Hiking Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre, which means “five lands,” is made up of five seaside villages on the Italian Riviera. No cars are allowed in the villages, and there’s a hiking trail that connects them. It’s is one of those picture-perfect places that we’ve seen featured on other travel blogs, and we were happy to discover that it’s just as charming in real life as it is in photos. We traveled with a few other friends, and fortunately everyone was happy to keep hiking through the drizzle and occasional rain. We spent two fantastic days hiking, exploring and of course eating and drinking our way through the five towns.
Friday 21 October
We flew into the Pisa airport and rented a car. It was about a 90 minute drive from the airport to Levanto, the town where we had rented an Airbnb. Levanto is the next town up from the northern most of the five towns, and we picked at as our base since it was less expensive and had more accommodation options.
Levanto ended up being a great place to stay because it had several greeat restaurants and a train station that links to the five towns. Our Airbnb was brand new, large and clean, and had a great roof deck with sunset views.
Via Olivi, 3, 19015 Levanto SP, Italy
We had dinner at a local restaurant in Levanto, and the food and ambiance were fantastic. The fresh ravioli with truffle butter was one of the best dishes we’ve had on a trip so far!
Saturday 22 October
It was an eight minute train ride from Levanto to Vernazza, where we planned to start our hike. When we got off the train, we headed straight for the trail. There was a national park checkpoint where we had to buy passes, and since many of the other trail check points were closed, we were able to use the single day pass for both days.
Hike Vernazza to Corniglia
The first segment of the trail was pretty steep up hill, but then things leveled off for a bit. We were treated to beautiful views of Vernazza behind us and Cornigilia ahead of us. It took us about 90 minutes to do this part of the hike, and when we got to Corniglia we were ready for lunch.
Via Fieschi, 115, 19018 Corniglia SP, Italy
We walked through the town of Corniglia to the end of the road and arrived at Terrazza Panoramica of Corniglia, which has wonderful panoramic views of the water and other towns. We then turned back towards the center of town and enjoyed fresh pesto and pasta for lunch.
Hike Corniglia to Manarola
The coastal trail from Corniglia to Manarola was closed, but there was an option to hike up and over the mountain, so we decided to go for it. This hike took just over two hours and again was quite steep going up and coming back down. In the middle, we walked along terraced vineyards, which were beautiful. Again, the views were incredible, especially as we made the steep descent towards Manarola.
When we reached Manarola, we rewarded ourselves with gelato, and between the five of us, we tried every gelato shop in town.
Manarola to Riomaggiore
The trail from Manarola to Riomaggiore is called the Lover’s Path and is supposed to be an easy thirty minute stroll. We got about five minutes in and found the trail was closed, so we hopped the train to Riomaggiore. We were bummed that we didn’t get to do the walk, but the sun came out for a bit so we were happy to sit soaking up the sun while we waited for the next train. We arrived in Riomaggiore there was just enough time to explore the picture perfect town before catching a ferry back to Levanto.
The ferry is one of the best ways to see the five towns because the views from the water are spectacular. It’s not the quickest or cheapest form of transportation, but the views make it worth it. We were able to get on in Riomaggiore and take it all the way back to Levanto.
Via della Concia, 18, 19015 Levanto SP, Italy
For dinner we ended up ordering pizza for take-a-way, since the restaurant was too packed to seat us. The pizza was fantastic, and the perfect way to end our first full day in Cinque Terre.
Sunday 23 October
Hike Levanto to Monterosso
We had read that there was a hiking trail from Levanto to Monterosso, which is the northern most of the five towns, so we decided to hike from our Airbnb. It took us about 2.5 hours and was quite steep at the beginning but then leveled off as we walked on the cliff alongside the water.
We explored Monterosso, which is the biggest of the five towns, and is filled with shops and restaurants. We settled on Da eraldo for lunch, and again the food was fantastic and a great way to refuel before our last hike.
Hike Monterosso to Vernazza
The hike from Monterosso to Vernazza took about two more hours and was quite slick, since it started to rain. It was steep in parts, and by the end we were ready to be done hiking. It was totally worth it though for the views as we arrived to Vernazza.
Via San Giovanni Battista 41, 19018 Vernazza, La Spezia, Italy
It was really raining by the time we got to Vernazza, which was a bummer because we had booked a Cliffside sunset wine tasting. It took a while to find, and we had to ask several shop owners before we finally found the spot. On a warm summer day, this place would be perfect. Still, it was cozy and we were covered from the rain and enjoyed the wine tasting. It’s a tiny place, so reservations are recommended for peak season.
Via D. Grillo, 32, 19015 Levanto SP, Italy
We found this dinner spot near our Airbnb and all really enjoyed our meals. It was a bit fancier than some of the other places we’d been to over the weekend, but they didn’t mind us coming in with our hiking gear.
Monday 24 October
When we got up Monday morning we found that many of the shops and restaurants in Levanto were closed, which is apparently common on Mondays. We decided to drive to Pisa and check out the leaning tower. While it was cool to see, we wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to visit, as there’s not much going on in Pisa and it’s pretty run down.
Piazza Felice Cavallotti, 56126 Pisa PI, Italy
Lots of the restaurants in Pisa seem super touristy and overpriced, but we managed to find a fantastic sandwich shop for our last lunch. We then of course treated ourselves to one final gelato.
On every trip we share our rose (highlight), thorn (lowlight), and bud (what we're looking forward to).
Rose- seeing the towns (Becca), ravioli the first night (Josh)
Thorn- rain on the hike (both)
Bud- seeing Josh’s family in Paris (both)
If you go, things to know...
How long? Two full days was the perfect amount of time to hike the full trail and get to explore the towns. Even if you don’t plan on hiking, trying to fit it all into one day would be rushed. Each of the five towns has a distinctive personality and feel, and we thought it was worth it to spend time in each.
Where to stay? While you can stay in one of the five towns, we enjoyed staying just outside Cinque Terre because it was more affordable and easier to access by car. Levanto made a perfect base for the weekend, with plenty of restaurants and shops to not feel isolated. It doesn’t take long to get from Levanto to each of the five towns (i’s a 30 minute ride from Levanto in the north to Riomaggiore in the south).
Do you need a car? We only used our car to get to and from the airport in Pisa. Cinque Terre is well connected to the rest of Italy by train, and can be accessed easily from Pisa or Florence, so having a car isn’t necessary.
How hard are the hikes? Many of the hikes do have some seriously steep parts (both up and down). The trails are clearly marked, and while strenuous, it’s not treacherous.
What if we don’t like to hike? If you don’t want to hike, you can easily get from one town to the next by taking a train. There’s an option to buy an unlimited train pass, which would make sense if you’re planning to take the train a lot. You would still have a fantastic time in Cinque Terre, exploring the towns and enjoying the cuisine.
When to go? Since the train was built and Cinque Terre became more easily accessible, it’s become a very popular tourist destination in the summers. Some of the beaches are great for laying out and swimming, and we’ve heard it’s incredibly crowded and hot in the summer. We enjoyed visiting in the off season, since we had the trails to ourselves and the restaurants weren’t crowded. The hikes can be intense at times, and we were glad not to have the sun beating down on us. The weather was a bit of a bummer – it drizzled both days and rained heavily at times. September or June would likely be the ideal time to visit because it would still be warm without the masses of tourists.