Walking the Cinque Terre in Liguria, Italy

The Cinque Terre is a highly scenic pathway that winds round Italy’s rocky north western coastline, and up into the grapevine-laden hills of Liguria. The pathway, which links five main villages (the “cinque terre”), commands spectacular views across the Ligurian Sea and is one of Italy’s most unspoilt stretches of coastline. Protected under the UNESCO World Heritage Site scheme, the Cinque Terre region offers visitors the chance to try locally-produced food and wine, and purchase authentic crafts from the five villages which have existed here virtually unchanged since the Middle Ages.

When to Go and Where to Stay

The warm summer months, from May to October, are the best times to visit the Cinque Terre. After November, the Cinque Terre’s hotels and restaurants tend to shut up shop – although each of the villages will have at least one restaurant open if you do happen to go there outside of peak season.

Riomaggiore, the first and largest of the five villages, has the most accommodation options, cafés and restaurants, so most people choose to start the Cinque Terre walk from here. It is possible to complete the walk in one day, which will take around 5 hours, and you can return to Riomaggiore by train. However, you can do it at a more leisurely pace by staying the night at the other villages: Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso.

If you choose to do this, make sure you book in advance as a couple of the villages are very small and accommodation is limited. There is an accommodation booking office in Riomaggiore that can help you organize a room ahead of time.

What You’ll Need to Walk the Cinque Terre

Firstly you’ll need to purchase a walking card which also lets you use other tracks, picnic areas and the free bus within the towns. It is approximately 10 euro for three days but you can also purchase a one-day, two-day or seven-day card depending on your schedule.

Secondly you’ll need a water bottle – especially if it is a hot day. You can refill it at taps or fountains along the way in each of the villages. Good walking shoes, a hat and a light backpack for sunscreen and snacks are also recommended. Don’t forget your bathing suit and a towel, as a refreshing swim will be your reward at the end of walking the Cinque Terre!

Lastly, you’ll need to be organized to go first thing in the morning. You don’t need to start at 5:30am or anything but it is best to start quite early when it is cooler. Also if too many people are on the track later on in the day it may be closed by the park authorities.

The First Three Towns: Riomaggiore, Manarola and Corniglia

From Riomaggiore to Manarola, the first and second towns, is the Via Dell’Amore,  or “Lovers Walk”. This is the easiest part of the trail as it has wide flagstones, and ends in Manarola: a small fishing village with a scattering of shops. After this, the path will get slightly rocky to Corniglia, a picturesque village consisting of vivid four-story primrose, mustard and sunflower-colored houses perched precariously on top of a ridge.

Once you arrive, take a break and explore Corniglia’s narrow alleyways and small, inviting specialty shops like Enoteca Il Pirun, which boasts an impressive array of local wines (this is where a backpack also comes in handy – for wine purchases!)  And on the other side of the main piazza is the village’s ‘panoramico’, a dramatic 180 degree view of the endless sapphire ocean.

The Last Two Towns: Vernazza and Monterosso

Be prepared for a lot of stair-climbing between Corniglia and Vernazza. The path here also turns into more of a dirt track. But it’s all worth it, as the views when you round the bend before the fourth seaside port are fabulous, as are the mouth-watering aromas drifting up to greet you from the town.

The village food also tastes as good as it smells, so stopping for delicious seafood pasta and a gelato at Vernazza is a great idea. Many folk choose to end their walk here, as Vernazza is arguably the most picturesque of all the villages with its colorful piazza, fishing boats and inviting waters. But if you choose to carry on, bear in mind that the route from Vernazza to Monterosso is tougher still. The track changes into stairs as you start hiking up into the hills, but then levels out again. Mountain goat skills may be required in some sections, but at no point is the track unsafe.

In this section of the walk there are incredible views at each bend and it doesn’t take too long before the final section of stairs appear, taking you to the beach at Monterosso for a well-deserved swim. To get back to any of the villages, take the train that stops at each one on its way to Riomaggiore.

Finally, it’s worth noting that you may like to mix up your walking and sightseeing over several days, as there are many other routes and villages to explore in this stunningly beautiful part of Italy. But nothing beats the Cinque Terra – surely one of the most magical and rewarding walks in the world.