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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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!)
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.
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.
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 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.