The Cinque Terre (meaning Five Lands) is an area that consists of five towns that are in close proximity to each other and are dotted along the Ligurian Coast of Italy. Each town has its own charm and unique characteristics, but they all still hold onto the quaint fishing village feeling of the area. We visited Cinque Terre knowing that we wanted to hike to the different towns, something the area is known for. There are different options for hiking Cinque Terre – you can hike one section of the trail, or make a day of it and do the whole thing. I’m sure you already know what option we went with!
Monterosso Al Mare
We flew into Genoa, spent the afternoon in the city, and continued our drive to our base, Monterosso al Mare. This town is Cinque Terre’s most northern town and is divided into two parts, the old and the new. It is also home to Cinque Terre’s most extensive sandy beach. This is the town to go to if you want a traditional Italian beach experience. Monterosso al Mare is the largest of the five towns and also serves as one end of the hiking trail between them.
The Hike to Vernazza and Corniglia
There is a cliffside trail that connects the five villages, while also providing stunning views of the sea and coastline. The first part of the hike is from Monterosso al Mare to the next town of Vernazza. This is actually the most challenging section of the coastal hike. This is because there are very steep inclines and declines with pathways so narrow that at times only one person can fit at once. It took us one hour and five minutes to hike to Vernazza (the average is 1.5 hours… go us)! When we made our way down to the town we browsed the shops and refreshed ourselves with some water.
After a short break we left the pretty town of Vernazza and walked up towards the trail to Corniglia. Corniglia is the smallest of the five towns and is the only one not accessible by water. Because it is on top of a hill, no matter which way you come from you have to head up. We had a very steep uphill start from Vernazza and from there it was a mix of uphill with small breaks of flat path for us to follow (though still pretty narrow). This section took us about 1.5 hours.
By the time we made it to Corniglia we were out of water and were famished! We found a cute restaurant that served the traditional food of Liguria, trofie with pesto, and had a delicious meal. Afterward, we spent about 30 minutes walking around the town. Corniglia feels smaller and quieter, but is just as charming as the other towns, if not more. There’s a little piazza with a tower where people sit to pass the time, narrow car-free streets to wander through, and an overlook to take beautiful pictures of the sea.
The Hike to Manarola and Riomaggiore
Now we had a decision to make. Because of landslides from the previous year blocking the trail, the 1.2 mile coastal section between Corniglia and the next town, Manarola, was closed. We wanted to keep hiking so we decided to take a route that would take us UP and around the other trails in order to get to Manarola… about 2.5 miles. It winds up to the small town of Volastra and then all the way down to Manarola. So up we went. We went up so much that we really didn’t think it was possible to go up anymore. And when we thought “this has to flatten out soon, right?” we would turn a corner and see another set of treacherous rocks to climb up. There was no other option but to keep going! Hiking Cinque Terre was going to be a lot harder than we thought!
After making it to the top, the trail then consisted of small ups and downs, a nice reprieve from climbing. We made it to Volastra, followed the signs to Manarola, and finally went down. It seemed like we were descending way more than we had ascended in the beginning. After going down 1,200 narrow steps we finally made it to Manarola, two hours from when we started in Corniglia.
We really wanted to check out the most famous (and easiest) part of the hiking trail, Via dell’Amore, or the Love Trail. This is a 1km path carved out of the hard rock face overhanging the sea. It’s supposed to be one of the most romantic paths to walk. Unfortunately, because of those same landslides the year before this path was still closed. It is finally reopening in July 2024.
Our only option to get to the last town, Riomaggiore, was to take the very quick train ride. We spent some time in the town and refreshed with some water, but we didn’t stay long. We were beat!
After, we took the train back to Monterosso al Mare. But our hike didn’t end there. From the train station it was at least a mile uphill to our bed and breakfast. We calculated that we hiked a total of 12.15 miles that day (half of it pretty uphill), including walking in the towns a little bit – not bad for me being 14 weeks pregnant at the time! But we still had to walk down to the town for dinner later on…
Hiking in Cinque Terre is still one of our favorite hiking experiences in Italy. Not only does the hike give you stunning views of the sea during the trek, it was pretty cool being able to hike to the different towns and take in the scenery and characteristics of each one.