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Walking the Cinque Terre Trails

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Updated May 2018

Walking the Cinque Terre Trails

As you do when you are in the Cinque Terre, today was our day for donning the hiking boots and walking the Cinque Terre trails. I will admit to thinking that the five villages of the Cinque Terre were a little closer together.  When “walking between villages” was mentioned or written about, I imagined it to be a couple of minutes.  I knew that they were built in precarious positions, but I thought they were all somewhat squished together.

In reality, they are a little further apart although still highly accessible, particularly by train.

Walking the Cinque Terre trails requires a little more time and effort, the amount of which will depend entirely on your own timelines, your level of fitness and if you are like us, your level of competitiveness.  If walking isn’t your thing, you can read more about Cinque Terre tickets and the Cinque Terre card here.

Corniglia

We caught the train to Corniglia, the middle village of the five, and the one that sits up higher than any of the others.  Whilst there is no obvious competition between the villages, it’s as though Corniglia has deliberately been built on the higher mountain, as opposed to having real sea level access, just to offer up a point of difference and to set itself apart from its neighbours.

It is surrounded completely by terraces and vineyards.  There is one main street and two small piazzas.  But you don’t need cityscapes here.  All you need to do is soak in the views and for us, be thankful that we arrived here without all the summer hordes.

 
Walking the Cinque Terre Trails looking towards Corniglia
The Terrazza Panoramica at Corniglia offering up amazing views over the water. Literally right on the edge of the cliff.

The Terrazza Panoramica at Corniglia offering up amazing views over the water. Literally right on the edge of the cliff.  Be sure to seek out this location in the city as it is totally worth if for the view.

Oratorio of Santa Caterina
Oratorio of Santa Caterina

From the train station, we caught the small shuttle bus up to the town as we both agreed we would prefer to save our legs for the walks.  Otherwise, it is a stair climb of 382 steps (give or take a few).  This is also great for those who have mobility issues.  If you have a Treno Trail pass the fee for the bus is included.

The shuttle bus that is part of the Treno Trail Pass
The shuttle bus that is part of the Treno Trail Pass

Before we started our walk, we indulged in a little espresso and cioccolata calda, the steaming hot, thick, muddy chocolate concoction that the Italians serve.  It’s the hot chocolate you don’t sip, but rather eat with a spoon, and do it slowly for fear of it scalding your entire mouth.  There’s nothing we love better than to be able to sit in a small area like this, listening to and watching the locals.

Time to walk

The sun was shining brightly at this stage, bringing with it a dose of heat and humidity.  To walk the Cinque Terre trails, you are required to purchase a Cinque Terre trail pass, details of which can be found here.

The start of the trail is all uphill for 100m (of ascent), not linear metres as I first thought.  The trails are uneven, rocky and full of very steep steps.  Because I’m short, some of the steps took some extra effort, not because of the sheer number but just because they felt like they were built for giants.

Walking uphill on the cinque terre trails
Walking uphill
Walking the Cinque Terre Trails
And thank goodness there are some downhill trails too
Bridge on the Cinque Terre Trail
One of the gorgeous bridges along the tracks

The trails from Corniglia through to Monterosso are the most rewarding, with a solid effort required, but also because of the stunning views through the vistas in the olive groves.  The advisory time for the walk between Corniglia and Vernazza is 1.5 hours.  We completed our first leg in just under an hour, but we are fit and didn’t mooch about.  There’s no time required to complete these trails though so take your time and go at your own pace.

Sometimes the trails can get a little crowded and you are forced to sit in behind people as there are limited opportunities to pass.  Take that as a sign to just slow down and take in your surroundings.

Terraces surround Corniglia
Terraces surround Corniglia
Views are everywhere in Corniglia
Views are everywhere in Corniglia
Part of the inner village of Corniglia
Part of the inner village of Corniglia

Come prepared

It’s important to take plenty of water as there is no access to it along the trails.  I know it might sound like a redundant statement, but wear practical clothes and good hiking/running shoes.  The trails are uneven, so consider taking walking poles if you think you need a little extra assistance.

As much as you might like to be a fashionista, this is not the place to wear your labels, your fancy leather jacket, or your sandals, flip flops or Crocs.  The one walker that we saw walking the track in bare feet, with her Crocs in her hand would agree I’m sure.  And wear a hat! It’s hot out there and there are not a lot of places to stop and take respite from the sun.

It’s rugged, hot and full of people ducking and weaving, sweating and heaving.  Dress for practicality and you will fit in just fine, and be more comfortable in the long run.  The villages are so relaxed that they don’t bat an eyelid at anyone sitting in their restaurants or bars in hiking gear.  Remember, this isn’t the French Riviera.

Rugged tracks in some parts on the cinque terre trails
Rugged tracks in some parts
Views are possible from many parts of the track
Views are possible from many parts of the track

You don’t need to be ultra fit, but this walk is challenging with a lot of steps, particularly if you are coming from the Monterosso to Corniglia direction.  Allow even more time in summer as there will be more people on the tracks, meaning it will be difficult to pass if you are faster than others in front of you.

Of course, such hard work deserves a beer, so it wasn’t long before we found somewhere to sit and indulge in the simply gorgeous town of Vernazza.

Vernazza walking the cinque terre trails
The view we are greeted with coming into Vernazza from the trails!
Vernazza Cinque Terre
Could this village be any more beautiful?

Vernazza

Vernazza, with its tiny harbour, and the typical pastel coloured buildings hanging on both sides of the cliff around it, was the jewel in my Cinque Terre crown. It’s probably a bit unkind to have a favourite such is the beauty of them all, but Vernazza is worthy of a mention as my stand out I think.

Vernazza village during rush hour
Vernazza village during rush hour

Only one thing would have made our time in Vernazza even better.  We located our restaurant for lunch, a snazzy place called Ristorante Belforte, at the edge of the harbour, positioned in such a way that almost every table had a view, with a couple of very privileged tables with their own private views.

The only problem was that the entire restaurant had been booked out by one of the tour boats so we couldn’t get in.  So a special note that if you want to eat here, book ahead or else you will find yourself at the local pizzeria just like we did (not that we suffered really!)

Vernazza restaurant Cinque Terre

Ristorante Belforte – will have to save this one up for another time. What a view for lunch it would have been!

The Vulnetia Pizzeria right on the harbourfront was great. We were packed in like a tin of the local sardines that are caught daily by the fisherman who tie their boats up in the harbour.  It’s a little more expensive to eat in this area, but I am a complete sucker for eating by the water, so here we are.

We got cosy with our American table neighbours, who in turn sidled up to their Lithuanian ones, not as a matter of choice but because our tables were almost on top of each other.

Throughout lunch, we all managed to have a conversation or two.  Midway through lunch, the table police, yes the table police, turned up to measure all the tables of the pizzeria to ensure that they were safely contained within their registered perimeter.

 There was a lot of expressive conversation going on between the owner and the police, whilst our waitress looked as though she would prefer to be anywhere else but here.  I love it.  It makes eating a pizza all the more entertaining.

Looking for great places to eat in the Cinque Terre? Read more here.

Enjoying the Salami Picante pizza
Enjoying the Salami Picante pizza
Vernazza and it's harbour from up on the trail
Vernazza and its harbour from up on the trail
The working fishing boats at Vernazza
The working fishing boats at Vernazza
 

Time to work off lunch

Back on the track after lunch, thanking my lucky stars I only had half a pizza and a small beer.  Steps and more steps fanned out in front of us.

The track between Vernazza and Monterosso are similar in terms of views and outlook but there are many more stairs and they are extremely steep coming from the southern to northern direction.  The advisory time for this walk is 2 hours, but again, we completed it in just under an hour and still felt really good at the end of it.

So, we completed two main walks plus some of another one from Riomaggiore to Manarola in a day.  It is possible to walk between all five towns in one day, but we preferred to spread it out a little.  If you only have time for one trail, I’d recommend doing Corniglia to Vernazza.

The trail to Monterosso from Vernazza
The trail to Monterosso from Vernazza
View from the trail coming into Monterosso
View from the trail coming into Monterosso
Looking back towards Vernazza on the way to Monterosso
Looking back towards Vernazza on the way to Monterosso

We made it

Arriving back in Monterosso, feeling incredibly proud of ourselves for completing the walks, and for just being part of the whole experience.  I am so pleased we got here.  Wouldn’t have missed it for the world.  Oh, and gelato is always a great reward for good effort!

walking the cinque terre trails

Walking the Cinque Terre trails is something I have wanted to do for so long.  Having now completed it, was it worth it?  Quite simply, yes!  If you feel like you can’t do this on your own, there are also plenty of tours around to suit everyone’s situation.

And if you’re not convinced be sure to read more about the Cinque Terre here

Looking for a little more detail on all the Cinque Terre has to offer? Here’s some great resources. 

 

 

49 thoughts on “Walking the Cinque Terre Trails”

  1. Hi Theresa, very good question. We hiked in this instance from Corniglia right through to Monterosso al Mare and then we caught a train back to where we were staying in Levanto. However, the train runs from Levanto to La Spezia in both directions, stopping at all five cinque terre villages along the way. So, if you only want to walk in one direction, you can catch the train back from any of the villages. You can read all about the train and trail passes here https://www.beerandcroissants.com/cinque-terre-trail-and-train-passes/

  2. Love you reading about your experience. I am going here is May. I was wondering how you get back to your town after hiking to the next town? Is there a hiking trail that gets you back or do you take the train back. I am confused about this part.

  3. Hi Shelley. If you only have one day, I would suggest the paths from Corniglia > Vernazza > Monterosso, or if that’s too much at least one of those paths between either Corniglia and Vernazza or Vernazza and Monterosso. Vernazza was my favourite little spot but seriously, they are all beautiful. you can’t really go wrong. If you are only walking one path then you can jump on the trains and get to the other villages as well. Enjoy and have a fabulous trip.

  4. Hi loved your article I’m heading over to Italty in April for my first ever trip there from New Zealand. We were looking at doing the walks with only 1 day to spend there what would be your top must do part?

  5. Stéphanie LANGLET

    Hi Kerri. The link to my article has changed as I shifted to https. Now it’s Thanks 🙂

  6. So glad to come across a practical guide to Cinque Terre..I have been wanting to visit it for so long but was so not sure of where to stay, how many days would be good etc. Love the pictures!

  7. Ok, so I have already been lusting over your instagram pics and now this post…damn! I wish I had done this one earlier. Don’t know when I will be able to

  8. Gearoid McSweeney

    I love Liguria and Cinque Terre is a truly special destination. I have noted your advice and made to plan to return to walk between the villages.

  9. I’m so ready to do it again!! I would add one more tip: have your swimsuit at the ready or even under your clothes, as there are a few wonderful spots to jump in! Gosh, it really is the most incredible experience from start to finish! Thank you for taking me back. 🙂

  10. These walks look fabulous. I’ll certainly add this to my bucket list. I’ve always fancied visiting Cinque Terre but think I’d appreciate the towns more if I’d walked between them! Looks like an excellent idea! Great post, thank you

  11. We were there last week and took the boat to the towns, barring Corniglia because it’s not accessible by boat, so we caught the train there. Prior to our visit we emailed (in Italian) the Ristorante Bellforte to make a lunch reservation but didn’t get any confirmation or message back. We found out later that they are closed on Tuesdays, which happened to be the day we were there. Some of the trails were closed due to potential land slides, so I’d recommend calling to find out if they’re open prior to the visit, if you’re planning on hiking. We really enjoyed our time there, and would like to go back and spend more time in each town. Thanks for posting the blog, it was helpful!

  12. My girlfriends and I have been wanting to get back to Italy and Cinque Terre is the one spot I haven’t been that I am dying to see. It doesn’t get any more beautiful than that. I liked all the suggestions you have offered. The view of Monterosso is absolutely amazing!

  13. Brenda, I would have loved to do the ferries but they were just a little more time consuming for us. I always love seeing cities from the water though. Such a different perspective.

  14. A friend of mine visited Cinque Terre but I believe he took the train in between the towns. This post has a lot of great information for those wanting to experience it at a closer range. And I’m short too, so I’m glad you mentioned the large steps!

  15. I’ve done a lightening visit to Cinque Terre (just one afternoon and evening) and I didn’t hike at all. But I have to admit to feeling quite jealous. I particularly loved Vernazza too.

  16. Cinque Terre is such an amazing place! It has so much variety to offer. It’s a must-visit destination for sure. And I love your photos as well

  17. Grey World Nomads

    I’ve never been in the Cinque Terra and I regret it when I see your pictures. And you say it was warm and humid which I miss soooo much in Scotland. But soon we head down south!

  18. Brenda Tolentino

    The Cinque Terre is one of our favorite destinations in Italy. Since we travel as a family, our favorite town is Monterosso Al Mare, not because it was the most beautiful but the most convenient with loads of restaurants, street food and hotels to pick from. We were only able to hike from Monterosso to Vernazza because a few of the trails were closed at the time. Our favorite way to transport ourselves from town to town is by the public ferry, quite magical. Oh, I agree that Vernazza is most beautiful.

  19. You know… I read your article and it makes me dream of traveling right away. I love Italy and I’ve been a few times to the country, but on top of my Italian bucket list is Cinque Terra, a place I’ve never been. Places like Vernazza and Monterosso are just breathtaking. Thanks for sharing. Greetings from Ouarzazate, south Morocco!

  20. What a thoroughly detailed guide you have prepared, Kerri! I have dreamed of visiting Cinque Terre for so long, and I truly believe I could literally lose myself on the trails. Your guide will be handy when my dream becomes a reality!

  21. I thought that Cinque Terre villages were closer than this hahaha. Thanks for sharing! It really looks like a hike with beautiful views. There are a lot of steep uphill climb, though. Challenging but looks really fun!

  22. It’s always so great reading about the places that’s been in my list. Your photos are stunning and I felt like I was there on your adventure too!

  23. Lovely post! I did this a couple years ago with my parents. I was one of those unfortunate souls who wore a skirt and flats during the hike because we were told it was suitable for children and the elderly. It is not, but it was still a beautiful hike. You got some beautiful photos! It’s such a special place, I can’t wait to go back!

  24. Oh my gosh Robyn, what a story! Such a shame you didn’t get to do the walk, however I understand your friend would not have been up to it at all! Pleased you got to spend some time in the villages though.

  25. It was interesting reading this story and bought bavk a lot of memories. I did this walk 5 years ago through a tour, we booked to go on a Tuesday but as as we were getting on the tour bus from Florence my girlfriend was just in front of me walking up the aisle of the bus when she tripped and fell and broke her nose, the inside of the bus wasn’t lit very well and she couldn’t see, anyway we missed out going that day and ended up in hospital, no surgery but ice packs, so we eere fortunate enough to go the next day. Such beautiful villages and lots of fun

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