This post will take you to an isolated part of Italy. We are hiking Cinque Terre trails linking five old fishing villages on the North Italian coastline.
The five villages of Cinque Terre are in a location with no access by car. You can only reach the place by the train through tunnels. To see the five villages you have to hike between them, or use the train.
Hiking Cinque Terre Trails in Italy
September is a great time for hiking Cinque Terre trails. It’s no longer hot and already off-season so there are no crowds. A perfect time for an autumn hiking vacation on an UNESCO World Heritage listed coastline in the Italian Liguria.
Cinque Terre, Italy
So Cinque Terre is a coastal strip of land in Liguria, North Italy.
In addition to being a UNESCO site Cinque Terre is a national park. The five villages clinging to the rocky coast are, from south to north: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso.
Riomaggiore, one of the five Cinque Terre villages
The rocky Cinque Terre coastline makes the area hard to reach along roads. That means you have to use other ways to get there. Luckily Italy has a good train system that even takes you to Cinque Terre. Trenitalia trains stop in each village and during the high season there may also be boat connections to them.
Just like it was done in the old days, you can walk between the villages along cliffside trails. The same ancient footpath Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Path) still connects the five villages.
A good idea is to hike from one village to another, and on to the next one. Hike as long as you like – and then take the train back. That way you can discover all the five villages – and enjoy the fanstastic countryside while hiking.
Cinque Terre on the Map
Cinque Terre, Italy on the map
You can see the location of Cinque Terre on the map. Zoom in the map to see the region and the villages more in detail.
My map, however, doesn’t show any walking trails, but there is a separate map for them:
On our trip we started hiking from the first village in the south, Riomaggiore. Let me show you Riomaggiore:
Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre Village No 1.
Green window shutters of Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre
Arriving by train from direction La Spezia and Pisa, Riomaggiore is where Cinque Terre begins. Getting off the train you will step back in time.
Riomaggiore is spread over two deep valleys and the cliffs between them and the two valleys are linked by a walking-tunnel.
The train takes you to the smaller valley where the station is, to get to the main valley walk through the tunnel.
Hiking Cinque Terre trails: Riomaggiore
The main street in the bigger valley is exceptional and very steep. Beginning on the waterfront where the fishing-boats are kept it winds its way uphill. Halfway up is a small village center with shops and bars and other services for the locals, and on the top stands the community church watching the village below.
Riomaggiore is stunning. So different to where we came from, so atmospheric and so profoundly Italian! Both sides of the main street are lined with red, ocher and brown homes clinging to the steep rock.
Homes on the cliffside
On the hillside the streets are all stairs, steep stairs. If you want to see the side streets you can’t avoid climbing, but it’s worth it, you will meet friendly locals in the back streets.
The best place to observe local life, however, is the village center that is packed with all generations that come out in the evenings when tourists and day visitors have left.
Cinque Terre fishing boats
As Riomaggiore is a living fishing village, its harbor plays a acentral role in the daily life. Blue fishing-boats scattered around the bay and cats sleeping in boats waiting for a fish or two when fishermen return from the sea.
Boats parked on the main street
Cat sleeping in a fishing boat
Take a path from the left side of the harbor and you’ll reach a third valley and a small stony beach. On hot summer days the beach stones get very hot but that doen’t prevent you from swimming.
Walkway to the beach of Riomaggiore
Cinque Terre is not an ideal beach destination. As the coast is rocky and steep there is only a handful of small beaches, and even less beaches with sand. Most beaches have pebbles and big round stones. Here it’s best just to enjoy the ones you can find.
The stony Riomaggiore beach, typical in Cinque Terre
Now about the trails:
Hiking Cinque Terre Trails: Via dell’Amore
Via dell’Amore, the Lovers Lane
Riomaggiore is linked to the next village Manarola by different trails, the most famous of which is Via dell’Amore.
Via dell’ Amore or Lovers Lane follows the coastline from Riomaggiore train station to the station of the next village, Manarola. The walk is short and only takes about 15 minutes.
If you plan to walk along Via dell’ Amore, first check if the route is open. Via dell’ Amore has been closed for longer times after a rock came down and some walkers got hurt.
Here are some views of Via dell’Amore. It is a very pretty path, but also almost too touristic even in September. Because it’s the one that is easiest to access of all Cinque Terre trails.
Even when Via dell’Amore is a great little walk, I myself prefer trails where I can walk in my own pace. I don’t need any crowds.
A Cinque terre hiking trail
Manarola, Cinque Terre Village No 2.
Manarola, Cinque Terre
The second Cinque Terre village, Manarola, is a bit like Riomaggiore but yet clearly has its own character. Manarola, too, has a winding main street from the harbor to the church on the hill, and it also has side streets with lots of steep stairs.
And look at all these yellow, pink and red houses that cling to the steep cliff!
Typical Manarola homes
But then, on the opposite side of the village there are no houses but terraced vineyards. These vineyards produce local white Cinque Terre wine.
You are free to walk on the vineyards along the many public trails. Vineyard trails are nice to walk along, they provide great views to the village on the oppposite side, and to the sea.
Hiking Cinque Terre trails: Manarola
There are two alternatives to hike to the next village Corniglia. You can either take the upper trail that I will tell about soon, or you can take the shorter coastal trail that you can see in these photos – if the trail is open. Like Via dell’ Amore, this coastal trail is sometimes closed after landslides.
The coastal trail to Corniglia starts down at Manarola fishing harbor and follows the seashore to Corniglia train station on the seaside, and then climbs to the hilltop where Corniglia is located. You can see the trail in the photo. Corniglia is on the cliff you can see at the distance.
Trail from Manarola to Corniglia
The track may be closed in the middle, but nevertheless you can walk a part of it and then return along vineyards to Manarola. Doing this you’ll get a chance to see some dramatic coastline, a cemetery on the hill – and a hilltop bar with great views of Manarola and the coast.
Hiking Cinque Terre trails
This is the harbor of Manarola, a part of which is reserved for swimmers. Here you can swim in deep crystal-clear sea waters off a stone pier and rocks. Sounds simple but is really great on a hot day or after a hike!
The lovely village of Manarola
Hiking Cinque Terre Trails: Manarola to Corniglia
Hiking in Cinque Terre National Park
So the more demanding and longer hike Manarola to Corniglia is the one through the hills. This hike starts at the upper end of Manarola main street where the church is. The trail first takes you through olive groves to a small church, and then to the sleepy village of Volastra.
Up in the hills in Cinque Terre
At Volastra choose the path that starts behind the church and it’s not that the scenery gets stunning. We didn’t get tired of the views that were fantastic all the way from here onwards. It was steep terraced vineyards and dramatic coastline all way long to Cornigila.
Growing Cinque Terre wine
Most of the time the trail was very narrow which gave us another reason to walk slowly.
Some more views from this Cinque Terre hike and the rocky coastline:
Corniglia seen from Cinque Terre trail
So this is our destination Corniglia, still far below us so we still need to walk a bit. But I never mind long walks when the views are like this.
Remember to bring your water bottle, there is nowhere to buy water or anything else after Volastra. There only is terraced vineyard after another.
Vineyard trail from Manarola to Corniglia
This was, in fact, the Cinque Terre trail I liked the most. Of course some sections of the route were quite steep, but in the sunny weather it was not slippery so walking was great fun.
We didn’t hurry and spent about half of a day on this beautiful walk, stopping a lot and talking a bit with the locals we met. In fact, we only met locals on the path. I was September and there were hardly any hikers around.
Hiking Cinque Terre trails
One more look at the vineyard before descending to Corniglia.
Corniglia, Cinque Terre Village No 3.
Down from the hills through a forest
Corniglia is an exception in Cinque Terre. It lies high on a cliff and doesn’t have a harbor. On the contrary, it has splendid views of the coast from the clifftop where it’s located.
Corniglia, Cinque Terre
We dived into the village and its pretty main street where we found a shady town square, and started to feel hungry after all walking. We now deserve a lunch and some local white at one of the shady restaurants on the piazza, to be able to walk back to Manarola where we stayed.
After the lunch there where 380 steps down to the train station where we got a train back to Manarola.
The main square of Corniglia
Hiking Cinque Terre Trails: Corniglia to Vernazza
From Corniglia the walking trail continues to the next village Vernazza. That is a pleasant 4 kilometer walk, mainly through olive groves. It takes an hour or maybe two, depending on how much you stop.
You need to climb a bit at whiles but will get some breathtaking sea views after the climb.
Then, at the end, there is a great view towards the Cinque Terre village of Vernazza.
Vernazza, Cinque Terre Village No 4.
The seaside village of Vernazza, Cinque Terre
Vernazza is the fourth village of Cinque Terre and again like a postcard, built around a sheltered bay. There is a harbor and a small sandy beach, right where the main street ends.
Vernazza has a rich choice of bed and breakfasts and small hotels to cater for visitors. Many tiny piazzas with cozy trattorias and bars are also something that differs Vernazza from the other villages we have been to.
This clearly is a tourist destination in summer. As the train station is centrally located in the village and streets are not steep it’s easy to get to Vernazza and easy to stay. No wonder Vernazza attracts visitors.
A stunning view from a Cinque Terre trail: Vernazza
After these fishing boats and it’s time to continue our hike.
Blue fishing boats of Liguria, Italy
Hiking Cinque Terre Trails: Vernazza to Monterosso
Hiking from Vernazza to Monterosso
So we left Vernazza towards north, to the next village Monterosso al Mare. The path was quite rough all the way, and also there were steep stairs in places. So it was not the easiest trail we’ve seen. At least we were happy for having good shoes.
But otherwise, the path is just beautiful as it follows the seashore most of the time.
To begin with you walk through pretty vineyards, later it’s olive groves and then lemon gardens. Not bad! And in between you’re in a deep pine forest.
One more look at Vernazza from the path. And, then, below you will see the end of the trail as we will be reaching Monterosso al Mare.
The Vernazza – Monterosso hike is not long, only about 3 km.
So, now we have completed the Sentiero Azzurro hike through all five Cinque Terre villages! Time to look what Monterosso is like.
Seaside hiking trail to Monterosso
Monterosso, Cinque Terre Village No 5.
The pebble beach of Monterosso al Mare, Liguria, Italy
Monterosso is at the north edge of Cinque Terre and by far the largest of the five fishing villages. Montesosso is the only village that has a long sandy beach and a beautiful pebble beach in addition. Two beaches!
The old part of Monterosso al Mare
The old part of the village is hidden behind cliffs and the railway line. In this part there are many small hotels, shops and bars and narrow lanes.
From the old town of Monterosso you will get to the train station and the pebble beach in front of it through a short tunnel. You can see the beach and the tunnel in the picture below:
As Monterosso al Mare has good train connections and the two beaches, hotels and other accomomdation have stood up here. Monterosso is a good base to stay at when hiking Cinque Terre trails.
We have also stayed at Monterosso on an earlier Cinque Terre trip, and we liked it here. This time, however, we happened to find a cute little house in Manarola and chose to stay there.
Our Little House in Manarola
Our little Manarola garden
Planning our hiking trip to Cinque Terre we were searching hotels, rooms and apartments, and finally found a small house in the center of Manarola. The house was most typical of Manarola, centuries old and tiny. Just a living room downstairs, steep spiral stairs to a bedroom upstairs – where we had fresh air and splendid sea views!
Best of all, we had a terraced garden where we relaxed, he with a beer and she with local wine, planning the next day’s adventures. A perfect place for trip planning, and each time we sat here it was the right time to watch the suset.
And this little house had an extra bonus we had now idea about when booking it: there happened to be a super good seafood restaurant right next door, the fantastic Trattoria Dal Billy.
At nights Dal Billy came and carried one of their tables into our garden and served us the best they could offer – right into our own garden! This really was an extra bonus, as they were fully booked every night.
Served by Trattoria Billy, Manarola
So at nights we didn’t leave our house but enjoyed what Dal Billy offered. This way Dal Billy became our favorite restaurant in Cinque Terre. If you want to try Dal Billy, you can find them on this webiste: Trattoria Billy
I will end this Cinque Terre post with one more sunset from our little house in Manarola. Hope to be back in Cinque Terre and Manarola some day.
Cinque Terre sunset
If you want to read more about Cinque Terre, this is the Cinque Terre National Park website (Italian): parconazionale5terre.it
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