Cinque Terre means Five Lands in Italian. For travelers Cinque Terre conjures up images of colorful villages perilously clinging to seaside cliffs, always seeming to be ready to tumble into the blue-green sea.
These five towns are located in the Liguria region of northwest Italy. From north to south they are Monterosso al Mare (or simply Monterosso), Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. The towns and their surrounding land became a national park in 1999 to protect and conserve the ecological balance. It became a UNESCO world heritage site two years earlier.
The best way to see these towns and the scenery around them is to walk the main trail called the Blue Trail or Sentiero Azzurro in Italian. It will take about five hours to hike from one end to the other and you can start at either end. Riomaggiore serves as the base for the park and it is here that you’ll find an office for the national park. The section between Riomaggiore and Manarola is called Via dell’Amore or Lovers Lane. It’s about 2km in length, wide, flat and paved. This might be a good place to start for your warm up. Don’t want to pull a hamstring!
From Manarola to Corniglia (the only town not on the water), the trail turns more natural, with a garden-like quality. It also has some lovely sea views and it’s a relatively easy 2km.
The trail from Corniglia to Vernazza becomes a little more challenging as it climbs to the highest point of the Cinque Terre – and in turn comes back down. There are stone steps, but they’re not even, so you’ll need to watch your footing. However, the views are spectacular. And you’ll be walking through a garden of eden if you are there in spring when everything is in bloom. This section is about 4km in length.
From Monterroso to Vernazza you’ll find the toughest part of the trail where it can become narrow and steep. Of course, this means fabulous views so it’s well worth the extra effort. It’s not the longest at 3km, but this section may take the longest to cover.
You’ll need to have a pass to walk along the trail (remember: it is a national park). The cost of the pass is €5 and can be purchased at any of the information offices near the train stops at any of the towns. For a few euro more, you can also have a pass that includes unlimited train travel between the towns for the day as well – just in case! The passes also come in multi-day options if you are staying in one of the towns and want to break down the walk into sections. For those wanting a free and more challenging walk, there are other trails that go through the park. See the links below for more information on these hikes.
In October 2011 floods devastated the Cinque Terre. Monterosso and Vernazza were hit hard as was some of the Sentiero Azzurro. But, as of spring 2014, the trail is open and the two towns have rebuilt with the typical Italian resiliency. Vernazza is our favorite with a gorgeous natural harbor. We highly recommend staying here, although all the towns have their own unique character and are worthy of some time.
So, ready to lace up your sneakers or hiking boots? This is a hike you’ll definitely never forget.
There are some changes coming to the Cinque Terre. Check out this recent post for more information.
Information on the park including recommendations on where to stay