The little slice of paradise that lies at the Southern tip of Italy’s Mediterranean, or Ligurian, coast is known for its hiking trails and fabulous cliff-side views. Each of its five villages is connected through the trails and by train, with no way to get between them on the road. For those active enough to attempt the hikes, the views don’t disappoint, and you get the best workout to justify – not that you need to – all that gelato (gelateria guide here)!
If it’s your first time hitting the villages, and you’re not quite sure how to plan your trip around the trails, here’s your guide to each of the trails so you know what to expect.
#Protip : Get the 48-hour train and hiking pass to give yourself some flexibility (the Cinque Terre Card) – €25 pp – if you want to hike one way and take the train back the other. These cards are available at all the train stations across the villages so don’t worry about booking in advance.
Monterosso – Vernazza (Difficulty : Medium i.e. prepare to sweat. a lot.)
One of the harder trails, particularly if you’re working your way from Monterosso, the first 30-45 minutes are fairly steep and quite rocky, but the path evens out with some stunning views of the vineyards next to the village, and easily the most picture perfect views of Vernazza as you begin your approach.
Instagram hotspots – as you approach the midpoint of the hike, there is a rocky ledge jutting out (you’ll see the crowds here I promise!) which provides some of the best vistas of the Ligurian; another gem is when you’re still relatively high up and approaching Vernazza – stop here for a comprehensive view of the village with its signature citadel in prominence.
Vernazza – Corniglia (Difficulty : Easy i.e. your morning warm-up before the sun’s too high)
An absolutely breathtaking and not too exhausting hike – making it one of my favourites – is the trail from Vernazza to the cliffside village of Corniglia – the only one of the five villages without a harbour. Start this hike early in the morning, as it is particularly narrow, to avoid the crowds and enjoy the views without everyone getting in your way. A fairly easy and level hike, you’ve got a few patches of leg shattering uphill slopes at the beginning as you leave Vernazza behind.
Instagram #protip : stop on your way out from Vernazza to turn back and capture the beautiful village from a different angle (for the ideal picture, camp out here for sunrise or sunset to catch the best light hitting the citadel and the water).
Corniglia – Manarola (Difficulty : Medium to Hard i.e. this is your lower body workout for the week)
This is the hardest trail of them all but you’ll be stopping far too regularly to capture the sights to be worried about exhausting yourself. Walk through vineyards and rocky cliff-face paths, through the forested mountains and through little villages scattered along the way. After you leave Corniglia, the trail is bearably even for a very short while before it becomes a seemingly unending slope of steep rocks and stairs. It is a constant uphill for – depending on your pace – easily an hour or two and your summit is a little village surrounded by vineyards with Manarola in the distance – you’ll hate it for the uphill but love yourself for pushing through. The remaining hour or so of the hike before you hit a crossroads is a slightly narrow but evenly paced path through winding vineyards.
When you’re about 30 minutes out of Manarola, you’ll have two options – a steep but quick 30-minute downhill that takes you straight to the village (hard on your knees so be careful) or a longer (say, one hour) more winding but significantly more scenic path right on the mountain’s side, running parallel to the sea – another Instagram hotspot that not everyone knows about!
Manarola – Riomaggiore
Known as the ‘Lovers’ Trail’ this path is known for its views, but be warned, it is closed for most of the year (and continues to be today) due to landslides and unkempt rocky paths. Rest assured, you’ll have plenty of jaw-dropping sights on the other trails and your knees will thank you for not taking it on a fourth!