This post shows you a hidden gem in Italy, we are hiking Cinque Terre trails between five coastal villages north of Tuscany. The isolated Cinque Terre with its five villages is in a location where you don’t get by car, you have to take a train through many coastal tunnels. To explore the Cinque Terre villages you have to walk between them, or take the train.
September is a great time for hiking Cinque Terre trails. It’s not too hot and you avoid the crowds. So why not spend a hiking vacation in this dramatic UNESCO World Heritage listed coastline?
Cinque Terre, Italy
So Cinque Terre is an isolated coastal strip of land with five little fishing villages in the north of Italy.
The five Cinque Terre villages cling to the rocky coast in an area that has been made a national park. The Cinque Terre villages are from south to north: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso.
The steep and rocky Cinque Terre coast makes the area very hard to reach by car. That means you have to use other ways of getting around. Luckily there are the trains and like in old days you can walk between the villages along steep cliffside trails. The ancient footpath Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Path) still connects the five villages. In addition local trains stop in every village and there are some boat connections between them.
A good idea is to hike from one Cinque Terre 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 a lot of beautiful countryside in addition.
Cinque Terre on the Map
You can see the location of Cinque Terre on the map. Zoom in the map to see Cinque Terre more in detail. My map doesn’t have the walking trails, but there is a separate map that shows them.
Walking Maps on Cinque Terre:
As we explored CinqueTerre villages and the national park we started hiking Cinque Terre trails from the first village in the south, Riomaggiore. Let me present Riomaggiore:
Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre Village No 1.
Riomaggiore is the first Cinque Terre village if you arrive by train from La Spezia or Pisa. Get off at Riomaggiore and you step back in time. Riomaggiore is so beautiful and so Italian! On both sides of the main street red, ocher and brown houses cling to the steep rocks.
Riomaggiore is spread over two valleys that are connected by a walking-tunnel. The train takes you to the smaller valley so you just walk through the tunnel to get to the other valley.
The main street is steep. It begins right at the harbor where fishing-boats are parked on the road a long way uphill. The street runs through the small commercial center with shops and bars to the community church that lies at the upper end of the village.
As you can guess the hillside streets are linked by steep stairs. There’s no way to avoid climbing if you want to walk on side streets and meet locals. Of course the village center is packed with local life too, and most in the evenings after all day visitors have left.
Since Riomaggiore is a fishing village its harbor plays on important role in daily life. Lots of blue fishing-boats are scattered around and cats sleepi in the boats to get the tastiest little fish from the fisherman.
Take a path from the left side of the harbor and you’ll reach a small stone beach. On hot summer days the stones get very hot but you can have a swim.
Since the coast is rocky and steep there are not many beaches in Cinque Terre at all and it’s best to enjoy the ones you can find.
Hiking Cinque Terre Trails: Via dell’Amore
Riomaggiore is linked to the next village Manarola by different trails and the most famous of these trails is the 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, only 15 minutes.
But check in advance if the route is open. Because Via dell’ Amore has been closed for a longer time since 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 very touristic since it’s the one that is most easily accessible and also very short. I myself prefer trails where you can walk in your own pace, avoiding the crowds.
Manarola, Cinque Terre Village No 2.
The second Cinque Terre village, Manarola, is much like Riomaggiore but still has its own character. Manarola too has a winding main street leading 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!
But then, on the opposite side of the village you can see terraced vineyards that produce local white Cinque Terre wine. You are free to walk on the vineyards since there are many public trails. Vineyard trails provide great views to the village and the sea.
There are two alternatives to hike to the next village Corniglia. You can either take the upper trail that I will tell about after a while or you can take the shorter coastal trail that you can see in these photos – if it’s open. Like Via dell’ Amore this coastal trail can be closed after a landslide.
The coastal track starts at Manarola harbor and follows the seashore to Corniglia train station on the flatland and then climbs to Corniglia on a hilltop. You can see the route here. Corniglia is in the distance on the cliff.
The track may be closed in the middle but nevertheless you can walk a part of it and return along vineyards to Manarola. Doing this you’ll get a chance to see dramatic coastline, a cemetery on the hill – and why not stop for a while and sit down at a hilltop bar with great views of Manarola and the coast?
This is Manarola harbor a part of which is reserved for swimming. Here you can swim in the deep crystal-clear water off the stone pier and the rocks. It’s really great on a hot day!
Hiking Cinque Terre Trails: Manarola to Corniglia
So the more demanding and longer of the hikes from Manarola to Corniglia is the hike through the hills. This hike starts at the upper end of the main street where the church is. The track first takes you through olive groves to a small church and then to the sleepy village of Volastra.
At Volastra you take the path that starts behind the church and walking further the scenery gets stunning. We couldn’t stop admiring the views that were great all the way from here onwards. It was terraced vineyards and dramatic coastline all way long to Cornigila.
Most of the time the track was very narrow and therefore we had to walk slowly. Some more views of track and the rocky coastline:
So this is our destination Corniglia, far below us and 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 since there is nowhere to buy water or anything else either after Volastra. There are just terraced vineyards.
This was 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 the day on this walk. We stopped and talked with locals. In fact we only met locals here since there were hardly any hikers around in late September.
Some more pretty vineyard views before we start descending to Corniglia.
Corniglia, Cinque Terre Village No 3.
Corniglia is an exception in Cinque Terre villages because it lies high on a cliff and doesn’t have a harbor. Instead it has great views of the coast from the cliff and it also has a pretty main street with a small shady town square.
While walking around in Cornigilia we started to feel we now deserve a lunch and in addition some local white wine so we headed to one of the shady restaurants on the piazza.
After the lunch we still had to walk a little bit since there where 380 steps down to the station where we could get a train back to Manarola where we stayed.
Hiking Cinque Terre Trails: Corniglia to Vernazza
From Corniglia the walking track continues to the next village Vernazza. That is a 4 kilometers walk through olive groves. It takes an hour or maybe two if you stop a lot. You need to climb a bit and get magnific sea views after the climb.
And at the end there is a great view on Vernazza.
Vernazza, Cinque Terre Village No 4.
Vernazza is the fourth village of Cinque Terre and it’s really postcard-pretty. There is a sheltered bay that has a harbor and a small sandy beach, both right at the end of the main street.
Vernazza has a good choice of small bed and breakfasts and hotels and also small piazzas with cosy small trattorias and bars. It’s easy to get to Vernazza since the train station is right in the middle of the village and the streets here are not very steep so it’s easy to walk around. No wonder Vernazza attracts visitors.
Finally some more Cinque Terre fishing boats and then it’s time to continue our journey.
Hiking Cinque Terre Trails: Vernazza to Monterosso
So we left Vernazza towards north, to Monterosso al Mare. This path was first of all quite rough and also there were steep stairs so it was not the easiest trail we’ve seen. At least you need good shoes.
But the path is just beautiful! It mainly follows the seashore. To begin with you walk through pretty vineyards, later you’ll walk through olive groves and lemon gardens. And in between you’re in a deep pine forest.
One more look at Vernazza from the path. And below you can see the end of the track, just before reaching Monterosso al Mare.
The Vernazza – Monterosso hike is not long, it’s about 3 km. So now we have hiked the Sentiero Azzurro through all five Cinque Terre villages! And it’s time to look what Monterosso is like.
Monterosso, Cinque Terre Village No 5.
Monterosso is on the north edge of the Cinque Terre and it is the largest of the five fishing villages. Montesosso is the only village that has a long sandy beach and in addition it has a beautiful pebble beach.
The old part of the town 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 walk 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.
Since Monterosso has good traffic connetions, hotels and other accomomdation and two beaches, it’s a good base for your stay when hiking Cinque Terre trails. We have also stayed at Monterosso and we liked it. But last time we chose to stay at Manarola where we rented a little house.
Our Little House in Manarola
For our last trip to Cinque Terre we were searching hotels, rooms and apartments and found a small house in the center of Manarola. The house was very typical of Manarola, it was centuries old and tiny and there was just a living room downstairs. Steep steps led to a bedroom upstairs with splendid sea views.
In addition we had a tiny terraced garden where we relaxed with a beer or local wine and planned the next day’s hikes. That was great since it was always the right time to watch the sun set when we were sitting there.
And this little house had an extra bonus we didn’t know about wheb we booked: there happened to be an excellent seafood restaurant right next door, the famous Trattoria Dal Billy. At night Dal Billy carried one of their tables into our garden and served us their best delicacies – right to our garden! That was very good since they were every night fully booked.
As a result we enjoyed Dal Billy a lot. That became our favorite restaurant in Cinque Terre so I can recommend them. If you want to visit here’s a link to Dal Billy’s webiste: Trattoria Billy
I will end this Cinque Terre post with one more sunset view from our little house in Manarola. Hope to be back in Cinque Terre and Manarola some day.
If you want to read more on Cinque Terre this is the Cinque Terre National Park website (only in Italian): parconazionale5terre.it
More on Italy Travel:
My other posts on Italy will show you Rome and Florence and I will also tell you where to go when driving in the Tuscan countryside.