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The Travel Blog

Hiking the 5 Terre (Cinque Terre, Italy)

Image Title: October Sunset Dinner on the Rooftop Terrace in Riomaggiore. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
October Sunset Dinner on the Rooftop Terrace in Riomaggiore. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

Image Title: Manarola from the cemetery.  [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
Manarola from the cemetery. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

Image Title: New Italian Shoes from Vernazza Sport. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
New Italian Shoes from Vernazza Sport. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

Image Title: On the Trail, Vernazza can be seen in the distance.. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
On the Trail, Vernazza can be seen in the distance.. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

Image Title: OK, Trail 531 between Manarola and Riomaggiore gets a little steep in places. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
OK, Trail 531 between Manarola and Riomaggiore gets a little steep in places. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

Image Title: Washouts have closed the main trails between Corniglia to Manarola and Manarola to Riomaggiore [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
Washouts have closed the main trails between Corniglia to Manarola and Manarola to Riomaggiore [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

Image Title: Homemade Limoncello sold right on the side of the trail - it was delicious. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
Homemade Limoncello sold right on the side of the trail - it was delicious. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

 

Cinque Terre is definitely Bucket List Territory.   Many, many people pass through this lovely region of the Italian Riviera and check the box with a Cruise Ship tour or a quick excursion from Rome or "Do It" as an endurance trek from end-to-end in a single day.  To really appreciate  it, you must hike the trails.  We spent 3 nights/4 days on the Cinque Terre Trail, sometimes referred to as the 5 Terre.  Our journey began with a cross country train ride from Nice in Southern France to La Spezia, Italy near the Southern end of the trail.  From there, we took the €4/20 minute local train that runs roughly every half-hour through the five villages of Cinque Terre (from North to South): Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia (pronounced Cornelia) , Manarola, and Riomaggiore. 

Our basic plan was to leave Nice with only our hiking backpacks (about 7 kg/15 lbs each) and no reservations other than our return train tickets and see what happened along the way - we weren't disappointed with what fate provided for food and lodging.  We went in mid-October which is about 6 weeks off the high season, but we still had nice enough weather to swim in every village. 

We got off the train in Monterosso and after an obligatory Gelato stop, got on the trail.  The whole trail is quite easy to find, and well maintained.  It's more of a well-used path that sees thousands of tourists every year than a hiking trail.  At each village, you will find a small manned kiosk  where you must pay, €7.50 (cash only) to enter the Cinque Terre National Park for the day.  The trail immediately starts rising gently but consistently out of Monterosso to a terrace in the hill with gentle ups and downs until you are greeted with a spectacular view of Vernazza from above and then at some point the trail just becomes one of the streets of Vernazza until you reach the main Piazza and the small harbor. 

Somewhere near the half-way point, there is a fellow selling homemade Limoncello from a make-shift window out of his vineyard right on the trail.  Not a pull-off or wide spot, just on the trail.  It was delicious.  Once in Vernazza, we started looking for a room for the night.  Again, using Gelato as an international language, we asked a gelato vendor for room suggestions and were told to simply start knocking on doors that advertised Camere (Rooms) on the front.  This method turned out to be ridiculously easy in all three towns where we stayed.  We never had to ask more than a second door to get a delightful room. 

In Vernazza, we stayed in one of Franca Maria's rooms just off the main piazza.  It was a little expensive at €110 and I'm sure we could have negotiated harder, but we elected to take it without any further discussion.  

In Vernazza, we enjoyed birra e' vino on the harbor where the nice fellow at the bar window told us to just take the glasses and bring them back when we were done - very civilized.  Once the sun had set, we wandered through the town for about 30 min and came back to the main piazza for dinner at Gambero Rosso where we enjoyed frutti di mare (fruit of the sea) and pasta. 

The next morning after dropping our packs with Franca Maria to watch for us, we visited Vernazza Sport where we bought new Italian shoes to support the local climbing store before walking through the cathedral and walking up to the top of the castle.  It costs €2 to go all the way to the top, but the view is worth it.  After a small breakfast of croissant con prosciutto e fomaggio, it was time to hit the trail for Corniglia.

The trail from Vernazza to Corniglia is similar to the trail from Monterosso to Vernazza.  It rises gently but consistently along the steep hills above the sea.  Unlike the previous day's trail, this one pretty much goes up to a high-point and then starts back down.  At the high-point, you pass through a small villa (not a village, just a villa) where you can stop for lunch or another limoncello with a spectacular view of Corniglia.  The trail down to Corniglia passes through a number of Olive Groves and Vineyards.  You can see the netting strung between the olive trees to harvest the fruit and you can also see a kind of single-track funicular that runs through the vineyards. 

Conrniglia is the only village that doesn't actually sit right on the sea.  The main piazza is about 100ft of elevation above the sea, which makes this the most remote village as tourists have to either climb the switchback steps from the train station or catch the "periodic" shuttle from the train station up to the town.  This also means that swimming in the small fishing harbor requires a bit of a hike down to the sea and the corresponding hike back up after your swim, but the swim was well worth it.  Similar to Vernazza, we arrived and started asking for rooms.  The second place we tried was Da Cecio which offered clean and convenient Sea View rooms at a reasonable €70 per night.  We dined in Corniglia at Cantina de Mananan and ended up sharing our table with a nice young British couple who also walked in without reservations and our 4-top table had the only available seats.

From Corniglia to Manarola and Riomaggiore is only a mile-and-a-half by sea, but both of the main trails have been closed for many years because of washouts.  So you have the option of hiking up-and-over a roughly 4 mile/1,200 ft trail that goes up to the highway and down to both villages OR take the 5 minute train between each village.  We elected to take the train to Manarola and hike a third other-other option; up-and-over Trail 531 between Manarola and Riomaggiore.  The trip from Corniglia to Manarola was very easy, it was a train ride. 

The trip from Manarola to Riomaggore was a little bit like more arduous. Since the Via del Amore (Lover's Walk) trail between Riomaggiore and Manarola is closed, Manarola sometimes gets skipped by through hikers who elect to hike from Corniglia around Manarola to Riomaggiore.  This is a shame, because Manarola is a gem of a village with outstanding picturesque views from the cemetery back to the town.  We had a lunch of spaghetti nero e' gamberi with chianti at Marina Piccola and then hit the up-and-over Trail 531 between Manarola and Riomaggiore.  This trail rises the same roughly 800 feet as the other trails, but it does it over 1/8 mile instead of 1 mile.  It's pretty steep with big steps and some hand holds.

Once in Riomaggiore, on our second try, we found a rooftop apartment with a rooftop terrace at Dune Blu for €80.  After a swim in the harbor, we were treated to a stunning October sunset from the roof top with wine, cheese, olives, anchovies, fresh pesto and a baguette that we bought in a small market walking back from the harbor.  It was one of the nicest meals we have had in Europe.

The next morning, we simply caught the €10 morning ferry that runs roughly four times a day between all of the villages except Corniglia back to Monterosso and spent some time touring Monterosso and checking another gelato stand before getting back on the cross country train to Nice.  The 5 Terre was a truly memorable experience that we will treasure for the rest of our lives.

  

Trekking Beta

  • Monterosso to Vernazza: 2 Miles, 800ft Gross Elevation Gain, 1.5 hours with Photos and Lemoncello.
  • Vernazza to Corniglia: 2 Miles, 800 ft Gross Elevation Gain, 2 hours with Photos and Lunch Stop.
  • Corniglia to Manarola: We took the 5 minute Train because the main trail was closed.
  • Manarola to Riomaggiore: 0.5 Miles, 800 ft Gross Elevation Gain, 1. 5 hours with rest at top.  All elevation is gained in about 1/8 mile, so this is very steep for a tourist trail.

The trails are well maintained and only require tennis shoes or trainers, not full hiking boots.  A number of people choose to use trekking poles, but to be fair, I'm sure that in the summer high-season you could find people doing it in flip flops.  Most of the people we saw on the trail (maybe 50 on the busiest day) were doing day hikes from one village to another with plans to train back to where they started.