On my last trip to Italy in 2012, my wife and I booked a self-guided vacation, arranging all the hotels, train tickets, museum tickets, and reservations at highly recommended restaurants. Our itinerary included Rome, Siena, Florence, Cinque Terre, Lake Como, and Venice, all in 2 weeks.
Honestly, I had never heard of Cinque Terre until several friends told us it was not to be missed. It actually fit well into our itinerary as it was between our Florence and Lake Como stops. I’m so glad we took our friend’s advice!
Cinque Terre is located in the province of Liguria, between La Spezia/Pisa and Genoa on the northwest coast of Italy. It encompasses 5 towns (listed here from South to North): Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare. The latter two were first settled in the 11th century and served as lookouts and fortresses against enemy invasion.
Cinque Terre is most famous for its National Park, now a World Heritage Site, which offers amazing vistas on the hiking trails flanking the azure waters of the Ligurian Sea. The hillsides are fertile, with grapes and olives growing in abundance.
The local growers developed a unique mini-funicular system to carry the harvest down from the steep slopes into town for processing.
Cinque Terre suffered devastating floods and landslides in October 2011, severely damaging the towns of Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. They were quickly rebuilt and when we were there a year later, the towns looked as if nothing had happened. But on our hike we saw residual scars left behind by the landslide.
All that being said, Cinque Terre is not to be missed. we elected to stay 2 days in Monterosso al Mare, but you can also do a day trip from La Spezia or Pisa. Most people hike only one way, and you can catch the train in any city should you not quite make it. Monterosso is a beautiful, serene seaside village with great seafood restaurants.
After a light breakfast and amazing Italian coffee (must be the water), we started at the northern trailhead. It is an immediate and extended ascent to the upper area of the coastal cliffs, but the views are breathtaking. Fortunately the pedestrian traffic is light, and most people are courteous. The towns are far enough apart that you usually can only see one at a time. We could look back and see Monterosso from high on the cliff, and from the rugged cliffs ahead as we hiked south.
After a series of up and down trails, we descended into Vernazza, one of the prettiest of the 5 towns. We were ready for a snack and some water, and sat by one of the seaside cafes before heading out again.
Our next stop was Corniglia, which is actually located up on the cliff tops and is the only one of the towns not directly on the water.
During our visit, the main trail from Corniglia to Manarola was closed, requiring a detour. It is quite common, due to intermittent landslides, to have certain portions of the main trail closed, so check for the latest updates before you go. We took the train south to Riomaggiore so we could backtrack and see the sites. We started at the southern trailhead and headed north to see the beautiful jagged rocks and crashing waves that lined the coast.
We took in the town before heading back north on the train. It was a strenuous hike, no doubt, but well worth it. Whether you do a day trip or stay a night or two, Cinque Terre is not to be missed! Molto Bella!