Destinations Europe Italy

Hiking the Cinque Terre (A Pretty BFD)

how to hike the cinque terre

After visiting Milan and Venice, I was looking forward to Cinque Terre. After seeing pictures of Cinque Terre on Buzzfeed months earlier, I knew it was a town I had to visit, not only for its picturesque villages but for its idyllic lifestyle. They didn’t even allow full-size cars on the roads in order to protect this Unesco World Heritage site. I had been excited about hiking through Cinque Terre since planning this trip months earlier and now that it was finally here I couldn’t have been more stoked.

The Day Before the Hike

My friend Gloria and I arrived at Cinque Terre via train from Milan, which took about 3 hours and cost about 25 euros. After checking into Le Sirene in Monterosso, we immediately started exploring the beautiful town. First on our list was gelato:

gelato at Monterosso Cinque Terre

We took our gelato on the road and walked along the peaceful beach area. Its beaches are on the larger side relative to the other four villages, so if you’re looking to get some swim time, definitely visit Monterosso! Then we headed to the “Old Town” portion of the village. Once we got there, we were able to see the famous terraced farmland and the brightly colored multi-storied homes.

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Along the way, we stopped at a local takeaway restaurant to have seafood in a cone! The seafood cone contained a mix of anchovies, french fries, prawns, and deep fried white fish, all dressed with a squeeze of lemon and salt.

Monterosso seafood in a cone takeaway

We spent the rest of the day wandering and later met up with some friends from UC Berkeley who I hadn’t seen in years. It’s crazy how when we did meet up, it wasn’t in California, but in Cinque Terre. We headed over to Ristorante Miky, a slightly upscale restaurant with fresh, locally sourced food. They serve their risotto table side and light the breading on top on fire. After it’s been toasted, they plate the food for you and while all the dishes we got that night were delicious, this one was amazing.

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At dinner, Gloria and I mentioned that we would be hiking through the five towns the next day. As Dippy, our college friend, had just completed the hike the day before, he gave us some advice and said that we HAD to go rock diving when we went to Riomaggiore. I’ve always wanted to go cliff diving so I was excited to have the opportunity to do something similar here, especially set against such a dramatic backdrop. After dinner, we walked off the food coma by heading to the beach and chilling outside in the late summer night. Then we headed back to the hotel to prepare for our upcoming trek through all five villages!

Hiking the Cinque Terre

There are several different trails you can take across Cinque Terre and the most famous trail is  the Sentiero Azzurro or the Azure Trail. Hiking this trail requires purchase of a Cinque Terre card, which is 5-7 euro/day for trail and museum access, or 10 euro/day for trail, museum, and unlimited train access. These cards can be purchased at any of the town’s train stations.

The route we took to venture through the towns was: Monterosso –> Vernazza –> Corniglia –> Manarola –> Riomaggiore. Here is more information about each segment of the hike:

Monterosso to Vernazza

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The first part of the hike was definitely a struggle due to the heavy amount of stairs. The good news is that all of the stairs and narrow passages are worth it for the amazing views, especially the panoramic view of all five Cinque Terre towns. Also, once you are able to successfully complete this portion of the hike, the rest of the hike is easy peasy in comparison. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather complete the difficult portion of the hike first and then enjoy the rest of the hike as it gets easier.

Length: 1.8 mi (3 km); 2 hours to walk

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Vernazza to Corniglia

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The portion of the trail from Vernazza to Corniglia requires more climbing up and down since you will be climbing to the highest point of Cinque Terre. The views are incredible, however, and so is all of the lush vegetation that you will encounter. Sometimes the trail might not be as well-maintained as you might like, so you might want to consider using a walking stick (or finding a branch) for this portion.

Length: 2 miles (4 km); 1 hour 45 minutes to walk

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Vernazza itself is beautiful with its narrow alleyways giving you a glimpse into the life of its inhabitants. It was definitely different from anything I had seen in the States.

Corniglia to Manarola

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From Corniglia to Manarola, the hiking is relatively easy. As you walk along this path, you will be able to take advantage of the beautiful sea views.

Length: 1.2 miles (2 km); 1 hour 15 minutes to walk

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Manarola to Riomaggiore

This section of the trail is nicknamed “Lover’s Lane” due to its kissing statue. It is also the easiest section of the Azure Trail because the trail itself is wide, flat, and paved.

Length: 1.2 miles (2 km); 40 minutes to walk*

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I was really looking forward to visiting Riomaggiore because it’s where the rock diving was!! At first, I could only see people jumping off of rocks that were 2 feet high. Remembering that Dippy specifically said the rock was at least 50 feet high, I knew this wasn’t right and kept on scoping. Then, right in front of the other rocks, I saw it. A beast of a rock. Excited, I swam out towards it and clamored to the top. Once getting to the top though, I suddenly felt very, very small and the water crashing on the rocks below felt very, very far. Thinking back to it, it reminds me a lot of a similar experience in Maine. Knowing that I’d regret it if I didn’t jump, I took a deep breath, slightly stepped back to have momentum moving forward, and leapt down into the water below. I’m proud to say I didn’t belly flop, but somehow I turned into the air and landed on my right hip with a loud smack of water. As I got out, concerned tourists asked me, “Are you okay? Are you hurt?” “No, nothing is hurt..just my pride.” The next day though, I had a fat bruise as a battle scar. Definitely worth it though and I would do it again. I went rock diving in Cinque Terre! How cool is that?

Tips for Your Cinque Terre Trip:

Here are some additional tips to help you plan your Cinque Terre trip:

Transportation within Cinque Terre:

The train is your best bet to go from town to town. The trains run about once an hour in between the towns though so you might be in for a wait. To check the times for the trains, you can look at this timetable for 2015. Be sure to validate the ticket before getting on the train at one of the yellow validation machines on the train platform. Other options are to walk or go by ferry.

How to arrive at/leave Cinque Terre:

To arrive at Cinque Terre from another town in Italy, like Milan, Venice or Florence, you can take the train directly to Cinque Terre. You can plug in your starting point and destination on Trenitalia and select the time that works best for you.

Best time of the year to visit:

The best time of the year to visit Cinque Terre is in April, May, September, or October. This is because the temperatures will be milder and there will be less tourists. During the summer, it can get extremely hot so be sure to bring plenty of water and begin the hike early in the morning. My friend and I wanted to get up at 5am to start the hike but of course that didn’t happen. We were still able to leave our hotel around 8am though and have enough time to enjoy the hike. In the winter, segments of the trail may be closed due to rock slides or trail wash-outs. You can get more information about trail closures at the Cinque Terre National Park website.

*While the estimated time to walk the trail is 6 hours, it took us the entire day because we were constantly stopping to take pictures, like the one below in front of Vernazza. We also stopped at each town to explore the different villages and try some of their food or wine. You’re on vacation, treat yourself!

Gloria and I in front of Vernazza

After Cinque Terre, Gloria and I continued on our Italy tour by heading to the culturally rich city of Florence. Pisa was along the way and we couldn’t pass up a chance to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person. Both of these cities showcased a different side of Italy and I would highly recommend visiting both of them if you have the time!

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