Tips and Inspiration for your European holiday

 

The pretty, gelato coloured villages stacked above the sparkling Ligurian Sea aren’t the only attraction of Italy’s Cinque Terre.  Thousands of people visit the area every year to walk the trails through the Cinque Terre National Park that link the five villages. I was fortunate to be amongst them this year.


 Hiking Italys Cinque TerreImage © Jenifoto / Dollar Photo Club

In case you’re not familiar with the Cinque Terre, let me explain the reason for its popularity.  Five small fishing villages – Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore – make up the Cinque Terre, a photographer’s paradise. The brightly painted buildings of the villages appear to tumble down the cliff faces into the sea, and whilst the villages are tourist meccas, you can still get a sense of how life used to be here – before the tourists arrived.

Most visitors to the villages arrive by train (I wrote in detail about reaching the Cinque Terre by train previously in my Cinque Terre Travel Guide) or ferry but to really appreciate the natural beauty of this area, perhaps the best way to arrive is on foot.

Before I hiked the Cinque Terre trails myself I’d heard lots of stories from friends and other travellers who said the walks were very strenuous.  With the villages built at sea level, the trails climb up and along the hillside, through the National Park and alongside vineyards planted precariously on the steep slopes, before descending again at the next village. It was with a little apprehension, then, that I committed to hitting the trails myself, but I was pleasantly surprised.

You certainly need a reasonable amount of fitness to walk the two longer paths as the start and finish of these trails is very steep, but you definitely don’t need to be a seasoned hiker.


Browse Cinque Terre accommodation


We arrived at the Cinque Terre three weeks into our European holiday and until then, hadn’t really done any exercise to speak of on the trip.  I was worried that I might struggle on the trails but in fact, apart from the climb at the start (and a few steep inclines on the Monterosso to Vernazza trail), I found the walks quite easy.  The walks were nowhere near as hard as I had imagined. Mind you, I was wearing good, sturdy shoes unlike some of the other hikers I saw who were wearing high heels and thongs (flip flops)!

It is possible to complete all four walks in one day (when they are all open) if you are dedicated, but with only two trails open when we visited, we decided to just hike one trail per day.  We walked in the mornings before it got too hot and could then enjoy a relaxing lunch at our destination.  We then caught the train to return to our accommodation.

Whilst it is very do-able to walk the Cinque Terre paths on your own - and that's what most people do - it is possible to do a Cinque Terre Hike and Bike Tour with a Local.  The four hour tour includes a guided walk from Manarola to Corniglia and includes tastings of local food and drink.

 

Map of Cinque Terre walking paths

 

The four paths that link the Cinque Terre villages are:


Monterosso to Vernazza walk

This trail covers a distance of 3.6 kilometres with two hours recommended as the time to allow to walk between Monterosso and Vernazza (or vice versa).  We stopped numerous times to take photos and videos and covered the distance in an hour and a quarter.

 

Want tips on budgeting for your trip? This Cinque Terre Travel Planning Guide will help.

The Monterosso to Vernazza path is the longest of the four walks. From Monterosso, the path starts with a reasonable incline and then there’s a fairly steep climb before the path levels out. The track is mostly wide enough for two people to pass but occasionally you need to stop and let an oncoming walker go by.

Along the path there are numerous spots to sit and rest or just enjoy the view – and it’s stunning.   But nothing will prepare you for the view as you round a corner and catch a glimpse of Vernazza and her little harbour below you.  It really is something you have to see to believe.

Vernazza to Corniglia walk

The second Cinque Terre walk we did was the 3.45 kilometre trail from Vernazza to Corniglia.  The recommended time for this walk is 1.5 hours but we covered the distance in one hour.  Even if you don’t plan to walk the whole trail, it’s worth covering the first 500 metres or so from Vernazza as you get spectacular views over the village.

If you do walk the entire trail, it’s a steady incline to the halfway point (which is signposted and has a café!) and then a steady decline to Corniglia.  As you approach Corniglia, the views of the village, with vineyards hemming it to the cliff side, are fantastic.

Corniglia is the only Cinque Terre village that isn’t at sea level. It hugs the top of a steep cliff and almost appears to hover above the sea as you approach on foot.

 

Cinque Terre views


Corniglia to Manarola walk

Unfortunately when we visited in July 2015, the Corniglia to Manarola trail was closed due to recent landslides.  This trail is 2.9 kilometres in length and it’s recommended that you allow 1 hour 15 minutes to complete the walk, which is very flat.


Manarola to Riomaggiore walks – via dell‘Amore (the Lover’s Walk)

Possibly the most famous of the Cinque Terre walks is the via dell’Amore, the Lover’s Walk, between Manarola and Riomaggiore. It is only 1.1 kilometres in length and is popular as it only takes 25 minutes to walk along the flat path between the villages – the perfect amount of time for a romantic stroll apparently!

Note: Heavy rain and other factors can cause the closure of the paths.  Please refer to this website for up-to-date information.

Cinque Terre hiking paths

 

TIP: If you're looking to escape the Cinque Terre crowds for a day, why not enjoy a day trip to Porto Venere?  In my opinion it is just as pretty as the Cinque Terre villages and is easy to reach by ferry.

 


Need to know about the Cinque Terre walking trails

  • A ticket booth is set up at the start of each trail where walkers are requested to show their entry pass to the National Park (see details below about the Cinque Terre Trekking Card).

  • All the trails are well signposted.

  • Walking trails are mostly dirt paths (there are some concrete/sealed sections leading into/out of the villages). Some steep sections have steps made of stone.  Barriers are not always in place so extra care should be taken on exposed points of the paths – at some points the path runs right alongside the cliff edge.

  • The Cinque Terre walking paths are very popular and are particularly busy during June, July and August.  I recommend setting off early to avoid the main crowds and the heat of the day if you’re visiting during the months.

  • Wear sturdy shoes and a hat and carry plenty of water.

  • Bring your camera.

  • This is a National Park – always be mindful of the environment and dispose of your rubbish properly.


We purchased the Cinque Terre Trekking Card Treno Multiservizi which includes travel on trains on the Levanto to La Spezia line (including trains between each of the five villages) and entry to the Cinque Terre National Park and access to the walking trails.  

 

A 2-day pass costs around €25 per adult.  (Read my tips about buying your Cinque Terre Trekking Card here.)  You can also purchase a Cinque Terre Trekking Card which doesn’t include train travel.  Passes come with a handy map/information brochure.


CHECK HOTEL & ACCOMMODATION PRICES IN THE CINQUE TERRE REGION

 


Read all my articles about destinations in Italy >>

 

Have you hiked any of the Cinque Terre trails?  Please share your experiences in the comments below.

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Comments   

# Annette Duvdevani 2017-12-28 07:43
I've hiked Cinque Terre as well. I loved it! It's absolutely stunning. We stayed in Monterosso which has a lovely beach and good restaurants. We also did a day trip to Pisa and Lucca from there.
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# Pam Massey 2018-04-18 23:12
BOAT! Take the ferry from Le Spezia! You see far more than from the train, which is mostly in tunnels! It's a stunning Mediterranean cruise, stopping at all 4 of the villages that are at water level, where you can jump on or off. Commentary on the boat so you learn a bit along the coastline. I went to far village & then walked back to 4th, missed the last boat (that leaves quite early), so had to take the train. Did it again another day, between 2 more villages.
Hot in August! But I made it. Not too difficult for a 60 yr old!
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# Carolyn 2018-04-19 11:21
Sounds like you had a great trip to the Cinque Terre, Pam. I loved seeing the villages from a boat, too and have recently written about my day trip from the Cinque Terre to Porto Venere which is not far from La Spezia. Thanks for sharing your experiences.
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# Karen bennett 2017-05-19 04:20
We hiked the trail today from Monterresso to Vernazza , nothing could prepare us for how wonderful it was! Breathtaking views and such a thrill to complete! I did it in flip flops! Not recommended but I didn't have anything else! There's nowhere to but hiking shoes so please take sensible footwear, hat and water! Every stop takes you closer to somewhere stunning, unique and unforgettable! Try it! You won't regret it!
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# Carolyn 2017-05-19 15:23
Glad you enjoyed your hike and the views of the Cinque Terre, Karen. It really is a stunning part of the world. You did very well to complete the trail in flip flops!!
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# Myreene 2017-04-23 03:42
Coming from Canada, where do we start? We hope to stay in Florence for a few days and travel from there to Cibque Terry and then back to Florence.
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# Carolyn 2017-04-24 11:48
Hi Myreene, the Cinque Terre is relatively easy to reach from Florence by either hire car or train. I'd recommend basing yourself in one of the villages or a larger town on the fringes of the CT (Levanto is great) and visiting the five villages from there. If you need any more help, please get in touch. Have a fabulous trip. Carolyn
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# Danielle 2017-01-07 06:11
Carolyn, I absolutely love this post and found it very helpful, so thank you for posting :) My boyfriend and I are traveling to Cinque Terre in March and are still confused on how to get to Cinque Terre (fly into Pisa, take a train?), and also have no idea on which of the five towns to stay in? Do you have any advice??
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# Carolyn 2017-01-09 12:24
I'm glad you find this post helpful, Danielle.

Where to fly into really depends on where you are travelling from (ie. within Europe, UK or Australia, for example). If you're travelling from the UK or another European destination you'll have lots more options as long haul international flights mostly only service the larger cities like Milan and Rome. I'm happy to give you some suggestions if you let me know where you're flying from.

In relation to where to stay, I personally stayed in Levanto (just north of the 5 Cinque Terre villages) as we had a hire car and didn't want the hassle of parking it in one of the five villages.

I've written a brief summary of each of the five villages in this article: https://www.holidaystoeurope.com.au/home/european-destinations/italy/185-cinque-terre-travel-guide - hopefully this will help you decide where to stay.

Have a fabulous trip.
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# Audrey 2016-04-23 12:42
Hi Carolyn - wonderful and informative post! My husband and I are planning a trip to Europe in Late September- early October and we are definitely wanting to visit Cinque Terre. Where do you recommend staying in the region / making your "home base" during the trip and how long do you recommend staying to be able to experience the region/all of the cities?

Thank you!
Audrey
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# Carolyn 2016-04-25 16:30
Hi Audrey - I'm glad you found this post helpful. We stayed at Levanto which is about a 10 minute train ride from Monterosso and it was a great base. The reason we chose Levanto is because we had a car and I felt that parking would be easier than in one of the five villages. Levanto is a decent sized town with all the facilities you could need and is on the main train line that services the Cinque Terre villages. We stayed for four nights which gave us three full days to explore the villages. As there are likely to be fewer tourists there in Sep/Oct than when we visited (June), I think that would be ample time for you to really experience the region. If you can make time to catch the ferry to Portovenere, I highly recommend it. It's not one of the 5 villages but is equally as lovely, in my opinion.
Happy travels :)
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# Carolyn 2016-02-09 16:35
Quoting Sharon:
:) Thank you so much! I will take a look at Portovenere. Can't wait!

You're welcome, Sharon. Enjoy!
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# Sharon 2016-02-09 16:16
:) Thank you so much! I will take a look at Portovenere. Can't wait!
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# Carolyn 2016-02-09 14:54
Quoting Sharon:
Hi Carolyn, We are looking to go in September this year with two boys, 8 and 11. Do you think the trails are suitable for the kids? We were thinking of staying in Monterosso. Any advice? We are not seasoned travelers! :) Thanks!

Hi Sharon, you are going to love Cinque Terre! Absolutely, I think the trails would be suitable for your boys. There are some very steep sections with no fencing or guard rails but with a sensible approach I'm sure they will handle it no problems. We even saw people wheeling prams on the paths! If the boys get tired easily it might take you a little longer, but I think it would definitely be worth it.

Monterosso would be a great base. The town is more spread out than the other villages and has a nice beach. Like all the 5 villages, the train stops there and you can also catch a ferry to the other villages and to Portovenere (definitely go there if you have time).

Hope this helps but feel free to ask it you have more questions.

Have a fab trip.
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# Sharon 2016-02-09 14:34
Hi Carolyn, We are looking to go in September this year with two boys, 8 and 11. Do you think the trails are suitable for the kids? We were thinking of staying in Monterosso. Any advice? We are not seasoned travelers! :) Thanks!
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# Carolyn 2015-11-04 12:08
Quoting Corinne:
Carolyn, I was also one of the thousands that hiked some of Cinque Terre this year. Actually we went in October, so there weren't as many people as I would imagine there would be. I agree going early before the sun is high in the sky is a great idea, but we did the opposite, we did it so that we were finishing at sunset, and I have to tell you. It was spectacular!

A sunset walk sounds magnificent, Corinne. I'd love to see some photos. Glad you enjoyed your hike on the Cinque Terre.
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# Corinne 2015-11-03 17:33
Carolyn, I was also one of the thousands that hiked some of Cinque Terre this year. Actually we went in October, so there weren't as many people as I would imagine there would be. I agree going early before the sun is high in the sky is a great idea, but we did the opposite, we did it so that we were finishing at sunset, and I have to tell you. It was spectacular!
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