It was September and still quite warm. Dressed in a sleeveless tank top and jeans, I thought for sure the hiking portion of this 1-day excursion would be a breeze. I always considered myself to be somewhat athletic, but boy was I totally unprepared for the day’s activity. Me against nature – that’s how I would describe the first time I explored this majestic terrain nestled in the northwest of Italy known as Cinque Terre. I can’t recall how long I hiked for that day, but I distinctly remember feeling the sun’s heat intensifying with each minute that passed by. As I climbed higher and hiked further and further, varying thoughts began to run through my mind like “it’s a good thing we started early in the morning”; “I should have worn shorts”; “did I put enough sunscreen on my arms”; and “how much further do we have to go”; …and then the moment arrived.
Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw next and everything that followed made it all worthwhile – a coastline decorated with rows of colorful buildings, narrow inclined streets with shops seamlessly blending in with the residential apartments, and fresh seafood restaurants so close to the water that you could stretch your hands from your table and touch the boats on the shore.
Cinque Terre literally means “Five Lands” and it is home to some of Italy’s greatest walking trails and beautiful seaside views. The villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare, collectively known as Cinque Terre are the five fishing villages that wrap around the Ligurian coastline. While the most popular way to explore this area is via hiking trails, each with its own level of difficulty and unique landscape, picturesque views, and structures untouched by time, travel between villages is also possible via train.
If you say to yourself “hiking is my thing” and are up for the challenge, the entire route spanning the five villages will take approximately 6 hours to walk, with short breaks in between. Or you can spread it over a few days and stop to enjoy the villages along the way. If you are looking to stay overnight or even extend your trip for a few days, there are several options in the area for accommodations – mostly B&B’s as well as room or apartment rentals with few hotels, but all boasting their own unique views of Cinque Terre.
Don’t have much time, but still want to experience the hiking trails, marvelous views, and that day’s fisherman’s catch cooked to perfection – then a hike from Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza is the way to go. This distance is 3.7km and will take approximately 2 hours (or less depending on if you’re in pretty good shape or hike at a faster pace). The mere distance and time it takes to complete the trail, the breathtaking views of the Vernazza harbor as you approach the village, and the fact that the trail is not extremely difficult and fairly comfortable makes this the ideal trail in my book!
If you’re like me and prefer not to miss out on an experience, but also appreciate convenience, I would suggest a combination of hiking and the train. Cinque Terre has its own train system – Cinque Terre Express, which runs along the coast between the stations of La Spezia Centrale and Levanto and provides easy access to travel between villages. The cost during peak season (typically mid-March – mid-October) is 4 Euros per trip for adults (2 Euros for children 4 – 12 years old; free for children under 4 years old); (1.80 Euro during the off-peak season). If you’re planning on traveling a lot over the course of the day, then it might be worth purchasing a Cinque Terre Card which allows unlimited travel on the local train system and other added benefits (https://www.cinqueterre.eu.com/en/cinque-terre-card).
Now that we’ve talked about what to do, you’re probably asking yourself – “how do we get to Cinque Terre?”. Well, the best way to get to Cinque Terre is by train or ferry. Traveling by car is quite possible but isn’t highly recommended given the villages are very pedestrian-friendly. The closest railway station to Cinque Terre is La Spezia Centrale and there are a few direct trains that run daily from Rome and Florence to that station, otherwise, you will have to change trains in Pisa. (For train departure and return times, and fares check out Trenitalia’s website https://www.trenitalia.com/en.html).
Prefer to travel to Cinque Terre by water? Daily ferry service is offered during the summer months – March – October, with connecting service from La Spezia, Lerici, Levanto, and Portovenere.
(You can find more information about the ferry service here https://www.cinqueterre.eu.com/en/boat-excursions).
Cinque Terre challenged my athleticism and gave me a newfound appreciation for outdoor hiking, but the breathtaking views made it worth every step I climbed that day, and I would do it all over again. If you’re looking for an excursion that involves outdoor activities, easy access to five seaside villages, beaches to swim or just sunbathe, and freshly caught seafood to satisfy your appetite, then Cinque Terre is a must! Even if you’re not planning to hike, the villages are all quite hilly with no shortage of stairs, so be prepared to walk which is a perfect way to work up an appetite (or burn off some of the calories from eating that cone of fried seafood that you just couldn’t resist!)
For a complete Cinque Terre hiking guide and updates on hiking trail closures, be sure to check out http://www.parconazionale5terre.it/Esentieri-outdoor.php.