Hiking Cinque Terre: a Stunning View of the 5 Lands of Italy’s Ligurian Coast
Have you been to the colorful Cinque Terre in Italy’s north central Ligurian Coast? It’s a stunning part of the country and uber popular with tourists. If you’ve been there, you might also think that last sentence is a gross understatement — the Cinque Terre can be very crowded depending on where and what time of year you go. Yes, it’s one of the most visited places in all of Italy and the entire world and high on every traveler’s Italy bucket list. But traveling here doesn’t have to mean you’re stuck in the tourist trap. Hiking Cinque Terre is a perfect way to escape the crowds.
Hiking Cinque Terre
There are ways to get off the beaten path and see the quieter side of the Cinque Terre.
How? By getting on the paths of the Cinque Terre National Park and hiking between the 5 towns. The quiet space between the towns is as natural as the locals who tend their vineyards and gardens here. This region is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and gives you a much different, more authentic view of what the Cinque Terre is all about. Each of the Cinque Terre villages - Riomaggiore, Manarola (our favorite place to stay), Corniglia, Vernazza, and Montorosso al Mare - are uniquely quaint and colorful but there's a lot to see outside the villages from high up in the hills overlooking them. Most visitors stick to the scenic hotspots in the towns then head back to the bus - don’t be that tourist. Get away from the fast pace of tour groups overrunning the towns and experience firsthand what slow travel is all about. Get out and explore! Even if you’re here on a day trip from Florence or Tuscany, you can still hike (or walk) one of the shorter trails then take the train back to where you started. Trains are always a great back-up plan for getting around the five towns quickly. Here's more on using the Cinque Terre Pass.
Before You Go
Hiking Map - If you don’t have a hiking map of the Cinque Terre hiking trails before you arrive, no worries. You can pick one up at trekking shops or tourist information offices around town. Or download an excellent map here.
What Condition Your Condition Is In - You may be wondering about whether you have what it takes to hike the Cinque Terre. Before we went the first time, it was hard to imagine what the Cinque Terre was like let alone how the hiking was. Only you know how physically fit you are, but here's our middle-aged opinion: we're not hardcore trekkers, but we do love hiking. We thought the trails were moderately challenging in places, easy in others, and left our knees wobbly. But nothing that some gelato and an hour's rest couldn't cure!
Cinque Terre Hiking Trails
There are basically two trails which connect the 5 towns of Cinque Terre. Most tourists hike the Blue Trail, or the Sentiero Azzurro. This is basically the Cinque Terre coastal trail as it runs right along the sea. It’s easy and doesn’t take very long between towns. But - and there’s a big “but” here - several sections of this trail are closed.
The trail from Riomaggiore to Manarola, the Via dell’Amore or Lover’s Lane, has been closed since 2012 due to landslides.
The section from Manarola to Corniglia has been closed as well since 2011, also due to landslides.
Manarola to Vernazza
Time: 2-3 hours on average
We decided to enter the Blue Trail in Manarola, bypass Corniglia, and go as far as we could before making our way along the many transverse paths on the hillsides to reach the high path to Vernazza.
This wasn’t at all bad when we started out in the morning, some inclines here and there but that was it. Vineyards cut into the steep hillsides along with olive orchards made us wonder how all this gets farmed. Stone walls and small stone outbuildings for tools and overnighting by farmers are here and there and it all looks very old. The views along the trail are so breathtaking you can see the town you just came from and the one you're hiking to in the same view.
Early October there gave us crystal clear but very warm days and endless views. We were well heated up when a lone cafe appeared out of nowhere on the trail, just in the nick of time. You literally won't miss it as you have to walk right by it. We had been following the trail markings and signs for Vernazza and there was no indication of a juice cafe. Or maybe there was and we just missed it. Stop here for some fresh squeezed lorange juice and to take in the view over Corniglia and the sea! We topped off our water bottles to finish the trek to Vernazza.
Even with the stop at the cafe, it took us longer than the indicated hour and forty-five minutes to get to Vernazza. It was closer to two and a half hours. But we made it in good shape and it was time to get something to eat. After a late lunch and some wine we had no intention of hiking back to Manarola. That Cinque Terre train card we bought for our trip meant an easy 10 minute train ride back to Manarola.
Manarola to Corniglia via Volastra (Upper Trail)
TIme: 3 hours on average
We hiked the upper trail from Manarola to Volastra to Corniglia in the spring, entering the trailhead along the Vineyard Trail that skirts the top of Manarola, where we went up the steep stone stairs that go straight up to the top of the hill. This vineyard is unique with its many Christmas themed displays created by an elderly local named Mario Andreoli. I’d love to see it lit up at Christmastime. At the top, now overlooking Manarola, we turned right and started onto Path 6 toward Volastra as noted on the hiking map. This trail was more challenging than the Manarola to Vernazza hike.
Olive orchards dotted the woodlands overlooking the sea and the climbing became steep, though the trail was well-groomed and marked. Part of this trail winds through the SciaccheTrail, an organized foot race through the hills held annually in the Cinque Terre.
Volastra is a quaint and charming town at the top of the mountain although following the trail would lead you to believe there isn’t much there. Where the trail comes to a T there is a small market on the corner selling cold drinks, water, fresh fruit and sandwiches. And there's a beautiful church where you can stop and sit on the bench for a nice break.
We filled our water bottles and picked up Path 6d. The short walk through that part of the town meanders past small stone houses with gardens and bright flowers everywhere. This part of the trail proved to be equally as challenging as the first but there were narrow flat stretches through vineyards looking directly down at the sea with spectacular views. We watched boats cruising back and forth along the coast. They looked so tiny from up there. It gave us the idea to take a Cinque Terre boat tour at sunset to look up from the water at where we had been standing. In places we were over 1000 feet above sea level. Path 6d actually turns away from the coast for a bit taking you up and down through some hardwood forests. It’s all well-marked.
From Path 6d we turned onto Path 7a to Corniglia, at last. Other hikers coming our way warned us about the downhill section of the trail with loose rocks and eventually, some very uneven steps. It was a long downhill and footing was tough in places. Talk about finishing-off our already tired legs.
Just like that, the trail ended and we arrived in Corniglia, rubber-legged and hungry. It had taken us three hours and we were beat. Following the sidewalks down took us right into the center of town, where there are public restrooms, cafes and souvenir shops lining the narrow streets. We found a nice place with outside seating under some very welcome shade trees for a well deserved lunch. We were already hungry and the aromas that filled the air made us even hungrier. The menu had some of our favorites along with many traditional local food specialties.
We were exhausted and sitting there was sooo relaxing. Of course we had to stop for a gelato as we made our way to the train station — how could we not? We reached the stairs to the train station - there are nearly 400 steps down, though at least there are actual steps this time - much easier than the uneven rocks along the trail!
What to Bring: Take plenty of water, camera gear, sunscreen, and an insect bite stick. We came across a spider nest along the trail I wouldn't have wanted to step on!
Footwear: If you are hiking and not doing a dedicated trek, a good pair of cross-trainers or tennis shoes will be fine. Flip flops or street shoes are a very bad idea.
Hiking poles aren't necessary but may help save your knees.
Check to make sure trails are open before you go.
Heavy rain can cause some trails to be closed due to slippery conditions.
Getting to the Cinque Terre
The best way to get to the Cinque Terre is by train from Florence or Pisa. Many people take a day trip from Florence to the Cinque Terre though it’s worth much more time than just one day. Trains run from Florence to Pisa, then Pisa to La Spezia, and finally La Spezia to the 5 towns. It’s 3 legs of train rides and worth it if you only have a day. But we recommend adding on 3 days in the Cinque Terre after exploring Florence.
Where to Stay in Cinque Terre
There's a wide range of accommodations and price-points in the Cinque Terre, and while it’s not the most expensive place to visit, the Cinque Terre and this part of Italy can be expensive to visit given its isolated location. We prefer Manarola and have always based ourselves there, but you'll find travelers who prefer one of the other towns just as much. So if you're not yet familiar with the towns here are some of our favorites. Be sure to book early if you'll be visiting during "the season".
Hotel Villa Argentina - Only a 10 minute walk from the train station and just as close to the beach is the Hotel Villa Argentina, very popular for its excellent breakfasts and stunning views of the Ligurian Sea. Check availability and rates here.
Creuza de Ma - A very unique hotel right on the sea, Creuza de Ma has 4 terraces, a solarium, two gardens, a heated hot tub and 2 outdoor showers. This is an incredible property just steps away from plenty of restaurants. Find the best rates and availability.
Hotel Marina Piccola - If you want to be in the center of town and just steps from the main action, the Hotel Marina Piccola is the place to be. Located on the water, the rooms are so comfortable with plenty of space for everyone to move around - a rare quality in many renovated buildings along the Cinque Terre. The ristorante is top-notch though it's so close to many good restaurant and bar choices. Highly recommended. Search for rates and availability.
B&B Cá de Lelio sits high above town with a great view of the sea. They say they're located in "the center of town" which is not the case, but if you're OK with walking some steps to get there, it's a great place to stay. The property was refurbished in 2016 and it shows - well-done, cozy and comfortable. We really like this place for its amenities, contemporary styling, and very nice Italian breakfast. For availability and rates, check here.
La Polena has a great location with just a 1 minute walk to the beach and steps away from shops and restaurants. The front desk is staffed all 24 hours.One of the best values in Vernazza. Check availability and rates.
Hotel Gianni Franzi is a restored hotel in the center of town near the Doria Castle. Terraces with beautiful views of the sea. Close to the beach, marina, and train station the property also includes an excellent restaurant and bar. Check rates and availability.
Monterosso al Mare
Albergo Stella della Marina is on a quit street minutes from the beach, train station and town center. A very nice breakfast buffet is included and there's a rooftop terrace for sunning or just relaxing with the sunset. Check rates and availability.