The breathtaking folded coastline of the Cinque Terre (Five Lands) stretches between the beach resort of Levanto and the port of La Spezia. It’s named for five tiny villages – Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore – wedged into a series of coves between sheer cliffs, and their comparative remoteness, and the dramatic nature of their positions, makes the region the principal scenic highlight of the whole Riviera. The scenery, certainly, is lovely, but bear in mind that it’s also the convenience which makes the Cinque Terre so popular: the main clifftop route is not particularly arduous – it’s pretty flat most of the way, the villages are not that far apart and all of them have plenty of amenities and places to stay; and if you get fed up with walking you can always jump on a train (or a boat). No surprise, then, that the area is teeming with travellers during summer, and the villages have lost some of their character to the tide of kitschy souvenir shops and overpriced, under-quality restaurants. But outside of August you should try to take in at least part of the area – it’s worth it, especially if you use quieter and more authentic Levanto or even La Spezia as a base.
Walking in the Cinque Terre
Walking in the Cinque Terre
Most people come to the Cinque Terre to walk, and these days it’s crammed mainly with Americans and Australians in full hiking gear. The national park’s most popular route is the coastal Blue Route from Riomaggiore to Monterosso (Sentiero Azzurro), and to walk that you have to invest in a Cinque Terre Card, which gives access to the path for one, two, three or seven days. All of the park’s other marked routes, including the inland Red Routes (Sentieri Rossi), are free and are mostly much, much steeper – proper hiking.
The most challenging is Path no. 1, which runs 25km all the way from Portovenere to Levanto – a great walk to do over a couple of days with an overnight stop. Despite its popularity, the Blue Route – Path no. 2 – is well worth doing, out of season at least (11km; around 5hr); it hugs the shoreline between all five villages, offering spectacular scenery along the way. However, before you set out do check to make sure that all sections are open; they have been prone to closure due to floods and landslides over recent years, and it’s likely that the Corniglia–Manarola stretch will be closed for some time. Another rewarding walk is Path no. 10, which leads from Monterosso station up through pine woods and onto a flight of steps that emerge at the Sant’Antonio church on the high point of the Punta Mesco headland (1hr), giving a spectacular panorama along the length of the Cinque Terre coastline.
Note that most of the paths are unshaded and can be blisteringly hot in summer – make sure you wear a hat and carry a water bottle for even a short stroll. Walking shoes are advisable as paths are rocky and uneven at the best of times. Also, take note of weather forecasts in spring and autumn, as rainstorms can brew up rapidly and make paths treacherously slippery.