Explore Italy: Walking The Cinque Terre
By Sarah Tucker
Beautiful Cinque Terre is one of the most stunning parts of Italy and walking the coast is one of the best ways to experience it in all it’s glory.
If you’re looking to go hiking, Italy is packed full of gorgeous destinations, from Lake Garda in the north, the Amalfi Coast and Sardinia and Sicily. For hikers there is a lot to choose from, but one of the most spectacular options is the Cinque Terre in the Ligurian coast.
The name Cinque Terre means five lands, referring to the 5 beautiful towns which cling to the cliffs along the coast. The five towns are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. I’d previously been recommended Manarola as one of the prettiest towns in Italy so I was looking forward to visiting.
Where To Stay
The town of La Spezia, where my hostel was based for the Cinque Terre, is a short train ride from Pisa (around 1 hour). The town of La Spezia itself isn’t somewhere I’d particularly recommend for a visit but I was pleased to see, walking down the pedestrianised shopping street, that it has a certain charm, so I knew I’d be happy here for a few days.
I stayed at Le Grand Manin Hostel in La Spezia which is one of the nicest hostels I’ve stayed in; the bathrooms and kitchen were spotless, and they provided a nice breakfast free of charge. I stayed in an eight-bunk dorm which was about €17 per night.
Although online there didn’t seem to be much in the way of accommodation in the towns themselves, I spotted quite a few B&B’s as I was passing through. Although chancing it on the doors of the B&B’s as you pass might work out of season, its a safe bet that in the height of summer they’re all booked up.
Moneglia to the north of the Cinque Terre park area is also a popular place, besides La Spezia, to find an affordable bed for a few days.
Getting to the Cinque Terre
From La Spezia train station in the centre of town, you can take a tourist train (which starts at 08.15 and runs every hour) to the five towns of the Cinque Terre. Because I was visiting in December I didn’t need a Cinque Terre card, though it is something you definitely need to get in high season. The 5 Terre card includes the train travel plus the pass to the park (a cheaper way to do it), which you can pick up at La Spezia train station.
I decided to walk the Cinque Terre route north starting from Riomaggiore, which is the slightly easier direction. The usual coastal foot path between Riomaggiore and Manarola is closed due to bad weather a couple of seasons ago, which resulted in mud slides. This means there’s only one route open which takes you into the hills behind the towns, so head to the visitor centre at Riomaggiore train station, to find out where the beginning of the route is. It starts in town behind the castle but it’s not that easy to find (as I found out after a couple of false starts!) so it’s definitely worth an ask!
One thing to note, if you’re concerned, is that most people speak pretty good English in this area owing to the number of tourists that pass through, and particularly in the visitor centres.
Hiking The Five Towns
Riomaggiore itself is a pretty little town, with shops, a castle and some lovely coastal views. I didn’t hang around too long as I wanted to get walking but it’s definitely somewhere you could spend an afternoon exploring.
I found the route and set off up the hill where you are treated to spectacular views all the way along. This route is marked as steep and quite hard, so I wasn’t sure how well I would be able to manage it. As someone of medium fitness, I found it quite manageable; it definitely works your leg muscles and gets your heart beating but it’s not something overly tough. You do need some solid walking boots or shoes though.
The next town was Manarola. I was particularly looking forward to seeing this town. I wasn’t disappointed and as you descend from the hills, you see all the glorious colours of the houses of Manorola nestled in the valley. If you walk through the town there is a pretty church, and cute shops and cafes/bars. Eventually you come to the small port at the end of the town and this is where you get the most scenic view of the village.
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If you walk to the right, along the coast path you’ll get to a set of stairs which takes you up to a small garden and look out point with a café bar called Nessun Dorma. The guy who runs it, Simone, kindly gave me someone homemade panettone which was delicious. In the summer the queues can be out the door, but as I was there in December, it was just me and the view. He said he only opens in December when the weather is good, so I’d got lucky and was treated to some welcome sunshine, good coffee and an amazing view.
After I tore myself away from this idyllic spot, I stuck my head around the corner of the coastal head where you can see where the coastal path was once open. Due to safety issues, this path is now closed so the route to take is Manarola to Corniglie via Volastra. This ended up being my favourite section. You walk out of Manarola town along the hills to Volastra following the 506 route. You then follow the 586 trail to Corniglie but as long as you have a map and GPS on your phone, you’ll be fine – this section has very clear signs. The route takes you through woods, among vineyards, past churches and over the hills – and the views are among the most stunning I have ever seen.
Corniglie is the only town on the route which doesn’t have a beach as it’s on the cliffside, but it is just as pretty, with the same colourful houses dotted on the hillside and stunning panoramas overlooking the Italian coast. There are also plenty of cafes and shops to choose from if you need refreshment. Walking along the coast path to Vernazza and Monterosso, the stretch of the coastal path still open and a relatively easy route, you’ll be treated to amazing views and pretty towns and harbours.
It’s entirely possible to hike the Cinque Terre in one day; it’s about a 6 hour hike depending on your speed. Monterosso was the biggest of the five towns so if you do the full five-town walk in one stretch this is a good place to finish to get supplies or a good meal! One restaurant I tried along the route was called Aristide in Manarola, which cooked a lovely fresh fish pasta ragu which was very reasonably priced.
If you are thinking about visiting Italy and want something a bit less city-based, I would highly recommend the Ligurian coast and Cinque Terre. I loved the hiking and the views are breath-taking. I did one other fantastic hike in my time there, south from Riomaggiore to the sophisticated town of Porto Venere, which takes you along the headland. The town itself is not as traditional as the Cinque Terre towns but is still beautiful.
As Cinque Terre is one of the most popular destinations in Italy, I found the experience of visiting in the winter a great way to see the area without the masses of tourists. I passed a few walking groups on my wander along the paths, but nothing like you’d expect in peak season.In terms of weather, although it wasn’t ideal for the beach, the sun did shine, albeit with a cold wind. If you’re coming for the views and the walk then you won’t mind anyway.
The closest airports to Cinque Terre are Genoa and Pisa. From there the region is easily accessible by trains and buses. Hire cars are restricted in the summer months and the traffic becomes very dense, so perhaps stick to public transport in peak season.
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This article was originally written by Sarah Tucker for Gone Travelling and was reposted with permission. Check them out today.