Cinque Terre – Five Slices of Paradise

Aug 11, 2012

When I was a kid, my parents took us to these five isolated villages for the very first time. I still remember us jumping off the rocks into crystal clear water with my brother in Manarola. That memory never faded. I just told myself I will go back one day and hike the entire way from the first village to the last one- and so I did along with Denis and my parents!

Let’s start with our arrival to Liguria, and how we had such hard time finding a free spot in any camp grounds. This must’ve been the most challenging task so far, and we were really lucky that Denis speaks somewhat fluent Italian! We wanted to stay in Levanto- the town right next to the Cinque Terre National Park and the northernmost village of Monterosso Al Mare (just to be clear, I often talk about the villages in an order and this would be the first village for me). Of course, every single spot was taken, and we kept calling, looking, driving, searching on a map, searching through the camping guide, and u-turning for the next couple of hours- sheer fun! Considering that the roads leading to each coastal village are super curvy, narrow and sometimes steep, cruising around with a rather big camper requires some nerves. Finally we gave up on being in the immediate vicinity of the villages and found one last free spot in a campground in Chiavari (place we had stayed few times before). No biggie; first of all, we were sick of driving and the place was directly on the beach, and secondly we would have to take a train anyway to the villages, and half an hour more wouldn’t change anything! A dip into the Mediterranean, coin (!) shower, velvety sunset, and cucina italiana later we were ready to crawl into our tent and get some rest.

In the morning, we got up early to get to the station and head to our day hike through the five lands. From Monterosso Al Mare we started following the blue trail (Sentiero no. 2 or Sentiero Azzuro) that connects all the villages to each other and follows the coastline on a lower level than the other optional trail.

Hiking Trail @ Cinque Terre (photo:

Monterosso – Vernazza (1h 30min)

After passing the town the trail switched into this rugged natural pathway that started climbing steadily. At some point we came across some very steep slopes that were pretty harsh to push up considering the heat, but it was all worth it; the views back to Monterosso, down to the Ligurian Sea, and ahead over the next terra, Vernazza, were absolutely breath-taking! 

Descending down to Vernazza was very scenic and seeing the village from above offered so many great photo opportunities. The green lush cliffs rising straight from the sea all around this little colorful village definitely just added to the ideal setting of this place- no wonder it’s often considered as the most beautiful terra of them all! 

The waterfront piazza was full of little restaurants and bars, which made it a pretty ideal stop for a cold drink and a bite. That is, if you don’t mind paying a little extra for this treat (otherwise, there were some stores along the main road that sell drinks & snacks way cheaper)! Vernazza really reminded me of a little oasis between the two longest trails. After soaking in the beauty of this place, a little power lunch, and a swim later, we were ready to get on the trail again…

On a side note, there was a major flood and a mudslide in October 2011 and Vernazza was hit pretty hard by it. If you look at the picture below, you can see a house we passed by that was literally ripped in half and the main square that needed an entire reconstruction and cleaning work done…

Vernazza – Corniglia (1h 30min)

Step by step we left Vernazza behind us and started to get a whole new perspective over it. Together with the long coastline, it looked amazing also from this direction! Although the day was really hot, there were quite some people on the trail, but notably less than on the first passage. Also, hiking in a swimsuit seemed to be mandatory dress code here!

Somewhere between the greeneries and olive groves, we got the very first glance at Corniglia in a distance. It’s actually a little different from the other terras, as it’s located on the top of a cliffy hill and not directly by the water. The last stretch of the trail took us through beautiful vineyards just before getting to the village itself. Our first and last impression was that Corniglia was quieter than the two villages before; tiny alleyways, small piazza with a little church and fewer people altogether (cheaper, too). A perfect place for a little afternoon pause catered with panoramic views!

Corniglia – Manarola (45min)

Apparently the 3rd part of the trail is at places pretty muddy and rough, so lots of times it can be closed down due to weather-related circumstances. For us, this was the case. So, instead, we got down the 365 steps from Corniglia to its train station and took the train to the last village Riomaggiore (takes about 10min). If the path is open, the walk between Corniglia and Manarola takes about 45 minutes (we just missed one train, and had to wait for at least 45min for the next one), so you’re better off walking if possible!

Riomaggiore - Manarola (20 min)

Riomaggiore is the southern/easternmost of the villages. The seaside is very rocky and the houses are literally built all the way to the edges. As we sat there looking at the all these old buildings, we could just imagine how the life was back in the day before all the tourists came over. All these little villages living off the sea and their own agriculture, totally isolated from any roads or bigger towns. Must’ve been pretty amazing! Of course we could still sense the authentic lifestyle, but surely the tourism plays a quite visible part of their livelihood nowadays, especially throughout the summer months.

The last section of the day for us was the famous love route Via dell’Amore that hardly can be called hiking trail; it’s more like a paved pathway and definitely the easiest walk of them all. Countless love padlocks, a love chair, and ever-lasting love messages combined with the gorgeous sea view- pretty corny, right? Maybe, but it’s a fun and effortless way to end the long day of walking!

I wanted to end our day to Manarola- the place I had the best memories from. It was just like I remembered it: rugged and rocky beach, lots of boats and the place where they put down the boats high off the cliff! The best part of Manarola though, must be the houses and how they seem piled up on one another along the hill. So colorful, authentic and one of a kind!

We were just in time for a nice sunset swim, and surely the camera didn’t want to stay in the bag at all...

Afterwards we had a delicious seafood dinner at the main street washed down with the very own wine of Cinque Terre- refreshing and tasty! The night had started to fall upon the five lands, and after the last evening stroll around my very favorite terra, we hopped on the train back to Chiavari. An hour later we hit the sack, tired, but one incredible experience richer.

The next morning we started the drive towards the French Alps and Briancon, but first, we wanted to take our time and cruise along the scenic Via Aurelia through Rapallo and Santa Margherita Ligure, all the way till Genova. To sum up in few words: villas, harbours, curvy little road and lots of natural beauty! 


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