“It’s the most romantic place you’ll ever see,” said my pretty Irish friend.
She pitched me that line 13 years ago, on our way to the train station to buy tickets to the Cinque Terre. That was “back in the day” when I was a student in Florence. I was more than ready to escape the Tuscan heat for the seaside.
On a Friday in July, we took the train to the first village. When I hopped off the train I squealed, “Seriously! This is amazing!” That was just the view from the train platform.
I still love hearing that phrase. I’m blessed to hear it every summer from my guests when they join my week long tours to the Cinque Terre.
My driver collects our guests from the sweaty train station. As we descend into the village of Riomaggiore, all that city commotion just washes away.
I love watching their faces as each hairpin curve delivers another peekaboo view of the village, and the entire Italian Riviera and all the way to French coastline.
If I could bottle those smiles and save them for a rainy day, I would.
You Wanna Hike Cinque Terre Trails.
But … you have about 500 questions.
It’s a place that’s crazy to figure out, and for first timers it’s really confusing. Because the Cinque Terre is a cluster of villages, not just one place, it can be so much “work” just trying to figure out logistics before you even figure out where to book a hotel. Florence is simple. Cinque Terre is HARD.
If you’re traveling on a wing and a prayer, I’d like to offer some help.
Local Cinque Terre Hiking and Trail Advice Is Key.
You can “research” your way to crazy town on the Google, right? Trying to figure out your Italian holiday is pretty much like having a second job.
Of course, I think going with someone who has local knowledge is key. But I own an Italian travel company, so of course I’m biased!
But seriously, it’s taken me over 10 years of working, traveling, living and guiding tours in the region to find my favorite places, restaurants, people, experiences, hole-in-the-wall eateries, secret beaches and hiking trails. My friend Christina, who lives in Riomaggiore full-time, (I split my time between Italy and Vancouver Island, Canada) tells me that I eat out in Italy more than her. Which I thought was pretty funny — but true.
So, yes, you can come and hike and enjoy the Cinque Terre with me one summer. I’d love that.
Or you can go on your own and wing it, which in that case read on.
The Top 21 Cinque Terre Hiking Trail Questions, Answered.
1) I’m going in winter? Will the trails be open?
Yes, they’re open year round.
2) Are the trails free?
Most of the trails are free.
The exception is the sentiero azzurro, also called the blue trail or trail Number 2. It’s the most popular. In high season (when people are checking tickets) you’ll pay for that.
3) How much is a hiking pass for the blue trail?
The current price for 2018 (remember you only pay for the blue trail) is €7.50. Two-day passes save you a whopping 50 cents at €14.50.
4) What is the Cinque Terre Card?
The Cinque Terre Card bundles the price of the trains between the villages (but not ferries) and a hiking day-pass. It’s €16. A 2-day pass is €29.
5) Should I buy the Cinque Terre Card?
Train tickets between any of the towns in the Cinque Terre (and La Spezia and Levanto) now cost €4.00 per trip (as of 2018), so even if you don’t plan to hike at all but are going to be taking the train more than twice in a day, buying the Cinque Terre Card is worth it.
6) Where should I stay if I want to hike?
There are no “bum” villages. Stay anywhere, they’re all amazing! And great for hiking. See my what to do in the Cinque Terre article, which has a free itinerary and some accommodation tips.
Many people get confused and want to pack their belongings between the trails and move hotels for the night. That’s not necessary. You can easily catch the train to each section of the trail head you want to conquer and sleep in the same place for your stay.
7) How do I get to the Cinque Terre?
You can take a train to any village.
You can drive, but parking can be drama filled.
The Cinque Terre means “five lands” which are the five villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. But just think of the region as a spider web of trails, towns, and villages. This stretch of coastline is a mix of tiny hamlets, like Groppo, and bigger towns like La Spezia and Levanto.
You can find train schedules on the Trenitalia website here. The train passes through all the villages, and you can walk to the small hamlets or take the green bus.
8) I heard the xxxxx trail is closed? Is it?
Be careful what you find on the internet regarding trail openings and closures; there’s a lot of conflicting information. Why? Because trails open and close all the time for landslides and maintenance.
Long-term closures on the blue trail (sentiero azzurro / Trail #2) are still in effect between Riomaggiore and Manarola (Via dell’Amore) and Manarola to Corniglia.
Don’t get too freaked out by trail closures — there will always be plenty of trails to hike when you arrive.
9) Do I need a map for the trails?
Depends. You don’t need a map to do the main trail (sentiero azzurro). The trail is marked with paint and it’s easy to follow. For more complex trails, head down to my buddies Nicola and Christine at the gear shop in Manarola for advice.
10) Do I need hiking boots?
The trails are hard packed dirt or loose stones. Ideally, wear running/tennis shoes or sturdy hiking sandals. Hiking boots are overkill (if you’re doing just a day or two).
11) What should I pack on the trails?
A small day-pack with one liter of water. I bring sun protection, a bathing suit (if the weather is warm you can swim after), and a snack (you’re in Italy. On vacation. It’s mandatory to ingest something every 75 minutes). If it’s inclement weather, pack a change of clothes.
12) What is the Cinque Terre?
It’s an Italian National Park, called Parco nazionale delle Cinque Terre. That means that building laws are strict, and development permits are harder to come by than a clean public restroom. Translation: almost impossible. Which means that you’re not gonna see a Hilton built there, or a neon sign. Or cars and vespas buzzing around freely.
The waterways around the five villages are protected by the L’Area marina protetta Cinque Terre. Large vessels (like yachts) can’t dock here, and you’re not going to see a jet ski. It feels clean and uncontaminated.
The Cinque Terre is recognized by UNESCO as a place of worldwide importance to cultural and natural heritage. As of 2017, Italy has 52 total sites inscribed on UNESCO’s list, making it the country with most World Heritage Sites.
13) I like to skip the crowds. Where should I hike?
There are dozens of trails that run well beyond the five Cinque Terre villages. One to check out is between Monterosso and Levanto. That takes about 3 hours. The other is from Riomaggiore to Portovenere. That takes about 5 hours (without a map or a guide it can be confusing).
You can see the full list of trails on the Park’s site here, but it’s pretty confusing. When you’re there, just ask the villagers for the trail heads and reference a free paper map. You can get a map at the tourist offices located near or in the train stations.
14) I only have a half day in the villages, but still want to hike.
Cool! No problem. Train into Riomaggiore, walk to the top of the village (near the car park) and ask a local where the trail head that leads to the Santuario di Montenero (Montenero Sanctuary) starts. It’s about 45 minutes one way.
15) I just have one day, and I’m coming for something easy and fun.
With very little orientation, you can hike the section between Monterosso and Vernazza (the blue trail/#2/sentiero azzurro). It’s 2 hours. It’s steep in parts, but you get a postcard shot of Vernazza from that trail.
16) I’m active and want a challenge. Which trail should I take?
I love the trail I list on my One Day in Cinque Terre post. Or the section between Monterosso and Levanto (it’s 3 hours). If you can read a map, hike Riomaggiore to Portovenere (it’s about 5 hours). You can hire local guides like Marco (he works with me) or Pall to take you.
17) I’m traveling with kids — are the trails safe?
Yes, you can bring kids! Our young daughter is a trail pro. She first traveled from the cushy view from my husband’s back, then as a toddler (dawdler!). This summer her and dad will be trail running when I’m hosting my tours.
18) I’m super confused and stressed out by all this planning. I keep finding conflicting information.
Yup, the information on the trails always changes and some websites don’t get updated. Also, know that the pages that come up first in the searches are usually the oldest information (it’s how Google works), making the articles as useless as week old focaccia.
The easy thing to do? Just stop searching on the interwebs and trust when you’re there, you’ll have a great time. You’ll find what you need to find and life will provide what you’ve come to see. So take a chill pill and just show up.
When you arrive, grab a free paper map and pick a trail that you feel like walking that day. You don’t need to prep, bring dehydrated food, walking sticks or weird high tech clothing. Just wear what you have, and do what you can, with what you have right now.
19) I’m coming in winter, is it too cold?
For hiking it’s probably great. See my easy Italian weather cheat sheet to help you decide.
20) I wanna get away from it all. What village should I base myself out of?
If you want to pretend that the world has gone away, stay in the village of Volastra, high above Riomaggiore. Population: 200 seniors. There are some great trails that leave from there. I base one on of my hikes from that village.
21) Bianca, do you offer day hikes?
No, but you can come on one of my tours and I’ll take care of you. I also accept a few private clients a year.
If you have more questions, just ask them here.
Before you go, check out my other Cinque Terre advice.