I’ve shared My Guide to Cinque Terre and my Tips for Hiking in the region, but the final post in this series covers exactly where my boyfriend and I trekked over three days. We were staying in Monterosso, the biggest of Cinque Terre’s five villages, and our approach was to start with easier hikes and finish with a full day trek. This was both to ease into hiking after three weeks of holiday indulgence as well as familiarise ourselves with the terrain, signage and how accurate estimated times were.
We did four hikes in three days and each one was impressive but in different ways. They were:
- Day One: Monterosso to Vernazza
- Day Two: Vernazza to Corniglia, then Riomaggiore to Manarola
- Day Three: Riomaggiore to Portovenere, via Pass of Telegrafo and Campiglia.
I recommend reading my Tips for Hiking Cinque Terre for an overview of the different trails (Blue Path versus High Path), along with general advice on what to wear and what to pack. As I’ve said in earlier posts, my boyfriend and I are two active people in our early 30s and didn’t do any training for these hikes. We do occasional leisure hikes around our home city, but nothing wild. There were easy sections and challenges in Cinque Terre, but nothing was impossible.
Here’s what we did:
Monterosso to Vernazza
- Time: 2 hours (moderate pace but stopping for photos)
- Distance: 3.5km (2.2mi)
- Difficulty: The easiest you’ll find, but there are still steps!
- Path name: Blue Path, 2d.
This is the most popular with tourists and for good reason: the coastal views are stunning, the track is obvious and it connects two beautiful villages. We started in Monterosso, simply because it’s where we were staying. The path begins at the base of Old Town, just a minute or two from the waterfront.
Going from Monterosso towards Vernazza, your hike begins with a steep staircase but it only takes five or 10 minutes. It’s a good warm up! You’ll get your first ‘wow’ moment soon after, looking back at Monterosso.
There’ll be some flat sections and you’ll reach a checkpoint, where you can buy a one or two day trekking pass (€7.50/€14.50 adult), with an optional train pass. I suggest buying a one day, hiking only pass as this path was the only one with checkpoints. Payment is cash only and you definitely don’t want to go back down that initial staircase!
The trail continues to hug the coastline and there are plenty of photo opportunities. This is the busiest path, so you may have to go slow or wait at times. Occasionally we got a section to ourselves for a few minutes. Continuing towards Vernazza, you’ll encounter more steps but none of them last too long. After about 90 minutes, you’ll get your first glimpse of your destination. Seeing a town for the first time is the most magical moment in Cinque Terre!
We continued towards Vernazza and encountered loose rock and mud. I was grateful I was wearing good quality sneakers. We passed the Vernazza checkpoint and arrived in the village about noon. My legs were a little jelly as we descended into the town centre, but I felt okay. There wasn’t any signage pointing to the main square, but we just followed our instincts through the narrow laneways in between tall buildings. We grabbed lunch at the perilously perched Al Castello and would’ve hiked again that afternoon if it hadn’t rained heavily an hour later. Instead, we chatted with an American couple as we finished our wine, enjoyed limoncello and explored the town.
When in town
Check out Vernazza’s castle for a unique view of the coastline. Relax on rocks by the pier, eat gelato (ask for ‘senza latte’ if you want dairy-free options) or fuel up at any of the restaurants around the harbour or higher up. Read more in My Guide to Cinque Terre.
There’s a train station in both Monterosso and Vernazza, with the fare only €4 to or from any other village in Cinque Terre. Trains are fast, just five minutes between each town and fairly frequent (every 20 minutes or so). Alternatively, you could turn around and just walk back or catch the ferry (see ‘resources’ below).
Vernazza to Corniglia
- Time: 2 hours
- Distance: 3.2km (2mi)
- Difficulty: Still easy, but slightly harder than Monterosso to Vernazza due to longer ascents.
- Path name: Blue Path, 2c.
We caught the train to Vernazza to start this hike around 9am but realised we didn’t know exactly where the trail started. Thankfully there was a map at the station which pointed us in the right direction (which was away from the town centre). We walked up the main road past the post office and soon saw the iconic red and white symbol painted on a wall, letting us know we were on the right path.
My legs were resisting the steps, even though the path was just gently winding upwards through people’s backyards. After 5 or 10 minutes we reached a cafe we’d seen the day before from Vernazza’s castle. You could stop here for a picturesque breakfast but we’d hardly earned a break so early on.
Soon we were surrounded by forest instead of coastal views, still making our way up. There were some awkward stone staircases, sometimes steep, sometimes uneven and often both – but you just have to keep going. At one point it was my turn to carry the backpack “for this hill” but my boyfriend and I kept laughing as we’d finish one section, go around the corner and realise another round of steps awaited us. I carried that sweaty bag uphill for at least 20 minutes! Only twice did I see people give up and turn around, which I don’t understand as you can go slow or rest at any time.
What I liked about this trail was that it was less busy than Monterosso to Vernazza. There were still congestion points, but we more regularly had the path to ourselves. That said, more of the trail is set back from the sea so there are less coastal views.
The last quarter of the path is a gentle descent into Corniglia and we were lucky to have a man playing accordion as we approached the town. The sound carried through the trail and while it was totally for tourists, I loved it. Trek two completed!
When in town
Corniglia is the smallest of Cinque Terre’s villages but you’ll still find a range of lunch options. We were famished and walked past several restaurants before finding Bar Terza Terra, which had endless views of the dramatic coastline! I almost felt like I was in Greece.
I’ve said this my two previous Cinque Terre posts but it’s worth repeating. Corniglia is on top of a hill and its train station is at the bottom. There’s a long set of cement stairs, and going down took us about 10 minutes. I did see a sign for a shuttle bus at the bottom with a few people waiting, but it was unclear whether this was a public or private service. Corniglia is also the only town not serviced by the ferry, as it’s on top of a hill.
Riomaggiore to Manarolo
- Time: 50 minutes
- Distance: 1.35km (0.8mi)
- Difficulty: Intense but short. You’ll climb non-stop, steep steps for 25 minutes and then go down the other side.
- Path name: 531.
With the Blue Path closed between Corniglia and Manarola until 2019, we looked at alternate routes. We chose a one hour, intense hike figuring that like the other trails, we were moderately fit and could stop rest or go slower at any time if needed.
Fuelled by a few Aperol Spritzes and foccacia, we caught the train from Corniglia to Riomaggiore to begin our second walk of the day. There were others doing the same hike so we just followed the path but soon saw our steep ascent. You are literally walking directly up and over a mountain! Maybe it’s just a big hill. Either way, it’s steep.
As our research had warned, you walk up steps non-stop for 30 minutes. They’re uneven and many were so high, I was practically lifting my knee to my chin to climb up them! I’m 163cm (5′ 3″) but it was easier for my boyfriend.
It was on this path I told myself that pain quickly gives way to numbness and it’s true. My quads were tired but we kept going. After 25 minutes, we were at the peak! It was a great feeling and we were rewarded with the below view of Riogmaggiore.
Going downhill was easier but still not easy. The steps were still uneven, but with much more loose rock. Occasionally my boyfriend would help by holding my hand, and I helped a few hikers going uphill too. I felt going from Riomaggiore towards Manarola rather than Manarola to Riomaggiore was a wise choice, as there was a lot of downhill rubble. We got closer to Manarola and the scenery went from backyards to buildings. We’d reached our destination! As usual, we headed towards the waterfront and grabbed a cocktail.
When in town
Put Nessun Dorma at the top of your list! This outdoor cafe is perfectly placed to admire Manarola all day long. Food and drink prices are also very reasonable given the view. A few people were swimming at the waterfront, although it’s entirely rock. For those who are lactose-intolerant, I found a small store by the train station selling soy milk.
You can easily reach both Riomaggiore and Manarola by the regionale train (€4) or by ferry. See ‘resources’ below for links to timetables.
Riomaggiore to Portovenere
- Time: 4.5 hours (not including our 1 hour lunch break)
- Distance: 12 km (7.45mi)
- Difficulty: Moderate. The path isn’t always clear, and I scaled a few boulders.
- Path names: 593V (ex. 3a). Riomaggiore – Pass of Telegrafo & 1/a Pass of Telegrafo – Portovenere
My boyfriend and I wanted to end our three days of hiking in Cinque Terre with a big one. We’d read reviews from other hikers and travel websites, and chose to do Riomaggiore to Portovenere. It would take us along more of the Ligurian coastline and beyond Cinque Terre, and we could enjoy an hour-long ferry ride back to Monterosso. We allowed six hours for the hike, as the last ferry left Portovenere at 5pm but we wanted a few hours to explore the town beforehand. If we missed the ferry, we’d need to catch a bus to La Spezia and then a train to Monterosso. We set off at 9am at a steady pace.
Riomaggiore – Pass of Telegrafo
We arrived in Riomaggiore by train and looked for the red and white painted symbol. There are a few trails out of the town centre, so it’s important to get the right one. The Cinque Terre hiking app was really helpful, as was an elderly Italian woman who pointed up at a huge staircase and said “Portovenere.”
Whether it was my exhausted quads, mild hunger or the deadline of the last ferry, I didn’t enjoy this section. It was the first time in three days the trek felt like a chore, despite being so privileged for what we were experiencing. My boyfriend and I walked up steps, more steps, crossed a road and saw cars for the first time in three days, and then went up more steps. My legs were crying out for relief.
After about 45 minutes, we reached the Sanctuary of Montenero. Other hikers were resting but we didn’t stop. I didn’t feel the view or ordinary building was photo worthy either. I had a granola bar and my spirits lifted as the path went from steep steps to an even, but still ascending trail.
We reached a large tour group about 15 minutes later but there was no room for overtaking as there were vineyards and shrubs on both sides of the narrow path. It turns out they’d missed a turn off and they turned around anyway. A little further on, our path became a paved road and we continued the uphill walk. We didn’t see another soul.
After about 90 minutes into our hike, I finally got the relief I’d wanted. A beautiful wide, flat path where we simply walked in the forest. Mindful we needed to catch the last ferry, our pace quickened and I almost began trail running because my legs were so liberated! We reached the Pass of Telegrafo (marked only by a sign and cafe) and felt a sense of achievement. But on we hiked! We passed a military exercise area too.
Pass of Telegrafo – Campiglia – Portovenere
As much as we wanted to hike Cinque Terre, my boyfriend and I didn’t want to miss the chance to see a new town either. Campiglia is a bit over than halfway between Riomaggiore and Portovenere so it was a natural stopping point for lunch. Our goal was to get there by 12.30pm and break for an hour maximum. We continued on the forest path before beginning our descent into the town.
You’ll get your first glimpse of greater La Spezia on the left as you approach Campiglia. There are a few picnic benches and we saw a couple in hiking gear taking foccacias out of their bags to enjoy the view. We weren’t that organised. We continued into Campiglia and saw an open air restaurant, but staff were sitting outside smoking and didn’t look enthusiastic. I’d read about Campiglia’s oldest restaurant La Lampara, which had opened in the 1800s. I soon saw a sign for it.
The venue was empty, silent and straight out of the 1980s. An older man wearing a full suit appeared us and showed us to a table inside. I apologised for our hiking attire and sweaty appearance. My boyfriend ordered the saffron gnocchi and a beer, while I ordered the fish (view the menu here). Bread quickly arrived and about 15 minutes later, a whole fish was placed before me! Our waiter offered to fillet it and he took four to five minutes to painstakingly but skillfully debone the fish with just a fork and spoon. It was art in motion. We ate our food in the silent venue and took in the view. After using the restrooms and applying more suncream, we continued our trek.
As we left Campiglia, the open air restaurant we’d seen earlier was now bustling with diners and further along the path was a venue with hammocks and bean bags, possibly a beer garden. I slightly regretted our lunch choice but also felt we’d had an authentic, if not bizarre, experience.
The next section became coastal and rocky. A magical moment was when we reached a lookout, seeing what I think was the island of Palmaria. We stopped and chatted with a group of Norweigan hikers and they were kind enough to take our photograph! I think the selfie best captures how happy we were though.
The path will then take you back in the woods, where you’ll see La Spezia again. This time, the view is much less obstructed than the one from Campiglia. You’ll continue slightly downhill, seeing rocky ruins that may have been homes or shelters, and then it’s the home stretch. I was shocked and thrilled to suddenly see a castle!
We were ecstatic once we reached the outskirts of Portovenere, although after three days my toes were starting to hurt in my sneakers. We navigated our way down the rocks and found a path alongside the castle. The downward steps were an awkward height and length, but after five or 10 minutes we were spat into the centre of Portovenere. We high fived each other and were so proud that we’d finished, hadn’t gotten lost, and we had 90 minutes before the final ferry left! We bought our ferry tickets back to Monterosso, and then walked to the waterfront to grab a cocktail.
When in town
I was struck by how touristy and developed Portovenere seemed to Cinque Terre’s villages. The crowd was much older and I suspect the town is popular with cruises and day trippers. Portovenere is much flatter and better paved than Cinque Terre, so it’s probably more attractive to less mobile visitors.
We chose Bar Gelataria Doria for its prime waterfront location. Our waiter was grumpy and birds tried to eat our snacks, but for €24 we had two Aperol spritzes each and complimentary chips and nuts. If we’d had more time, I would’ve toured the castle and walked the entire waterfront. You can also catch a ferry to three nearby islands, which along with Cinque Terre and Portovenere, are UNESCO Heritage Listed.
There’s no train station in Portovenere, hence our need to catch the ferry back to Monterosso (€18). You can buy tickets from a booth at ferry. Alternatively, buses run between Portovenere and La Spezia (30 minutes) and then you can catch a train to Monterosso (22 minutes). You can plan your journey with Google Maps, but remember Italian trains are often delayed.
I highly recommend the website In Cinque Terre for a detailed description of all routes in the area along with trail statuses. We found the estimated hiking times more or less correct too.
Download the smartphone app Trails of Cinque Terre (AU$4.49) if you attempt the Riomaggiore to Portovenere route. It uses GPS to track and guide your journey, and is helpful at points where you wonder if you took the correct path or have missed a turn off.
For general information such as what to wear, what to pack and just how much your legs will hurt, check out my Tips for Hiking Cinque Terre. As for where to stay, language tips and how to get to the region, there’s My Guide to Cinque Terre.
My boyfriend and I left Cinque Terre feeling lucky to have explored such an unspoilt part of the world. The feeling of reaching a lookout or town after hours of walking is magical, and we had several moments where we stood in awe of the spectacular scenery. While Monterosso to Vernazza is stunning, hiking from Riomaggiore to Portovenere was especially rewarding as it was longer, more physical and far less crowded. Our legs shuddered on staircases for days afterwards (I’m looking at you, Florence!), but nothing was unbearable.
If you have the chance, hike Cinque Terre at least once in your lifetime. It’s perfect for anyone seeking an active holiday, looking to jump start a fitness program or just wanting to explore nature among quaint, coastal villages. Next, my boyfriend and I head to China and we have plenty of hikes planned! Just 40 days until we fly.
QUESTION: Have you hiked Cinque Terre? What was your favourite trail?