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Cinque Terre: Five Beautiful Villages, One Treacherous Trail

When we explore towns connected by trail, we usually stay in a different place each night. But we changed up our normal routine for Cinque Terre, a collection of five Italian villages located on the Mediterranean coast just south of Pisa and a four plus hour train ride north from Rome. These five villages are built on steep hillsides, terraced with vineyards and other crops, that end in the sea. 

The five are normally connected by a hiking trail that can be navigated in a day by a dedicated hiker, but a landslide a few years ago has diverted the connecting routes onto more treacherous and strenuous paths that would be difficult with a full backpack. So we opted to select a permanent base in Manarola, the second town from the south in the chain of five and day hike between the five. 

Fortunately, Laurie selected a great home base apartment for the four of us. Manarola was very crowded the first two days because Italy was celebrating Liberation Day. But our host helped us get reservations and gave us some great local tips. And on the last day when I left something behind at the flat we ran into him at breakfast. He gave me his personal key set so I could go back and fetch it—an astounding level of trust. 

We split the hiking over two days, walking north out of Manarola until we reached Vernazza, the fourth town in the chain. The trail was packed with day tourists and hikers and we were glad to be only using our day packs. We spent time exploring Vernazza and then caught a local train home. Laurie captured the first day in this Relive video. 

The next morning we returned to Vernazza by train and hiked to Monterosso al Mare where we explored this picturesque place. After relaxing at a beach cafe, where I waded in the surf, we traveled south by boat to Riomaggiore, the southern most of the five towns. After a late lunch we tackled the very steep and treacherous hill between Riomaggiore and our home base. On this segment we were even more satisfied that we opted for the day pack option. Our host said when the normal trail is open that it is a fifteen minute walk on a fairly flat route. On this day we earned the gelato we enjoyed on this trip.

Laurie’s second video captures the two hikes—and the boat ride connecting them. 

The terraced hillsides here are so steep that the local farmers have developed an ingenious way to move people, produce (such as grapes) and supplies around the mountain. The valleys have “monorails” with a gear underside running up and down the hillsides. They use gas powered vehicles that look like a modified motorcycle to ride them. Difficult to see in these pictures but very unique. Nobody offered us a ride.

If you choose to visit Cinque Terre yourself, I would recommend picking a home base and either hiking, or taking the train or boat to visit the other five villages. Hopefully the main trail will be open. 

Credit to Explore Europe on Foot by Cassandra Overby for inspiring us to finally take this hike and experience this treasure of towns.

If you’re interested in a well furnished place with great service in Manarola, check out www.daPaulin.it or contact them at prenatoazioni@dapaulin.it

Check out wikivoyage for more info or the Rick Steves Travel Guide. There are many YouTube videos on the region as well.

6 thoughts on “Cinque Terre: Five Beautiful Villages, One Treacherous Trail”

  1. CAROL MASTRONUNZIO

    Good Morning,
    We met you at the breakfast cafe in Manarola and enjoyed talking with you. We discovered that the “challenging hiking” in Cinque Terra was not an exaggeration but the spectacular views are well worth the work. Kudos to you both for such undertakings!
    Carry on!

    (Still can’t believe your did it all with just backpacks!!)

    Carol & Joe

    1. It was fun running into you in the cafe—Manarola is a great little town. Glad we didn’t have our backpacks on when we walked the Cinque Terre trails. A bit crowded.

  2. L and D , you did a good job of hiking 100% of the trails. We did some in 2015 and I fell twice. Fortunately nothing but my pride was hurt. We stayed in Alberto Suiesse Bellevue in Monterosso at exactly the same time—busy holiday. But so beautiful and great food!

    1. We were pretty surprised that we didn’t witness any falls—as it was slick. Did see bloody knees on one guy but didn’t actually see the mishap. I bet if we had been wearing full backpacks it would not have been mishap free!

  3. Very interesting – from the home-base idea to the variety of daily transportation to the area’s hillside mobility system. Bellissimo!

    1. Laurie came up with that strategy after doing the research. Worked out much better than backpacking from town to town!

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