Cinque Terre is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Italy, and considering how beautiful it is, it’s not surprising! My grandma lives in La Spezia, which is a city close to Cinque Terre, just a 10-minute train journey away. Despite going to visit my grandma at least once a month for the past 23 years, I had never been to explore Cinque Terre. When I was there just a few weeks ago, I decided it was time to fix this! So I jumped on a train and in one day, did the hike on the Sentiero Azzurro (or “Blue Path” in English); the cliffside hiking trail that connects the five main towns of Cinque Terre with beautiful views over the sea. In this article I will run you through everything you need to know about hiking the Sentiero Azzurro and the best things to do in the Cinque Terre towns.
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. Alternatively if you’re already in Italy you can reach Cinque Terre by train. 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 in Cinque Terre
So this might be somewhat controversial of me to stay, but the best place to stay in Cinque Terre is not 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. If you’re wondering how long you should stay in Cinque Terre it really depends on what you want to do, however I can say that one day is enough to do the Sentiero Azzurro hike and see all five towns.
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! 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 all the 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.
One-day itinerary to the 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, 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 seem, 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.
When I was there in June the rest of the Sentiero Azzurro was closed due to renovation, so I had to take a train to visit the remaining two towns; Manarola and Riomaggiore. There are other paths in the Cinque Terre National Park, which your ticket will give you access to, however they are further inland and take even longer to hike. As I was on a tight schedule (you don’t want to be late for dinner with an Italian grandma)! I decided to get the train instead.
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.
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 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! 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!
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