There has been a lot written on recommendations for visiting the Cinque Terre, therefore I’m not going to go into great detail on each land. But I will share my experience – the pros and cons of what we did – in hopes that it may give travelers who are contemplating a trek there some tips!
The Cinque Terre is a National park as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In order to maintain the area, admission is charged to enter the National Park which comprises the 5 lands. There are 2 levels of park admission – one covers admission to the park, and the other combines the entrance fee with access to the train system between each town. I would highly recommend getting the combination pass. Even though we had every intention of hiking the entire 8 km path connecting the lands, we quit after the 4th one, and therefore were glad that we had bought the combination pass.
Our visit began at the southernmost land, Rio Maggiore. We spent lots of time visiting the town and walking up into the hills surrounding it to see all the beautiful views. Once we had stopped and gotten some sustenance, we began the hike to the next town, Manarolo. The path connecting these two towns is beautifully paved and winds around some incredible cliffs. This path is called “La Via del Amore” and it is filled with expressions of love that lovers have left – grafitti on walls and locks of love!
The second hike connecting Manarolo with Corniglia becomes a bit more difficult. The hike takes about an hour on a path that is narrow and not paved. It ends with 382 steps zigzagging their way up a hill. Once at the top, you are treated to some wonderful vistas of the towns you just left, which now seem so far away. It amazes you to realize that you have already walked a great distance, without really too much of an effort. Once you have reached Corniglia, you are supposedly half way through all the towns. But…..then comes an incredibly difficult hike to Vernazza. One and a half hours of heavy duty trekking is in store for this part of the trek. Knees and hips are surely put to the test, as well as the efficiency of your hiking shoes. I wore hiking sandals which allowed my feet to breathe, but it probably would have been better to have had some real hiking shoes to negotiate all the boulders and rocks along the path. We saw many people with trekking poles, and after having spoken to them, they touted their praises! Water is a must as you will get very thirsty and sweaty!
Upon entering Vernazza, we came upon the most amazing view! Vernazza is by far the beauty of the Cinque Terre. It sits on a hill with a beautiful tower at its southern tip. Upon entering the town, while you are still very high up on the cliffs, there is a wonderful restaurant with a terrace that overlooks the entire town. I can’t remember the name of the restaurant, but it is at the end of the trail coming from Corniglia. Anyways, with sore and trembling legs, we sat down and had a glass of wine!!! It was well worth it, but was definitely a mistake if we planned on continuing the hike to the last town, Monterosso al Mare! Our muscles cramped up, and we decided that, since we had heard that this last path was the most difficult of all the hikes, we would skip this last one. We instead hopped on the train and visited the last town the lazy way! Luckily, because we skipped this last trail, we have an excuse to come back to this enchanting place.
Looking back, would it have been easier to do the trail in the reverse order? Perhaps – we would have begun with the most difficult hikes and ended with the easy “Via del Amore”. We would also have been going down all those 382 steps instead of climbing up them! Would the views have been the same? Probably! Hmm…something to ponder for next time 🙂