlook harbours and beautiful sea views and are reminiscent of the Amalfi coast further to the south. Each village has its own individual features, and you’ll enjoy getting a feel for each one and choosing your favourite. Hiking the Cinque Terre is one of the best ways to explore these five villages, especially if you enjoy taking photos of the countryside and striking seaside villages.
Hiking the Cinque Terre
The villages can be reached by boat, bus, train or hiking. We chose to use a combination of train and hiking as we’d heard that part of the path was closed and wanted to make sure we visited all of the villages on our tight schedule. If we’d had the time, it would have been excellent to hike the whole path, perhaps starting at Ponto Venere and taking 3-4 days to walk to Monterosso al Mare.
You can buy a 1 or 2 day train pass (Carto Treno MS) that includes access to the Cinque Terre hiking trails in the National Park. If you don’t want to use the train, the “Trekking Card” gives you access to the National Park and lets you use the local buses in the villages. The official site with more details and up to date prices is here [Link to information on Terre Treno MS Card]. Don’t forget to stamp your tickets on your first journey before getting onto the train (yellow machines on platforms). There are regular trains running in both directions.
Summary of Walks & Tips
You can hike in either direction and in total there are 11km (7miles) of paths. The main route, the Blue Trail, is the nearest to sea level, although the elevation varies considerably along the path, only the first section between Riomaggiore and Manarola has fairly low elevations. There are some quite significant gradients on the three sections of path between Manarola and Monterosso. There is also a more adventurous path option if you prefer a higher elevation on the surrounding hillsides. It is possible to complete the Blue Trail in one day but you would miss out exploring, shopping and eating along the way. The trails can get very busy and are very narrow and “single file” in many places. Check for path closures as, when we were there, the first two paths between Riomaggiore and Corniglia were closed for long term repairs due to rock falls. There are water fountains in each village for bottle refills.
- Riomaggiore to Manarola: 1.5 km, easy, 30 minutes, also called “Lover’s Lane”
- Manarola to Corniglia: 3 km, easy, 1 hour
- Corniglia to Vernazza: 4 km, moderate, 1.5 hours
- Vernazza to Monterosso: 3.5 km, moderate, 1.5 hours
On our first day, we boarded the train at La Spezia with a one-day multi-pass (€16). This gave us unlimited access to the train, bus and the National Park along the coast between Levanto in the NW and La Spezia in the SE. It was early November so we were unsure of what the weather would do so took each day as it came.
We had decided to walk from Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza along the Blue Trail coast path. When we arrived in Monterosso the sun was out and the sea was a dazzling blue. Monterosso is the largest of the five Cinque Terre villages and has been described as a “rocky and austere village” providing “refuge for fishermen and farmers.” The village has a castle, a convent and the Church of St John the Baptist, there are also many lovely restaurants and shops along with an extensive sandy beach.
As we set out from Monterosso, we were soon removing our coats and jumpers and wishing we had worn shorts. There is quite a change in elevation via a large number of steps and we found ourselves wondering if it might have been easier to have started from Vernazza. The path follows the coast and climbs quite steeply up and down through areas with lemon and olive trees and small areas of vines. The path is well kept and, although exposed in places, there are plenty of steps and sturdy wooden handrails if needed. It was very busy and we often had to wait for people to pass but everyone seemed to be in good spirits. The walk took about 90 minutes and we were happy to arrive in Vernazza where we enjoyed a great pizza and salad for lunch at a local restaurant by the pier.
After lunch, we climbed more stairs to Castello Doria, a small monument between the village and the sea. Only €1.50 to enter and not the most amazing castle but good views along the coastline. We then decided to try some more gelato, one of our favourite flavours was ‘local lemon’ – we weren’t quite brave enough to try the basilico (basil) flavoured one!
We then jumped back on the train and decided to go straight to Riomaggiore, passing through Corniglia and Manarola, as sunset wasn’t too far off and we needed to find a good spot for photos. There is a long pedestrian subway from the train station down to the beach and from there you can explore a little way along the coast in both directions. The village stretches up from the beach with a fairly good selection of pizzerias, fish restaurants, gelaterias and gift shops. We stayed until just after dark and then took the train back to La Spezia.
On our second day, we bought single tickets (€4) as we weren’t sure exactly where we wanted to go. It had been raining heavily during the night and morning so we set off after lunch at our apartment. We started at Corniglia which is situated at the top of a hill overlooking the sea. We could have taken a shuttle bus but decided to walk up the steps to the village centre. It was still quite overcast so everywhere was fairly quiet and easy to get around, on our way up we had a look inside the Chiesa Di San Pietro Church. From the edge of the village, it is possible to see Vernazza and Monterosso to the NW and Manarola and the very edge of Riomaggiore to the SE – the complete set of the Cinque Terre villages. The grey, rough sea and skies really contrasted with the calm blue of the day before but it was good to have a different perspective and there were still plenty of good photo opportunities.
We then took the train to Manarola, a really pretty village set next to a small harbour. We walked along the covered passageway through the village centre and down to the water’s edge where some big waves were creating plenty of interest. We walked up to a viewpoint on the edge of the village by the old cemetery where the sun came out and helped to emphasise the varied colours of the village There were plenty of trains and we enjoyed the quietness of the grey, damp villages compared to the busyness of the sunny ones the day before.
Although shortened by the stormy weather, and only being a short trip, we hope our pictures still show you the beauty of why this amazing coastline has gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Perhaps giving you the inspiration to put this on your holiday list or just enjoy the photos of this beautiful location on the Italian Riviera. What experiences have you had and what would you recommend?