Probably one of the most popular and well-known seaside destinations in Italy, Cinque Terre (Five Terraces) is no stranger to visitors from around the world. Easily accessible from Pisa, Milan, and La Spezia, the five towns are linked by frequent trains, as well as beautiful hiking trails that run along the cliffs. For me, the attraction of Cinque Terre is being able to visit the five unique villages all by foot. However, the hiking trails aren’t just a leisurely stroll – some take you up thousands of stairs through private vineyards and residences and can be particularly brutal under the hot summer sun. Due to rockslides in the past few years, some of the trails may be closed depending on when you visit (I went in 2012 and 2013, finding different trails opened and closed each time).
The five towns, in order from North to South, are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. The hike from Monterosso to Riomaggiore (if all trails are open) can be completed in one day, but be prepared to pack a lunch (or stop in one of the towns) as it can last up to 5-7 hours depending on your pace. If you have more than a day in Cinque Terre (which I highly recommend), a good strategy to see all the towns at your own pace is to take the train to the town you want to start in and only do one section of the hike at a time. The average hiking time between the towns is around 90 mins (again depending on your pace). Currently, the easy seaside trails between Riomaggiore, Manarola, and Corniglia are all closed, with a mountainous trail between Manarola and Corniga (Trail 6A) being your only option. This is by far the most strenuous of the five trails, but the views at the top make it completely worth it and is definitely the one you should not miss. The trail between Vernazza and Monterosso is also nice, and I recommend that one as well.
Approaching Vernazza from Corniglia in the early morning after a rainstorm. If you can, try to plan your hikes in the mornings or evenings to not only avoid the afternoon heat, but to also avoid paying for the park! I think a ticket for the hike is 5 euros, but if you get out before the ticket booths open (9 am), no one will be there to check and you get to pass for free! They also close around 5pm or 6pm as well.
This is Riomaggiore from my balcony (yes my balcony). Somehow, I lucked out and my 20 euro per night hostel had a beautiful balcony that overlooked the town as well as the sea. A great place to hang out and watch the sunset over a bottle of 3 euro wine or champagne from the local Coop supermarkets.
Riomaggiore marina and the beginning of the town. Love how the buildings climb up the hillside.
This is part of the rock barrier that forms an awesome bay that is great for swimming at Riomaggiore. In addition to the swimming hole, Riomaggiore is my preferred town to stay in because it has a variety of sleeping options, at least 3 supermarkets (which are a must if you are traveling on a budget), and cliffs a 1 min walk (or swim) from the marina to jump off. Also, you can hire boat tours between the towns as well as diving trips from the Riomaggiore marina.
Another view of the marina/swimming hole in Riomaggiore. Beautiful water and the rock barrier provides a wall between you and the open ocean. You can see people climbing the rocks that you can jump off in the top right of the photograph.
Houses lining the marina in Riomaggiore.
Another view of my balcony. Definitely a great place to spend a week for only 20 euro per night!
Yet another reason to love Riomaggiore – a little known trail that leads up the mountains from the town can be found by walking up the main street of the town (opposite the sea). The trail itself is not very exciting, but the resulting views are worth the hike as it leads up to a church on top of the hills above Riomaggiore. Another great spot to watch the sunset!
The town at the bottom of the photo is Riomaggiore. The hike takes about an hour to complete.
The next town to the north of Riomaggiore is Manarola. From here you can depart on my favorite trail (6A) to Corniglia.
Again Manarola – I am amazed by the way the buildings seem to climb on top of each other up the hillside.
Part of the 6A trail between Manarola and Corniglia. You can see a small portion of Corniglia jutting out into the sea. Notice how high the trail goes – that is a decent sized boat in the water off the tip of Corniglia!
Amazing flower along the trail.
View of Manarola from the trail. This is about the spot where I hiked past and said hi to Anderson Cooper (he was there on holiday as well)!
Again, approaching Vernazza during an early morning storm.
Overlooking Vernazza from the trail to Monterosso.
Clock tower in Vernazza.
Probably my favorite dish in Italy – Insalata Caprese. I think this one was in Vernazza.
View of Corniglia (front) and Manarola (back) from the trail. After hiking, it’s always satisfying to be able to look back and see where you walked from.
Amazing sunset over the Mediterranean – an perfect way to spend my last two nights in this place.