Hike the Cinque Terre ★★★

The Cinque Terre villages are linked by a goat path-turned-hiking-trail called the Sentiero Azzurro, Hike the Cinque Terre, Cinque Terre, Italy (Photo by Justin)
The Cinque Terre villages are linked by a goat path-turned-hiking-trail called the Sentiero Azzurro

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

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.

Which way should you hike the Cinque Terre?

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 Vernazzaas 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.

★★☆
The port of Riomaggiore (Photo by Bert Kaufmann)
Riomaggiore
Riomaggiore

The southernmost Cinque Terre town makes a great base

 
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The Via dell'Amore between Riomaggiore and Manarola (Photo by Kristian Golding)

An easy 1km/0.6 miles along Via dell'Amore: 45 min

 
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Pretty Manarola (Photo by Diana Robinson)
Manarola
Manarola

The smallest of the seaside villages has the local wine cooperative

 
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The Cinque Terre trail between Manarola and Corniglia (Photo by Michelle Maria)

At 2km/1.2 miles, it starts easy but ends with a switchback 400-step staircase: 1 hr

 
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Hilltop Corniglia (Photo by Federico)
Corniglia
Corniglia

The tiniest Cinque Terre town is also the only one atop a cliff

 
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Corniglia as seen from the Cinque Terre trail between Corniglia and Vernazza (Photo by Jim Walton)

A rougher but even more scenic 4km/2.5 miles: 90 min

 
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Vernazza as seen from the trail headed north (Photo by Mgrueva)
Vernazza
Vernazza

The postcard Cinque Terre town

 
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The Cinque Terre trail between Vernazza and Monterosso (Photo by Frans-Banja Mulder)

A hilly and challenging 3km (2 miles): 2 hours

 
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The beach at Monterosso al Mare (Photo by Arek N.)
Monterosso
Monterosso al Mare

Anchoring the N end of the Cinque Terre with a proper beach, bocce, and some modest sights

 

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Poppies by the trial (Photo by Massimilianogalardi)

The trails linking the five villages—especially the rugged Vernazza-Monterosso section—offer a wonderful and rewarding mix of environments and scenery