Dotted along the Ligurian Sea coastline in northwestern Italy, strung together with seaside hiking paths like five colorful charms on a bracelet, you’ll find the almost impossibly picturesque villages of Cinque Terre.
Are you feeling the wanderlust as much as I am these days? Enjoy this virtual visit for now, but be sure to scroll to the end for ten tips to make the most of your trip IRL.
Translating to Five Lands, the villages of Cinque Terre are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.
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The most direct walking routes between the villages follow the coastline, while others lead further inland and uphill. The entire area makes up the the Parco Nazionale Cinque Terre, or Cinque Terre National Park – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the oldest park of its kind in Italy.
You can also travel between the villages via short, convenient train rides.
The tiered vineyards shown here are a trademark of the region. The steep setting requires that a majority of planting and harvesting be done manually. Small monorails, or trenini, help to transport tools and crops up and down the hillsides.
All of the villages are located right by the sea with the exception of Corniglia, perched atop a rocky headland high above the water. If you arrive in Corniglia by train or by boat, you can reach the village by hopping on a small shuttle bus or by climbing the scalinata lardarina, a brick staircase with almost 400 steps leading to the homes and shops above.
In order to access the national park trails, you’ll need to purchase either a Cinque Terre Trekking Card or a Cinque Terre Treno MS Card. The Treno MS Card offers the added bonus of unlimited train travel between La Spezia and Levanto, which includes the five villages. You can buy your card online or at one of the area’s welcome centers.
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One thing to keep in mind with any trip to Cinque Terre is that it’s not uncommon for hiking trails to be closed due to weather or safety concerns. The national park’s website even warns that, “in case of orange and/or red weather warning, the sale of all service cards will be suspended.”
When we arrived at the welcome center in La Spezia, we were actually told that the park’s sentiero azzurro, or blue trail, was temporarily closed. Offering a more level path and running directly along the seaside, the blue trail is often the go-to for visitors.
We knew the sections of the blue trail connecting Corniglia to Manarola and Manarola to Riomaggiore were closed, but we were hoping to hike the rest of it during our stay. We started instead with a very steep but beautiful hike on the sentiero rosso, or red trail, through the vineyards between Corniglia and Manarola.
The next day, we took the train to the northernmost village of Monterosso al Mare. After walking around for a little while, we noticed people entering the blue trail from across the beach. We headed over to check it out. There was no monitor at the entrance, but the pathway was accessible. We decided to give it a try, keeping in mind that if we came upon any impassable sections, we might need to turn back.
We ended up following the route all the way through Vernazza and back to Corniglia without any problems. Later, we bumped into two hikers who visited Cinque Terre often. They shared that in their experience, the park sometimes closes trails because they either don’t have employees available to monitor the entrances, or would prefer not to pay someone during the off season when so few people are trying to access the trails.
All of this to say that even if you’re told a specific trail is closed, it may be worth looking into further to determine if that’s really the case. Just be sure to have the proper hiking pass, mentioned above, and be on alert for any safety issues. Being directly on the water, the area does experience a large amount of weather-related complications that affect the routes.
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In addition to hiking – hands down my favorite part of visiting Cinque Terre – here are ten more tips to make the most of your visit:
- Enjoy the sunset in Manarola from this scenic viewpoint. Bonus points if you take a bottle of wine along!
- Treat yourself to some focaccia – Liguria is the birthplace of this delicious bread.
- Sample homemade basil gelato and honey gelato from Alberto Gelateria in Corniglia.
- People watch in Vernazza’s small and lovely harbor.
- Take in the stunning 180-degree view from Corniglia’s Belvedere di Santa Maria. From this viewpoint you can see all four of the other Cinque Terre villages.
- Grab an outside table at La Torre in Vernazza to refuel with coffee and a bathroom break – complete with beautiful views over the sea and village – before continuing on your hike.
- Relax on the beach! All five villages have beaches to explore – even clifftop Corniglia. Being there in the off season, we didn’t spend any time sunbathing, but here’s a helpful guide from Le Long Weekend in case you’re visiting in warmer weather.
- Prepare for your next picnic at the Tuesday morning market in Vernazza or the Thursday morning market in Monterosso al Mare.
- Head to the Porticciolo di Riomaggiore for the quintessential view of Riomaggiore’s harbor.
- Dig in to some trofie al pesto, another Ligurian specialty, featuring the popular basil and pine nut sauce paired with this short, twisty pasta.
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Interested in visiting Cinque Terre, but worried about the potential crowds? That’s understandable. It’s an extremely popular destination! Consider visiting during the off or shoulder season like we did. It can be a gamble with the weather, but you’ll have a more peaceful experience.
You could also head just south of Cinque Terre to the Golfo dei Poeti, or Gulf of Poets. Here you’ll find more underrated seaside villages to explore like Portovenere, San Terenzo, Lerici, Fiascherino and Tellaro.
Have you visited Cinque Terre or any other places in Liguria? What was your favorite part? Let me know in the Comments!
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