The five tiny villages that make up the Cinque Terre are for many the crowning highlight of the Italian Riviera. Jumbles of coloured buildings cling to the rocky coastline that plunge into the clear blue sea, perfect for bathing. The breathtaking views and old-fashioned charm are enough to melt the hardest photographer’s heart. But the Cinque Terre is far from a secret destination and the solitude that once distinguished these villages is almost totally absent.
All is not lost. If you’re happy to do a bit of leg-work then there’s the opportunity to get stunning views of the villages and coastline and enjoy some solitude on the network of paths in the mountains behind the Cinque Terre. Even better, you’ll have every excuse for sampling the delicious Ligurian cuisine at every village you stop by. Here are some tips on hiking the Cinque Terre.
The Five Villages of the Cinque Terre
From west to east, the five villages are:
The largest of the towns and the only one with a proper beach, making it a great place to stay to get an early start to your hike.
A stunning village from every viewpoint, Vernazza is characterised by its small harbour and steep, winding streets.
The only one of the five without direct access to the sea, Corniglia is perched on the cliffs surrounded by vineyards.
Manarola doesn’t have much of a harbour, but the boats that line the main street down to the water would make you think otherwise. A beautiful village and a popular place for swimming.
The easternmost of the villages and often the most crowded, Riomaggiore is connected to Manarola by the well-known Lovers’ Lane.
Hiking Paths in the Cinque Terre
The most popular (i.e. busy) way to walk between the five villages is via the Sentiero Azzurro, also known as Trail #2 or the Blue Trail. This is about 12 kilometres in total, though it’s a full day trip if you want to stop in each village. At the time of writing (September 2017) the only part of this trail which is open is the section between Vernazza and Corniglia. Huge landslides devastated the area some years ago and the footpaths are still being repaired.
This does give you the excuse to go higher into the mountains and explore some of the hamlets and churches perched above the villages.
If you want to avoid the villages completely, the 35-kilometer High Path runs along the crest of the hills between Portovenere and Levanto.
Alternative Transport Options for Getting Around the Cinque Terre
If you’re short of time or don’t fancy hiking the full length of the coast, you can mix and match your transport options. If you only have a day and want to steer clear of the Sentiero Azzurro Trail, you’re best off picking a few sections of the higher paths to hike and using the train to get between the other villages.
Another option is to join one of the boat tours, giving you a very different view of the coastline from the sea.
When to Hike the Cinque Terre
The best time for hiking is spring and autumn. The months of April, May, September and October have pleasant temperatures and if you go towards the beginning or end of the season then you’ll miss the worst of the crowds in the villages. Winter is a lot quieter, but you risk bad weather which can close the trails.
Hiking in the Wider Ligurian Region
If you really want to escape the crowds, why not leave the Cinque Terre to the tourists and explore some of the other footpaths along the Italian Riviera? Beautiful scenery AND solitude. Bliss.