[Update 2016: The entire trail was open when I hiked it many years ago, but closures do happen so be sure to check conditions before you go.]
If you have time to only do one thing in the Cinque Terre, Italy, I’d highly recommend it be this: hike the path that connects the 5 towns.
Most of us have limited vacation time (Americans especially), so it’s always a good idea to prioritize your activities. We arrived in the Cinque Terre with nothing but a few days, but our must-do list was thankfully short so we could make sure to do it all.
Vernazza –> Corniglia
Since we were staying in Vernazza, we began our hike there. You’ll need to purchase a ticket that allows you to access certain parts of the trail, which is part of the “Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre”, or Cinque Terre National Park. There was a little booth about a 5-minute walk up the hill from Vernazza where they sold the tickets, though you can get them other places like the train stations. Prices vary based on a lot of things like when you go & how old you are.
Here’s what our ticket looked like (that’s Vernazza in the background).
We started out around 10am and it was already warming up quite a bit. This part of the trail weaves in & out of the woods and up & down the hillside.
The first town we came to was Corniglia, to the southeast of Vernazza. It sits up on the cliff, as opposed to down by the sea. Here’s out first peek at the town.
We spent some time exploring Corniglia & had ourselves a little gelato as we walked around (yum!). It’s a super quiet little town with excellent views of the sea from above.
Corniglia –> Manarola
The second leg of the hike takes you more along the rocky coastline past some buildings that look to be no longer used.
The drop off is rather steep in places & you’ll be glad they put a fence up (though I’d say not to put much faith in it by leaning on it too heavily – doesn’t look super secure!).
There are some areas along the way where you can walk down designated paths or stairs to reach the water. Love that color of the sea.
Here’s a photo of Manarola. It’s similar to Vernazza in that it’s perched up on a cliff, but Manarola also has easy access to the sea (unlike Corniglia which towers above the water with no easy access).
Manarola –> Riomaggiore
The path between Manarola & Riomaggiore is I think the shortest of them all and the most well-paved.
Along this stretch you’ll walk on the Via dell’Amore, the Way of Love. It was apparently a meeting place for boys & girls of the two towns of Manarola & Riomaggiore back in the day.
Here’s an inside view of the reinforced walkway. Apparently it’s popular with graffiti artists, too.
First look at Riomaggiore, the southernmost town of the Cinque Terre.
Don’t forget to look down along this portion because the rocks formed such an interesting pattern. They’re layered like a bunch of vertically stacked pancakes.
Riomaggiore –> Monterosso al Mare
Now that we reached the end of the line, we had the option of 1) hiking all the back or 2) riding the train to the beginning, Monterosso al Mare. We chose the latter.
The train ride was about 20 minutes and delivered us to the “newer” section of Monterosso al Mare (there’s an old town & new town separated by a little peninsula).
By this time it was about 2pm so we were getting hungry since our gelato in Corniglia wasn’t super filling. :)
We don’t normally opt for the touristy-looking restaurants, but this one had a pretty good view of the sea and we were famished. Between the two of us, we split the caprese (tomatoes & mozzarella cheese) & a sandwich. Not the best tasting ever, but at least we left full and had some good people watching during the meal.
This photo shows the rocky peninsula that separates the new town, which lies on the other side out of sight, and the old town seen here.
Something to note, if you come to the Cinque Terre expecting to find beaches everywhere, you’ll be disappointed. The only town that really has a sandy beach is here in Monterosso al Mare (though places like Vernazza have teeny tiny ones that don’t really count). But while we didn’t go in ourselves & you’ll be competing for space on the beach, it sure looked like a decent option here.
Monterosso al Mare –> Vernazza
After lunch, we proceeded on the Cinque Terre trail to finish off the final leg. I think this part of the trail was probably the most difficult (very hilly) & had the sketchiest drop offs (super narrow path without fences in places). And when you have to pass people, it certainly gets a little tricky!
Quite a bit of the trail does not skirt the sea and you’ll be winding around the area’s hills. But it’s still very pretty!
As you near Vernazza, you’ll start to catch glimpses of the town from above. You can really get some fabulous shots of Vernazza from points along this part of the trail.
As I mentioned above, if you only have time for one thing in the Cinque Terre, I’d suggest you do this hike between all 5 towns. It gives you such a splendid overview of each town & some of the views along the way are outstanding.
Parts of the trail may be a bit difficult for some & those afraid of heights might not want to attempt it, but I personally found it delightfully rewarding and well worth it.
I’m not sure how long most people take to do this, but it took us about 7 hours, including time to explore each town and sit down for a meal in Monterosso al Mare. We do tend to be pretty fast hikers, though, so I’m guessing it would take longer for most people – especially if you want to spend a decent amount of time in each town.
Time: ~7 hours (with stops in each town & lunch in Monterosso al Mare. It really varies greatly on how fast you hike & how much you want to explore along the way, but it took us most of the day.)
Distance: ~7 miles (~11km)
Before we went to the Cinque Terre (& even now as I’m researching it again), I found it a bit difficult to locate a good, detailed map of the trail. So I’ve done my best to mark the trail myself using Google maps and approximate the route (though please don’t take it as 100% accurate because I’m sure it’s not :). I do hope it helps, though!
View Hiking the Cinque Terre, Italy in a larger map
If you go, I hope you enjoy it as much as we did! If you’ve been, what were your favorite parts of the hike?