Last summer we spent a few weeks travelling around Italy including an idyllic 5 days in the Cinque Terre hiking, swimming, eating and enjoying ourselves immensely. This beautiful spot along the Italian Riviera lies to the west of La Spezia in the Liguria region and is a world heritage listed site. It’s a “must-see” for anyone visiting Italy in my humble opinion.
Riommagiore – the village we stayed in.
I’ve previously written about the stunning 5 villages that make up the Cinque Terre however one of the main attractions of this region is the picturesque hike that takes you from village to village. Sentiero Azzurro (Light Blue Trail) is the name of the walk that connects the five different villages.
Rewarding views the whole way along the Cinque Terre trail.
We did this walk over two days, although I must admit we got waylaid a few times by the crystal clear ocean and delicious pizzas and gelato that were calling our names. We ended up walking one section of the hike the different direction than most and going up hill the whole way… but I’ll get to that later. Let us begin at the beginning!
You can start the walk from anyone of the villages as they are all connected. There is also a local train that stops at each village so you can head direct to Riomaggiore (the most southern village) or Monterosso al Mare (the most northern village) and walk in either direction you choose. The hikes get harder as you go further North so most people leave from Riomaggiore, stopping for delicious sustenance along the way.
Just outside of Monterosso al Mare – the most northern village.
How long the walk takes varies greatly depending on whether you stop in each village for a wander around, if you feel inclined to cool down with a dip in the ocean or how distracted you get by the mouth-watering food and gorgeous villages along the way (like we did).
If you’re wondering if you can hike the Cinque Terre in one day, then YES this is definitely possible. It will take you about 6 or 7 hours depending on how fast you’re going. Don’t forget sunscreen and a water bottle!
The swimming spot we got distracted by for a few hours – fair enough really right?
Like I said, we got as far as Vernazza the first day we did the hike and by then it was getting late and dark as we had spent all day eating and swimming between hikes. We decided to get up early the next day and do the hike from Monterosso back to Vernazza then spend some time in Vernazza exploring. Great idea except it’s all uphill from Monterosso to Vernazza!
Locals heading for a swim.
However if you do the walk from start to finish with just short stops along the way it should take you about 5 hours. Start early, particularly if you are there in summer as it gets incredibly hot with the sun beating down on you and you can be walking for a couple of hours in some parts.
Admittedly we did the walk in flip flops because we are Aussie’s who never take them off in summer but walking shoes would probably be a bit more comfortable! Take PLENTY of water, bug spray, sunscreen and your bathers in case you want to jump straight into the ocean to cool off.
The Cinque Terre hike is a protected National Park and therefore there is a cost to enter the trail. The day pass is €5 per person however it’s worth looking at a 2 day pass for a few euros more. You can also grab a Cinque Terre Train Card for only a little extra which gives you unlimited rides on the local train.
Halfway between Monterosso and Vernazza – time for a rest in the shade.
There is a booth as you enter the walk and along each section between villages. They weren’t always manned or if they were the attendant was sometimes sleeping but this does not mean we recommend not paying for the card – this is one spectacular part of the world that certainly deserves to be preserved and buying the pass means you are doing your little part to help with that!
If you walk the trail as most do, starting in Riomaggiore and heading north you begin with a leisurely stroll to Manarola, the second village of the Cinque Terre. Via dell’Amore (Lovers Walk) is only a short walk that is wheelchair friendly and takes you past locks that lovers have attached to the fence before throwing the key into the ocean to prove their fidelity to each other.
Lovers locks seen while hiking the Cinque Terre.
Don’t forget to snap a picture of the beautiful lovers seat that adorns many postcards. You will come across it just before you reach Manarola.
The Lovers Seat!
Unfortunately when we were here this section of the walk was closed due to a landslide so we caught a train for this part. Luckily we didn’t miss the good bit! From what I have read the first part of the hike is very flat and easy going – much like the Lovers Walk. From the train station to the village is where it gets interesting.
Walking the steps up to Corniglia. Good training, right? The local villagers must be fit!
Corniglia is not at sea level – it is perched high above the rest of the villages, regally looking down from it’s perch. Which means you need to work that butt and legs and climb the 360 stairs to reach it. It’s worth it, believe me!
Enjoying the view from Corniglia.
We set off from Corniglia to Vernazza with a belly full of pizza and cooled down from a swim in the ocean. This is where the red stripes along the rocks started to come in handy to give us a bit of guidance along the path. This hike is not that strenuous but it is very dusty and rocky so make sure you look where you are going.
Beautiful candy coloured buildings greet you as you enter Vernazza.
So this is the section we did backwards and I recommend not doing what we did! It was a stunning walk but there was about a million steps going up, apparently it’s still arduous in the other direction but not quite as much. Make sure you have plenty of water for this stretch and perhaps proper shoes – it’s a pretty decent hike.
You can always catch the train for any stretch along the way.
If you feel thirsty along the way you might be lucky(?) enough to come across a farmer selling cold, alcoholic limoncello, unfortunately this is not quite what we were looking for to quench our thirst right then.
Tom, catching his breath before attempting MORE stairs.
Once you have completed the hike take a big swig of water, jump in the ocean to cool off, treat yourself to a gelati then sample some of the local wine – you deserve it!
You will also get treated to plenty of views such as this!
We thought we would finish the article with our final thoughts and some answers to the common questions that often arise.
The Best Way To Hike The Cinque Terre?
As with all things travel, there are different strokes for different folks. I would recommend starting with the blue trail as this is the “easiest” and a fantastic way to see the coast and villages as you go.
For the more advanced hikers (that’s not us, see the flip-flops Tom was wearing?) there are trails further up the mountain that provide a much better level of difficulty. We found the blue trail the perfect mix of challenging and fun – so start with that!
Is it easy?
Many people wonder if hiking the Cinque Terre is difficult or not. A little but of fitness is required, and there can be a lot of steps and stairs involved – so as long as that isn’t going to be a problem you’ll be fine. There are villages along the way and other people on the trail so there is always help if it’s needed.
Is it safe?
Yes, the trails are very safe. Common sense is also obviously required. They’re quite vigilant about closing trails when needed or if there are safety concerns. One of the trails was still closed from the floods for us (Manarola to Corniglia) – the path is also quite wide and you’re never hanging precariously off a cliff or something like that.
How long to spend in Cinque Terre?
Our personal opinion is 3 days or more. People ask how much time is a good amount for the 5 villages, it depends on you of course but 3 – 5 days is what we recommend. 2 days is just not quite enough time and if you love walking, photography, food & swimming you’ll be sad to leave on the third day.
The place is magical, let it win you over and give it the time it deserves!