Hiking in Cinque Terre

Via dell’Amore paved path between Riomaggiore and Manarola (currently closed)

Cinque Terre is located on the Italian Riviera and consists of five villages which are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park. It is an extremely popular tourist area in Italy famous for its brightly coloured buildings dotting the steep cliffs down to the sea. The area is also listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site. The easiest way to travel between the five towns is by train but my favourite way to explore Cinque Terre is via the hiking trails that connect each of the towns. The trail is a combination of steep climbs and descents where you are constantly rewarded with an amazing view of vineyards and the colourful small towns perched on the cliffs above the Ligurian sea. Much of the trail follows the old mule tracks that used to be the only way to travel between the villages.

The five villages of the Cinque Terre are (from South to North):

  • Riomaggiore – The southern most village which was built in the valley of the Rivus Maior which still runs under the town streets. There is a pretty harbour to watch the sunset.
  • Manarola – Often cited as the most picturesque of the five villages due to the colourful houses that sit perched on the cliffs just above the harbour.
  • Corniglia – The smallest and quietest of the Cinque Terre villages, Corniglia sits high in the cliffs and it is the only one without direct access to the sea.
  • Vernazza – One of the busiest and most popular of the villages (and my favourite village) where we stopped in the beautiful harbour for a quick swim before continuing our hike to Monterosso.
  • Monterosso al Mare – The largest of the villages with the only long sandy beach.
Terraced vineyards on the cliffs

Trail Name: Sientiero Azzurro (Blue Trail or Azure Trail) plus detour through Volastra

Distance (one-way): About 13.6 km from Riomaggiore to Monterosso. Returned via train to the starting point in Riomaggiore.

Time (one-way): 6.5 hours not including stops in each of the towns.

Access: It is necessary to purchase the Cinque Terre Card to access to the Sientiero Azzurro. The card can be purchased at any of the Welcome Centres at each of the village’s railway stations as well as the nearby town of La Spezia. The card also provides free use of the local buses, discounts for attractions and free access to public toilets. The card is 7.50 Euros for a one day adult pass.

One of the colourful towns of Cinque Terre

Sientiero Azzurro is the most popular hiking trail in Cinque Terre which connects all five of the villages. However, it is absolutely necessary to check the Cinque Terre National Park office website for any trail closures due to frequent landslides and mudslides. The paved walking path (Via dell’Amore) from Riomaggiore to Manarola is currently closed, as is the Sientiero Azzurro trail between Manarola and Corniglia.

Chiesa di San Lorenzo in Manarola

Riomaggiore to Manarola (Via dell’Amore) – We stayed in the southernmost Cinque Terre town of Riomaggiore, so that is where we began our hike. At the time, the Via dell’Amore paved path to Manarola was open and the mostly flat stroll was a great introduction to the incredible views that were ahead of us for this hike. As this was the easiest portion of the trail, it was very popular and crowded with daytrippers. This portion of the trail takes about 25 minutes and is just over 1 km long.

Although Manarola is known as one of the prettiest Cinque Terre towns, we didn’t linger here long as we had a long hike ahead of us and we were eager to get started with the larger uphill climb to Volastra.

Detour to Volastra

Manarola to Volastra to Corniglia– When we did the hike in summer of 2012, the portion of the trail between Manarola and Corniglia had been washed out by mudslides so we took a detour to the town of Volastra. Otherwise the 2km trip directly from Manarola to Corniglia on the Sientiero Azzurro would have taken about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Instead, the journey via Volastra, a hill-top town high above Manarola took about 2.5 hours and was a total of 5km with an elevation of 400 metres.

Our detour in Volastra was further extended when we met a local wine-maker who was nice enough to let use his restroom and after gave us a complimentary wine tasting and quick tour of the vineyards. He told us the white wine grown in this area have a particularly salty flavour profile due to the sea water deposited by the winds on the terraced vineyards built into the cliffs. The following day, we joined a wine tasting in Riomaggiore to try more of these tasty local wines.

After spending some time admiring the views from the vineyards, we continued on to the next Cinque Terre town. The downhill trek from Volastra to Corniglia was spurred on with the promise of gelato.

Incredible views from the Sientiero Azzurro hiking trail.

Corniglia to Vernazza – This portion of the Sientiero Azzurro was about 4km and reached elevations of about 270 metres. After about 1.5 hours we reach the beautiful town of Vernazza. As soon as I laid eyes on the colourful houses leading down to the harbour, I knew that this town was my favourite in the Cinque Terre. We stopped here to take a dip in the ocean with the locals to rest our weary muscles before making our way along the final stretch of the trail to Monterosso. I would have loved to stay longer in Vernazza to explore the tiny streets and alleys leading up from the sea but we really wanted to complete the full hike to Monterosso in one day and the time was quickly ticking by.

View of Vernazza harbour on the way to Monterosso

Vernazza to Monterosso – The final portion of the trail was about 2 hours long, 3.66km and reached elevations of 217 metres. Much like the previous section of the trail, it seemed as though there were lots of ups and downs but the trail offered some of the most beautiful scenery of the day including an iconic lookout point over the Vernazza harbour. Even though we were quite tired by this point, we tried to keep a good pace as it was getting late in the day and we didn’t want to get stuck on the trail after dark. After one wrong turn and some backtracking, we arrived in Monterosso for dinner just as the sun set.

In the quaint town of Volastra

Getting There: The easiest way to get to the Cinque Terre villages is by train from La Spezia and take the local train north. Alternatively, a local train can be taken south from Genoa. Driving to the Cinque Terre villages is generally not recommended. Local ferries also run between La Spezia and the villages (except Corniglia) but they can be busy during the peak season. Boat tours and private boat rentals are also available to view the villages by sea.

Facilities: We stayed in the first village of Riomaggiore but we did a little exploring of each of the five villages as we hiked the blue trail north from Riomaggiore to Monterosso. A variety of accommodations are available in each of the Cinque Terre villages from cheap hostels to high-end hotels. Seaside tavernas are plentiful to try the local delicacies such as Ligurian pesto. There are also local storefronts where you can get take-away focaccia or cones of deep-fried seafood.

Tour of a small local winery in Volastra.
Grapes growing on the terraced vineyard above Corniglia.
Vineyards above Corniglia
Sun starting to set on the trail from Vernazza to Monterosso

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