Planning to hike the Sentiero Azzurro cliffside hiking trail in Cinque Terre, Italy? You’ve come to the right place!
In this article I outlined everything you need to know about hiking the popular “Blue Trail” of Cinque Terre; including hike length, difficulty and duration, what to expect, where to stay and more.
Cinque Terre is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Italy, and considering how beautiful it is, it’s not surprising!
These charming fishing villages, with their pastel coloured houses perched on the cliffside and turquoise sea, are unlike any other place in the world.
My father is from La Spezia, a city 15-minutes away from Cinque Terre, so I’ve been lucky enough to regularly visit this part of Italy. I’ve also hiked the Sentiero Azzurro multiple times over the years.
In this article I have included all of my local knowledge about this epic Cinque Terre hike. So what are you waiting for? Let’s dive in and plan your perfect Sentiero Azzurro hike!
- 1 About Cinque Terre & how to get there
- 2 Where to stay to hike the Sentiero Azzurro
- 3 Essential info about the Sentiero Azzurro hike in Cinque Terre
- 4 Sentiero Azzurro map & route
- 5 How long does it take to hike the Sentiero Azzurro?
- 6 Should you do a guided Sentiero Azzurro hike?
- 7 What you need to hike the Sentiero Azzurro
- 8 My experience hiking the Sentiero Azzurro in Cinque Terre
About Cinque Terre & how to get there
Cinque Terre means Five Towns in English and, funnily enough, the area is made up of five main towns.
There is a Cinque Terre National Park that encompasses the five main towns (Monteross, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore), the surrounding vegetation and other smaller villages in the area.
The closest airports to Cinque Terre are Genova and Pisa, which both offer international flights from most European cities and with low-cost airlines.
Each of the five towns has its own train station, so depending on where you’re staying, you can travel into any of the towns and explore from there.
Where to stay to hike the Sentiero Azzurro
So this might be somewhat controversial of me to stay, but the best places to stay in Cinque Terre aren’t actually in Cinque Terre.
Accommodation in the main towns that compose Cinque Terre is awfully expensive, and the value for money often isn’t great. Instead, I recommend staying in La Spezia, or another nearby town.
La Spezia is just 15 minutes away by train and considerably cheaper, both for food and accommodation.
I’ve listed below some cool Cinque Terre accommodation options for every budget.
Budget: Affittacamere Lunamar – This BnB in La Spezia is ideal for those who don’t want to spend loads on accommodation. It’s comfy, cosy, and right next to La Spezia station so you can easily get to Cinque Terre.
Mid-range: Hotel Firenze e Continentale – This lovely hotel is a bit nicer than a BnB, and is also in a perfect location in La Spezia to quickly get to Cinque Terre. As well as being close to the main streets of La Spezia.
Luxury: The First – La Vista di Marina – If you want to treat yourself, this apartment is the perfect place to do so. Located beachfront in Riomaggiore, it has epic views over the sea and colourful houses, as well as being a great starting point for your Sentiero Azzurro hike.
Essential info about the Sentiero Azzurro hike in Cinque Terre
Instagram is flooded with photos of girls in pretty summer dresses twirling in front of the beautiful coloured houses of Cinque Terre. Don’t let this fool you.
The Sentiero Azzurro is a pretty intense hike, not a walk in the park. There are a lot of ups and downs and the path isn’t paved at all, it’s mostly dirt with rocks and roots sticking out occasionally.
Don’t let this put you off, it’s an extremely beautiful and scenic hike, just make sure you wear trainers to do it! The Sentiero Azzurro is consistently ranked as one of the best hikes in Europe and in the world.
You also want to be smart about how you visit the towns.
There are five towns in a row along the coast, I recommend starting at either Monterosso or Riomaggiore (the two at opposite ends) and working your way either up or down.
As I previously mentioned the area is a National Park, meaning that you will have to pay a ticket to have access to it.
Ticket prices are 8 EUR just for access to the park, or 15 EUR for access to the park plus a hop-on hop-off option with the local trains.
If you’re not sure about doing the whole Sentiero Azzurro hike, this is a very convenient option, as it will allow you to go back and forth between the towns without having to purchase additional train tickets every time.
You can buy tickets either at the stalls at the start of the hiking trail or online.
Before we jump straight into the details about hiking the Sentiero Azzurro, check out this article to find out more about the best of Cinque Terre.
Sentiero Azzurro map & route
I have embedded below a map of the Sentiero Azzurro route, so that you can visualise it. The Sentiero Azzurro is a 16km trail, with an elevation change of 600m.
However, the final section of the Blue Path of Cinque Terre is closed. Also known as “La Via dell’Amore”, this section of the trail has been closed for years due to a landslide.
How long does it take to hike the Sentiero Azzurro?
If you were to hike the entire Sentiero Azzurro without stopping it would take you around 4 hours. That said, the views along the way are simply stunning, so it’s likely to take you considerably longer.
Plus, unless you’ve already visited the towns of Cinque Terre and have no interest in taking a break to wander the picturesque streets of these villages, you’re likely to also stop for breaks at each town.
Taking into account time along the hike to enjoy the view and take photos, as well as quick stops in each town for some food and drinks, as well as sightseeing, hiking the Sentiero Azzurro can take all day.
That way you’ll have time to hike the Sentiero Azzurro without rushing, as well as seeing the unique sights of this part of Italy.
Should you do a guided Sentiero Azzurro hike?
Personally, I don’t think it’s necessary. From the town centres it can be hard to find the start of the Sentiero Azzurro trail, but once you’re on the actual trail, it’s perfectly marked and easy to follow.
That said, if you’re not comfortable hiking alone, this guided hike of Cinque Terre is a great option. It starts in La Spezia, and includes also the train travel to Cinque Terre.
Or the foodie fans could try a guided hike like this one. This guided tour takes you on a panoramic hike through vineyards, and also includes a wine tasting!
While you don’t need a guide to hike the Sentiero Azzurro, if you go for an alternative tour that also includes fun extras like wine tasting, it could definitely be an added plus to the experience!
Or click below to check prices & availability!
What you need to hike the Sentiero Azzurro
That said, here are a couple absolute must-haves you don’t want to forget.
Fast drying towel – If you want to cool down between one section of the Blue Path and the other, you’ll need one of these. I like these because they dry quickly and don’t take up a lot of space in your backpack.
Comfortable shoes – The first time I hiked the Sentiero Azzurro I did so in Birkenstock. Don’t be like me, make sure you have comfortable shoes to do so!
Power bank – Whether it’s for Google Maps or taking photos of the charming villages of Cinque Terre, you don’t want your phone dying on you!
Steel water bottle – If you want to cut down on your plastic consumption and save some cash in the process, don’t forget a water bottle that you can refill.
My experience hiking the Sentiero Azzurro in Cinque Terre
I got the train from La Spezia to Monterosso, which took about 15 minutes along the coast.
The train goes in and out of tunnels throughout the journey, due to the hilly geography of the area, and it actually makes for a pretty remarkable trip.
When the train comes out of the darkness you’re greeted by cute towns with coloured houses built along the cliffs, which steeply drop off into crystal clear water.
When you get out of the train station in Monterosso you are directly on the beach as you walk out, with the town centre and houses behind you.
If you walk along the beach back towards the centre of Monterosso, at one point you can either walk through a tunnel or around the side of the cliff.
I recommend the second option, it’s slightly longer but the views are worth it, you won’t regret it!
It’s not immediately obvious which way you have to head if you want to do the hike on the “Sentiero Azzurro” (Blue Path), but after a bit of wandering around the town I found signs pointing to Vernazza.
You will also usually be able to recognize where the Sentiero Azzurro starts as there should be a small stall where they will check that you have a ticket for the National Park.
This first stretch of the hike is the longest, and can take up to 2 hours.
Considering I was there in early June I was surprised at how many other hikers there were, although it still wasn’t too busy and the occasional company is actually kind of pleasant.
For two hours I walked along the coast surrounded by Mediterranean shrubs, olive groves and terraced vineyards, looping in and out of the jagged coastline.
The last twenty minutes of the walk are the most beautiful.
This because you keep getting glimpses of Vernazza; just behind a tree, or around a cliff, until you finally arrive at a stretch of path from which you can look down on the beautiful town.
From above you can see the characteristic coloured houses, all facing a little beach and harbour where people board the local ferries.
After having lunch in Vernazza (a nice focaccia from a bakery in the harbour!) I set off on the hike to Corniglia.
This stretch of walk is the second longest, and took about an hour and a half. Similarly to before, you get to walk surrounded by the Mediterranean vegetation, overlooking the cliffs breaking into crystal clear water.
About half an hour into the hike, after what seems like the steepest stretch of the path, you will find a bar with a panoramic terrace.
I stopped for a well deserved lemonade, and was enjoying the view, until I realised that the cute little town in the distance was my destination; Corniglia. It still seemed so far!
Corniglia is the only town in Cinque Terre that doesn’t have direct access to the sea (there are actually other smaller towns in the area that aren’t on the beach, but they are not technically part of the five towns of “Cinque Terre”).
It is perched on the top of a cliff, with views over the sea. In the distance, you can even see Manarola, your next destination on this tour!
Corniglia was actually my favourite town, despite its lack of a beach. I found the streets in the town a lot more picturesque, with fewer people around.
The rest of the Sentiero Azzurro, which connects Corniglia to Manarola and then Manarola to Riomaggiore, has been closed for years due to renovation.
This is also the section known as “La Via dell’Amore” (or Lover’s Path in English). It’s supposed to be the shortest, easiest and therefore, also most visited.
They say it will open up again in July 2024, but if I know anything about Italy, it’s that we’re not punctual people.
The last two times I hiked the Sentiero Azzurro (2017 and 2021), this section of the trail was still closed, so I had to take a train to visit the remaining two towns; Manarola and Riomaggiore.
The train from Corniglia to Manarola took less than three minutes. Considering it took me three hours and a half to do the hike between two of the towns, I found it crazy how fast it is to get from one to the other via train.
You have to walk through a tunnel to go from the train station to the town, but once you pop out on the other side you are immediately in the centre of Manarola.
From there it’s a short walk down to the sea, where you can see people cliff jumping and swimming in the sea right in front of the town.
After all my hiking I was quite tempted to jump in, but have to admit I came unprepared and didn’t bring a bikini.
Plus, with an Italian grandma waiting at home, I had a tight schedule I couldn’t stray from (there are some things that Italians hate, and messing with our eating schedule is one of them, check out the others here)!
From the harbour you will see a path that takes you away from the centre and towards some restaurants on the cliff, if you want to get the best view over Manarola you’ll want to head that way!
I was only in Manarola for a very brief stopover, before then getting the train to Riomaggiore which was also really fast, and I arrived there within a few minutes.
It’s slightly confusing as the train stops inside a tunnel, so if you’re not paying attention you could risk missing your stop!
Similarly to Manarola you have to walk through a bit of a tunnel to get out of the station and into town.
To see the best views in Riomaggiore you have to follow the signs that point towards the harbour and the ferries, and you will get this beautiful view of the coloured houses of Riomaggiore!
As it was the last town that I was visiting and I had time before my train I decided to get an ice cream and enjoy it in the sun, before boarding on my last train and heading back to La Spezia.
Final thoughts on hiking the Sentiero Azzurro trail in Cinque Terre
Have you ever been to Cinque Terre? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below!
Overall I really enjoyed my day there; I hiked 17km along the Sentiero Azzurro surrounded by Mediterranean vegetation and with beautiful views over the sea.
The towns were all really pretty, and I had some great focaccias and ice creams in all of them! I was there in summer, but Cinque Terre is a lovely place to visit also if you’re in Italy in winter.
Don’t forget to check out the video for the full footage of this beautiful destination, and I’d definitely recommend adding Cinque Terre to your next Italy trip!
If you still can’t get enough of Cinque Terre, check out these incredible photos of Cinque Terre.
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