How to Hike the Cinque Terre

Walking the old goat path trails that link the five villages of the Cinque Terre

Finding the Cinque Terre trail (this is the stretch between Vernazza and Corniglia) is easy; just follow the white-and-red blazes.
Finding the Cinque Terre trail (this is the stretch between Vernazza and Corniglia) is easy; just follow the white-and-red blazes. (Photo by Barbara Ann Weibel.)

The 11km coastal trail that links the five towns of the Cinque Terre is now part of the fairly bogus Cinque Terre National Park (, established largely so they could start charging admission to walk the old goat paths thus milking the thousands of tourists who've discovered the area in the past decade.

That said, the increasing crowds—and infuriating ticket fee (get the pass that includes unlimited train rides)—don't make the hike from one village to the next any less gorgeous.

You can do the hike—now named the Sentiero Azzurro, or Blue Trail (sometimes marked as "no. 2")—in five or six hours, but most people take two days and make it more of a leisurely stroll, stopping for long lunches and pausing at cafes.

Note: The floods of October, 2011, washed out sections of the these trails. Officials expect to have the main path fully reopened by Easter, 2013.

The Cinque Terre trails

What you'll see hiking the Cinque Terre
The trails linking the five villages—especially the rugged Vernazza-Monterosso section—offer a wonderful and rewarding mix of environments and scenery.

Nearest the towns, kitchen gardens that feed the local markets overflow with long striped squashes tipped with orange flowers destined to be filled with ricotta and an anchovy, batter fried, and served as an appetizer; lemons bob on breeze-tickled tree branches; vines dangle tomatoes, and red, green, and yellow pepper bells hang like Christmas ornaments.

Then come terraces regimented with DOC grape vines or gnarled old olive trees that flicker dusty silver and waxy green whenever a slight wind kicks up their leaves. When the grape harvest of September gives over to the olive raccolta of October, green, white, and orange netting is stretched between tree trunks to create a vast safety net for any olives that might slip through the gatherer's fingers. If they hit the ground, they'll bruise. If they bruise, it'll raise the acidity level of the resulting oil. Only oil less than 1% acidic can be called "extra virgin."

Once you rise above the houses and fields, the wilder growth takes over. Miniature twisted trees called arboreal euphorbia. Ruffle-necked palms lord over pointy bursts of punk hairdo yucca. Lonely Aleppo pines rise above heather and scrubby macchia bushes. Twelve-foot lances of agave cactus thrust at crazy angles out from cliff edges, destined to flower once, then die (I can't seem to convince the locals to try to turn the things into Italian tequila). Short prickly pears scrabble along rocky hillsides to proffer dark purple fruits at the ends of spiny green paddles. Overall, it all seems harsh, green and brown—until you stop to look closely.

Then, wall vines dangle small grappole bunches of ruby red berries and tiny violets grow in the ancient cracks of walls. Overhanging bushes are frosted with tiny lavender bells; ankle-high stalks wave their little pink, yellow, or red fireworks invitingly to the bees. Various cornflowers sprout as little yellow-tipped shoots or clusters of pink sea urchins. Canterbury bluebells dance on the trail's edge, and Ligurian lavender cotton sprouts pale lemon puffs along the tops of walls.

And always in the other direction sparkles the sea, in turquoise and green washing in hoary wave lines over tan and pale gray underwater shoals, the all of it shading into a deeper blue as the waters stretch out toward distant Corsica.
Most important fact to know about hiking the Cinque Terre: The trails from town to town get progressively steeper and more challenging as you move north.

We're going to detail them quickly, starting with the easiest, southernmost trail, the Via del Amore from Riomaggiore to Manarola:

Riomaggiore to Manarola (1km/0.6 miles; 45 minutes): It starts with an easy stroll along the Via del Amore ("Love Way") between Riomaggiore and Manarola. Exiting the Riomaggiore train station, there a park office headquarters just to your right (and, beyond that, a tunnel leading into the center of town).

Turn left for the gate to the Via del Amore. It's a flat and easy stroll—technically wheelchair accessible—halfway up a cliff above crashing waves, slipping through a "tunnel of love." (It's just a tunnel, really, with windows to the sea on one wall, but you have to brand these things somehow, so there are sculptures of kissing lovers, interlocked hearts over the gate, and that sort of thing—even the graffiti has gotten into the lovey-dovey theme.)

Manarola to Corniglia (2km/1.2 miles; 1 hour): The path above a beach of large pebbles (or small boulders, take your pick) between Manarola and Corniglia is largely level. However, it ends with a formidable, switchbacked staircase of nearly 400 steps up to Corniglia (the only clifftop village of the five). Note that, even if you take the train, you still have to climb this staircase, as the station is down near the water.

Corniglia to Vernazza (4km/2.5 miles; 90 minutes): It gets tougher but more picturesque from here, a scenic mix of moderate-to-tough trails between Corniglia and Vernazza (the postcard village of the bunch, its stack of pastel houses curved around a cove beneath a pirate lookout tower).

Vernazza to Monterosso (3km/2 miles; 2 hours) : The northernmost trail is the most challenging: a steep ascent and descent over the ridge between Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare, northernmost of the Cinque Terre and the only one with a proper, sandy beach (and a big parking lot and commensurate crowds of Italians).

It's the hardest, but the most rewarding of the trails, with the greatest variety of scenery and vegetation (see the sidebar to the right for a sense of what you'll pass as you hike.)

Or, you know, vice versa. You can hike it either way.

Which way to hike the Cinque Terre

The tough trail betwen Monterosso al Mare and Vernazza
Tackling the hardest part: the trail between Monterosso al Mare and Vernazza. (Photo by Barbara Ann Weibel.)
My vote: If you're feeling fit enough (and after a few days or weeks of vacation gorging on Italian food and wine, that might not be a given), start with the hard part and hike Monterosso to Riomaggiore. Take the train all the way to Monterosso and start the morning with the two difficult, workout stretches.

Besides, coming in this direction, the first view of Vernazza as you come around the cliff is unforgettable (and if you do forget, it's plastered on postcards everywhere). Also, this way lets the going get easier as the day winds down, allowing you to finish with a sunset stroll back into Riomaggiore.

(Not that pulling into Monterosso in the early evening, as the sea gentle tumbles the shoreline's bowling ball–sized boulders and a cadre of the town's wizened men colonize the bocce court wedged between the train tracks and the trail, doesn't have its charms.)

And that's your other option: Riomaggiore to Monterosso. If you're unsure whether you can handle all this hiking, you can always start easy, strolling the Via del Amore from Riomaggiore to Manarola, then keep going from there. If you find that the going is getting too tough for you, you can always bag it and hop the train for the final stretch or two.

Guided hikes in the Cinque Terre

Tips & links


Our partners at offer a well-regarded Cinque Terre hiking day trip out of Florence. It's a long (13 hours), but comprehensive tour, and leaves from the Florence train station at 7:30am. It includes bus transportation, rail travel between villages, hikes, a box breakfast, and lunch. Don't want to hike it? There's also a bus tour from Florence version that lets you walk the first, easy trail (Via dell'Amore), and also gives you time to wander four of the five villages (all save Monterosso; no great loss). » book

Same as above, only leaving from Milano, the Cinque Terre Day Trip from Milan lasts 12 hours and stops first at Monterosso, from which you take a boat to Manarola, then hike the Via dell'Amore to Riomaggiore. » book

Leave your luggage so you can hike the Cinque Terre

If you're just hitting the trail for a day and want to store your bags safely while you hike, there's a deposito bagagli (left luggage) at the train station-adjacent tourist office in Riomaggiore (tel. +39-0187-920-633). It's open 8am to 8pm; bags cost €0.50 per hour each.

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