Description: Plenty of coastal scenery, picturesque coastal villages, potential for a long-distance hiking, but renovations and closed paths mean that planning and use of trains are recommended if you want to see everything.
Difficulty: Variable, but full of surprises. Definitely not easy in places, and novice walkers should be prepared for a lot of steps and climbs. The first stage alone involves a climb from sea level to an elevation of over 300 metres.
The Base & Getting There:
La Spezia is a popular town for walkers of the Cinque Terre. However, Genoa is just as ideal and may even be a better choice for budget-conscious travellers as cheaper accommodation may be available. The train connecting Genoa and the Cinque Terre is frequent and comfortable – I travelled from Genoa Brignole Station and even found a cheap hotel called Hotel Brignole within two minutes of the station which did the job nicely for me.
Visit Tren Italia’s website for detailed information about trains and timetables. It’s easy to use and the prices are displayed in Euros.
A word of warning, however: I travelled to Genoa from Milan, and couldn’t get a ticket back to Milan from Genoa on my final day as it had sold out. If you are bound by a specific time, I highly recommend buying your tickets out of Genoa the day before.
Levanto is an excellent point to start your walk. The train from Genoa takes just over an hour and costs as little as six Euros (true in 2017).
Levanto has a small train station but within the station there is an office specifically for tourists. Here, advice and maps are provided and they will offer help on where to go, times, the conditions of the paths and any other info. I tried to communicate in Italian, but they spoke English at a comfortable level.
If you intend to use the frequent, useful train at any point in the day along the villages (you probably will), make sure you buy a Cinque Terre Day Card. This will also be necessary as some paths later on require a card to access them.
Stage 1 – Levanto to Monterosso (approx. 2 hours):
From Levanto, it’s a short walk through the town to the coast where our walk starts.
There is a point at the bottom of this map where you will encounter a sign near the beach which marks the start of the walk.
The walk is hilly, but offers beautiful views along the coast. The initial climb will take you up high pretty quickly, and you will soon be able to look back on Levanto and the beach. You will also pass some pretty houses!
As in many places in Italy, the walk will guide you with red and white signals, which are marked on trees and rocks throughout. It is a pretty straightforward walk, though, and once underway, it’s quite difficult to get lost.
The walk also has a couple of boards which provide information in both Italian and English. They will also occasionally show where you are on the trail.
Eventually, once you have passed through some more wooded areas, Monterosso will emerge ahead of you and you will get a taste of the wonderful views this walk has to offer.
Keep walking downhill from here and you will find yourself at the seafront in Monterosso. Here you will find some shops and restaurants and you can refuel, or perhaps pick up some water!
Stage 2 – Monterosso to Vernazza (approx. 1.5 hours):
*Note: This stage of the Cinque Terre walk requires the Cinque Terre Card. Ask at any train station for more information.*
This stage of the walk is another challenge, but offered some of my favourite views of the whole trip. Vernazza is beautiful, and the best views of the village come at the end of this stage when you look down on it from above.
Continue through Monterosso in the direction of the train station. Near the station you should see signs directing you to the start of the walking trail to Vernazza.
One of the first things I noticed about this part of the walk was how it was much busier than the first stage. This route certainly seemed to be more popular, and at times I had to pause and step aside to allow other people to pass. This was in June 2017, so it may be quieter in other months, but do expect to see plenty of other people between Monterosso and Vernazza.
There are a few treats along the way! I encountered a man selling cold, fresh juices to walkers, and on a hot day they were certainly appreciated!
As you climb, again following the red and white signals, there are a few other treats.
Eventually, you will reach a point where you can look ahead to two of the further Cinque Terre.
Simply follow your nose, and you will get even better views down to the colourful Vernazza.
Vernazza is worth exploring, and has a couple of restaurants and bakeries if you decide to reward yourself with a snack. There is a small beach and the train station is never more than a couple of minutes away from the town.
Stage 3 – Vernazza to Corniglia:
I should probably point out here that while I explored each of the remaining villages, I did not walk between them (my legs thanked me for this decision!). There are walkways between them, although due to damages, not all of them are open and you should definitely check out the Cinque Terre website for the latest news if you intend to walk between any of the remaining villages. In particular, the famous Via dell’Amore (Lovers’ Lane) was closed for a while in 2017, although there may be positive news for any travellers heading over soon!
The trains between the villages are frequent and popular. With the Cinque Terre Card, unlimited travel is possible, so you can hop on and hop off at any point. However, do expect to still do your fair share of walking even if you rely solely on the train to get between the villages. Corniglia, in particular, has a hilly climb from the station up to the village, and there are a great number of steps. I believe a bus service does exist, but it would be wise to check in advance.
Corniglia, the third of the five villages, was the most distinctive of them all. Rather than be on the waterfront, the village stands high up on a hill, and offers great views both north and south to both ends of the entire Cinque Terre.
The village itself is (surprise!) very pretty. Narrow streets, cafés, souvenir shops, and perhaps most distinctively, streets lined with petals.
The climb also ensures you get a great view of the fourth village, Manarola.
It does not take too long to get around Corniglia, and can be easily explored within thirty minutes.
All that’s left to do is descend back down the steps to the train station, and hop over to Manarola!
Village 4 – Manarola:
Manarola is gorgeous; usually the village they put on holiday brochures to show just how lovely the Cinque Terre look.
Manarola lies a short distance from the train station. Upon arrival, you will need to follow directions through a small tunnel, after which you simply need to turn left and head down through the main alley to the water. The popular viewpoint lies to the right, so ensure your camera is charged and snap away!
Whenever ready, either head back to the train station or embark on the short walk along the popular lovers’ walk to Riomaggiore!
Village 5 – Riomaggiore:
The last of the five villages, Riomaggiore is a village packed on a series of hills around a small harbour. If you arrive by train, you will need to turn right upon exiting the station and walk through another tunnel. Turning left will lead you up a hill and it will take much longer to get to the village.
I walked down to the water and moved around trying to find the best spot to take the perfect photo! If you continue around the corner, you’ll find a small stone beach.
At this point, I took the train back to Levanto, where my train to Genoa departed. I would again recommend taking note of the train times back to Genoa from the TrenItalia website and plan your trip back to Levanto to work around this. If you have a large amount of time between your trains, however, there is a cafe in the station.
http://www.cinqueterre.eu.com/en/ – The Cinque Terre website.
http://www.trenitalia.com/tcom-en – All your train information can be found here.