Cinque Terre is a major tourist attraction in Italy. And the number one activity in Cinque Terre is to do a hike between the villages, whether it's one section or the whole five villages. So what’s the best way to hike the Cinque Terre trail?
Having spent a week in Cinque Terre, I would like to share my notes to help you decide how you will walk the trail when you visit CT!
I break down each section of the track for you, starting from the top village of Monterosso and heading southwards. You can then decide if you want to do particular sections only, or do all five villages in one day. Or spread the whole trail over two days as the sun does get really hot which makes hiking in the afternoon quite hard.
Buying your Cinque Terre card
You can buy the new Cinque Terre Treno card from any train station between La Spezia and Levanto. They have 1, 2 or 3 day passes, which include the following:
- Entry into the Cinque Terre National Park, so that you can hike the trails (blue trails on the map).
- Unlimited use of the trains and buses for the day (between La Spezia and Levanto only)
- Free use of the toilets at the train station, otherwise it will cost you EUR1.00. Worth the money though as they are the cleanest toilets you will see in Italy.
- While in the bathrooms, use the opportunity to fill up your water bottles. Alternatively you can find water fountains in the centre of the villages.
- Free wifi access at the train stations. Find your personal User Name and Password on the back of your Cinque Terre card.
If you don't require the unlimited use of trains and buses or you are staying in the village where you want to start your hike from, then you can purchase the Cinque Terre Card for national park entrance only at the booths located at each end of each section of the trail.
Click on the above links to view the current prices and do the maths. For example, a one day Cinque Terre Treno Card costs EUR16.00, including park entrance and unlimited use of the trains/buses. Alternatively, a one day Cinque Terre Card costs EUR7.50, which includes park entrance only and you will then need to pay for each transport ride separately - EUR4.00 per train ride and EUR2.50 per bus ride (EUR1.50 if you pre-purchase the bus ticket at the train station).
Therefore, if you think you will do 2 or more train rides in the day, then the new Cinque Terre Treno Card will be the best option.
Which way should you hike - north or southwards?
Before I start on the hiking details, I will cover the one question everyone asks - is it better to start from Monterosso and hike southwards or start from Riomaggiore and head north. Doing the hike in either direction will be spectacular views as currently majority of the trail follows the coast (read further below about current closures).
However, I do feel that starting in Monterosso first provides the best initial views as you approach each village. Vernazza and Corniglia face northwards so it's quite spectacular to view these villages the whole time you are hiking downwards to the village. At each turn the view looks more spectacular than the last and you end up taking a million photos. There weren't as many people hiking in the opposite direction but is still doable - just remember as you leave each village to stop at vantage points and look back over your shoulder, you could be missing out on a fantastic photo opp!
Now I shall delve into the trekking details of each section.
Monterosso to Vernazza
[3.66km/2.27miles, 1.5 - 2 hours]
It took two hours to hike with lots of photo stops and a couple of unusual stops that I didn't expect to see - an old man selling freshly made orange or lemon juice (he managed to connect his juicer to a nearby electrical point) and a guy selling jewellery (I can't believe I actually bought something!).
As soon as you walk out of the train station, you are looking at the beach - the only Cinque Terre village to have a proper beach. Turn left and follow the other hikers along the road. After you go through the tunnel and reach the end, follow the signs pointing to Vernazza.
The first five minutes is uphill steps followed by a flat path for a short while. Don't forget to look back over your shoulder for scenic views of Monterosso.
Then the climb up the ridge starts. It starts to level off at the top. As you descend for a short while, the town of Vernazza appears in view. Quite spectacular views all the way down into the village.
I stopped here for lunch and a quick swim. I didn't stay too long as I started hiking later than I wanted to at 10am - due to a delayed train (which is quite frequent).
You could do the trek in 1 - 1.5 hours if you walk fast or don't make any photo stops.
You could also do the trek in reverse, it might be slightly less steep uphill but you must remember to stop at the viewing points to look back onto Vernazza.
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Vernazza to Corniglia
Take the steps out of town in the same spot as where you entered onto the main street of Vernazza. There is a nice flat section until the steep up the ridge begins. I did this section at 1.30pm and it's extremely hot, making the hike so much harder.
At the top is a very busy bar congratulating you on reaching the halfway mark. Magnificent views of Corniglia. Then it's a steep climb down to Corniglia. So in either direction you have a steep climb but in reverse there is less uphill climbing as Corniglia village is already perched on a high cliff whereas Vernazza is on sea level.
Half the walk has no shelter from trees so remember your hats and sunscreen.
Corniglia to Manarola
[2.18km/1.35miles, 1hr 15min - coastal route]
Unfortunately, the remainder of the coastal trail (Corniglia - Manarola - Riomaggiore) through the national park is currently closed to the public. Since the 2011 floods, it has been deemed unsafe and some restoration work is required before it can be re-opened. The locals tell me that it should be open for summer 2018. [Dec 2019 update - looking more likely to reopen in 2023].
However, you can take a detour trail outside of the national park - hence free hiking! The trail is twice as long though (2 hours), as you need to go up and over a ridge before reaching Manarola instead of following along the coast.
It's about a 30-40 minute steep climb up the ridge - I almost turned back because the heat of sun was still piercing at 5pm! But I'm glad I persisted because it then levels off as you walk along the ridge until you get to the village of Volastra. You walk through farmers land - orchards, olive groves and vineyards. Even around family homes and backyards. This section of the trail has a different feel about it compared to the first two sections. You are far from the coast but can see Corniglia and Manarola in the distance.
After passing through quiet Volastra, it is a steady decline to Manarola - the most uninteresting part of this section as you slowly arrive back into civilisation, walking on roads and through carparks. No impressive views of the Manarola village as you approach unfortunately.
You could do this section in reverse and have the steady incline first from Corniglia to Volastra. However, it seems easier to get the steep climb from Corniglia out the way first!
Nice to sit at Manarola’s water's edge and watch the colours of the buildings light up as the sun sets.
Manarola to Riomaggiore
[1.11km/0.69miles, 25min - coastal route]
So as the normal 25 minute coastal trail is also currently closed to the public, you can take another detour again. The only way to walk it is a steep climb up the ridge and a steep climb down the other side. Either direction, it will be steep! It will take about one hour. Or you can opt to take the train instead!
Condensing the Cinque Terre trail options for you
Hike the whole way from south to north - ie. Riomaggiore to Monterosso. However, bear in mind that currently you will have the two detour hikes first (Riomaggiore-Manarola-Corniglia). If you tire easily then you will be tempted to take the train for the remaining towns, which I think will be a shame as you will miss out on the best two sections (Corniglia-Vernazza-Monterosso).
Hike the whole way from north to south - ie. Monterosso to Riomaggiore. This is my preference as the first two sections are the most scenic. So should you tire by the time you get to Corniglia, you are not really missing much by completing the last two towns by train.
Split the hikes - if you are not time limited, on day one complete the first two sections Monterosso-Vernazza-Corniglia (or reverse but as mentioned earlier, starting in Monterosso provides better initial scenic views as you approach the villages) . Spend the afternoon relaxing. Then the following day do the last two sections, Corniglia-Manarola-Riomaggiore. In this way you can complete both walks in the morning and avoid the heat of the day.
Happy walking the Cinque Terre trail.