Cinque Terre’s biggest draw for visitors is the hiking trail linking the five towns. Until the railroad came to town some hundred years ago, this winding footpath was the only terrestrial connection the towns had to each other and to the outside world. Spend an afternoon hiking the trails and you will see that visiting the next town over is more difficult that it sounds. Today, the trail is used more for leisure than necessity, and it forms the basis of the Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre.
Trail 2 (there are other trails that go even further into the hills) is by far the most popular trail. It follows the coastline and connects Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. The path is marked with a red and white blaze; and from end to end, the trip takes about 6 to 8 hours. A trail pass is required and can be purchased at the train stations in each of the towns or at the beginning of the trails—just start walking out of town and you will see a little hut along the trail. The pass is €6 per person for one day, though they have multiple day passes and combination train and trail passes as well.
Each leg of the trail is different. The Via dell’Amore connects Riomaggiore to Manarola and takes about 30 minutes. It is short, flat, handicap accessible (a rarity in Europe) and is the easiest part of the trail. Come here at night with your sweetie for a romantic stroll and leave a love lock behind. Or during the day, cozy up and enjoy a beverage at the Bar dell’Amore. This little cafe offers hikers a bit of rest and repast along with an unforgettable view of the surf crashing into the rocks below.
The section from Manarola to Corniglia is relatively flat and takes about an hour and, though beautiful is the least awe-inspiring part of the whole trail.
The stretches from Corniglia to Vernazza and from Vernazza to Monterosso are more strenuous and take about 2 to 3 hours for each segment. The trails take you out of town and up cliffs to stunning vistas and through steep, hillside vineyards and gardens of basil and lemon. The sights (and smells!) are amazing and you will be constantly reaching for your camera. If you thought the towns were picturesque when you were in them, just wait until you see them from up here. Ever wonder how people come back from Italy with amazing photos? Turns out, every picture you take in Cinque Terre looks like a postcard to to send back home.
Be sure to bring plenty of water with you as the sun is HOT, though occasionally, townspeople will be selling bottles of water at a very reasonable price at shady places along the trail. An added bonus: just outside of Monterosso there is a limoncello stand, which is way better than a lemon stand. This lemon liqueur is made right here from local lemons and is very refreshing. We recommend drinking this on the way to Monterosso when you are just a few minutes’ walk downhill from town. Drink it on the way up with two hours of hiking under the hot sun before the next town at your own risk.
Don’t try to hike the whole trail in one day—spread it out over several days and enjoy the beautiful scenery. There are frequent train connections between each village during the day and early evening. The trails can be narrow and difficult to navigate at times. Be sure to plan your excursion so that you have time to get back before night.
Hiking the trails of Cinque Terre just might be the best thing to do on your trip to Italy.