Walking the Cinque Terre, Italy

I’ve always had a soft spot for Italy. It was the first country I visited after I moved to the UK, and the first country I travelled through solo. But somehow on my first, second, and third trips to Italy I missed the incredible Cinque Terre.
Situated on the Italian Riviera, the Cinque Terre gets its name from “Five Lands” and consists of five small villages, Monterosso, Vernazza, Manorala, Corniglia, and Riomaggiore.  The villages, and their surrounding coastlines and hillsides are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and are like honey to the bee for tourists who appreciate beautiful scenery and love the chance to stretch their legs.
Italy's Cinque Terre is an iconic walk along five beautiful towns
When a friend told me about the Cinque Terre when I was living back in Sydney I couldn’t believe I’d missed such an iconic Italian travel spot. So of course the only sensible thing to do was go back to Italy, and correct that as soon as possible.

Fortunately I had a fellow Adventure lover in my friend Scott, and after a cruise of the Mediterranean for a friend’s birthday, we hit dry land, hired a car, and made our way to this stunning part of Italy.

There are all sorts of ways you can do the Cinque Terre, but we started out on foot at the Northern end with Monterosso and made our way down the coastline. If we’d known Monterosso to Vernazza was the steepest section to walk along, with very narrow paths in places and oh so many steps, we may have decided to start at the easier end.
Monterosso was our first Cinque Terre Town

But I’m glad we did it this way because it really was something special, and it would have been a shame to be scared off by a few steps (as much as some of them hurt at the time!)

After sighing at how beautiful and inviting the water looked, and taking many pictures, we headed for the hills. We passed through the checkpoint to buy a ticket to walk the Cinque Terre, (which is only a few Euro so nothing to worry about) and then it was time to start winding our way through Mediterranean bushland, vineyards and olive groves.

Considering how many people do the Cinque Terre walk every year, I was surprised by just how narrow the path was in parts (and how far the drop over the edge of that narrow path was at times).

It was very much Single File time as we walked along, and I spent almost as much time watching the ground for uneven rocks as I did looking around in some sections. But that was actually part of its the walk’s charm. I liked that the path hadn’t been widened or adorned with safety railings.

As the paths were too narrow to easily pass people, we had to find wider spots where we could stand while walkers going the other way could get around. But that was fun in itself.

It gave us the chance to say hi to fellow adventurers, and I don’t mind saying I was always up for a mini break on those steps, that seemed to mock me by stretching on again when I turned a corner.  A bit like the Disneyland queues, but with a lot more exercise involved.

That said, not all of the walk was hard work. There were stretches where the path widened out, and where wooden fences guided us on our way.

And all of those steps were worth it when we were able to look back at how far we had come. I was filled with a sense of wonder and pride as I took it all in, mixed with admiration for the sweet little old lady tending to her vines (I mean, how fit must she be?)

After making our way through some more bushland, and over sweet little bridges, it was time to be rewarded with another view.

As we rounded a corner, there it was in the distance… Vernazza was waiting for us on the other side. And it was a beautiful thing.

As the old song goes, what goes up, must come down. And down we went. I must say, some people may find the uneven steps a bit of a challenge, but while we had to be careful, going down was much more fun than going up.

We even made a few feline friends on the way. The bucket may say they’re unloved, but I have a feeling the Cinque Terre homeless cats get more scratches behind the ear than most from tourists like me.

We were hot, we were sweaty, but we were very very happy as we reached the final stretch of our first Cinque Terre walk. If only the tourist who was walking the other way had managed to frame the shot properly.

It’s such a shame, but after our cruise we didn’t have enough time to spend a few nights in the villages, which is something I’ll have to fix in the future (you see how this works? I simply have to go back to that part of Italy again one day).

But when we do go, I’ll be sure to get onto accommodation early. Hotels along the Cinque Terre can book out well in advance, and I’m told even after making a reservation you should call beforehand to confirm, in case the hotel decides you mustn’t be coming and gives your room away.

There is also a range of B&Bs and other accommodation in the villages, and the Cinque Terre Hotels website has a good list to get you started.

As time was running out, we decided to give our legs a rest, and catch a boat down to Manarola and the train to Riomaggiore and then walk back up again.

Which is when we discovered something anyone getting on a train at the Cinque Terre should know – you have to validate your ticket or you’ll get hit with a rather large fine.

Make Sure you Validate Train Tickets in the Cinque Terre

I was more than a little cranky when we bought our ticket from the nice man, walked onto the train, and within minutes were hit with a 50 Euro fine for not having validated it. Considering there were no signs, no barriers, and the nice man hadn’t told us, I wasn’t impressed. They no doubt make an absolute fortune from unsuspecting tourists, and if I can stop them getting just one person, I’ll be very happy.

The Riomaggiore to Manarola Stretch is the Easiest Walk

After recovering from that nasty encounter, we were ready to get the blood pumping again with another big walk. Which is when we discovered that the “hike” between Riomaggiore and Manarola was nothing like our first Cinque Terre experience.

This section was perfectly paved, featuring polite, wide walking areas with benches to sit on along the way. Some stretches were even fully covered so you didn’t even have to deal with the sun on your face.

This Southern most stretch is definitely the section to take people who may prefer a gentler pace, while still enjoying killer views. And while I thought it was beautiful, there’s a lot to be said for working up a sweat, climbing high into the hills of the Cinque Terre, and soaking up those incredible views.

You can either go it alone or join up with a tour like Tuscany Untouched Tours which has a special Cinque Terre tour on offer.

Take lots of water, take a camera, take a sense of humour, and most of all, a sense of adventure, and let me know what you think when you have your own Cinque Terre experience.


About the Author

As a journalist who loves to travel and is fond of a chat I'm oh so happy when I'm sharing travel tales and tips. When I'm not travelling or writing about it I can be found out and about with friends, curled up at home with a good book or watching an addictive tv show promising I'll stop after one more episode. Amanda on Google +

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  1. Very nice article Amanda! I’ve been to Cinque Terre four times now and I’ve fallen in love with it. I think you did the hiking exactly right, starting with the hardest hike and ending with the easiest. The hike from Riomaggiore to Manarolo is called the Via Dell’Amore (Walk of Love) and is very popular. When you visit again, try late September or early October as there are fewer tourists. My wife and I usually stay in Riomaggiore, the southernmost town, and either walk or take the train to the other towns. As for the ticket validation, that is true on any Italian train. You buy the ticket, then get it stamped by any of the big yellow machines near the gates. All guide books will warn of this.

    On your next visit, try taking one of the boats from town to town. They are the other option to the train or walking. Seeing the towns from the water gives you a different perspective. You’ll also want to try the anchovies which they catch fresh every night. They are nothing like the anchovies here in the States. You will also want to try the local dessert wine, Sciacchetra.


  2. Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for the feedback and the top tips! I’m dreaming of going back and love the idea of staying in Riomaggiore to explore.

    Glad you loved the Cinque Terre too… and that you were too clever to be caught by that nasty train guard!


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