The Cinque Terre (‘Five Lands’) is one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world, and one of the best places in Italy to indulge in local culture (food) and enjoy a swim on hot summer’s day. But did you also know that the rugged coastline, beautiful Mediterranean bushland and five quaint villages are also part of a large UNESCO World Heritage Site that can easily be explored by foot?
We spent three glorious days exploring the Cinque Terre and it’s surrounds in September 2016. But there are a few things that I wish I knew before we went.
Here are my tips on what to expect, what to wear and how fit you need to be to explore the Cinque Terre coast walk.
Do I have to pay to access the Cinque Terre National Park?
The villages and the various walking paths and hiking trails that connect them are part of the Cinque Terre National Park. Visitors are required to buy a pass/card to use the paths, but access to the villages is free*.
The five Cinque Terre villages are:
(north) Monterosso al Mare – Vernazza – Corniglia – Manarola – Riomaggiore (south)
First, get all of your information and passes from a Cinque Terre Information Point. There is one at each of the train stations between La Spezia and Levanto and they can provide you with maps, up-to-date information and a “Cinque Terre Card” that will give you access to the Cinque Terre National Park and the walking trails.
The Cinque Terre Trekking Card (“Carta Parco”) includes:
- Use of all pedestrian paths, hiking trails, nature observation points, and picnic areas in the Cinque Terre National Park
- A free map with walking trails and souvenir ticket
- Free access to events put on by the Cinque Terre National Park including guided hikes and workshops
- Wifi (free) access at hot spots in the park and train stations (user name and password on the back of your ticket)
- Free use of pay restrooms
- Use of bus services that run within and between each village
- Discounted tickets to the Civic museums in La Spezia.
(Carta Parco one day pass: adult €7.50 / child €4.50. Carta Parco two day pass: adult €14.50 / child €7.20.)
The Cinque Terre Train Multi-Service Card (“Cinque Terre Treno MS”) includes:
- Everything that is included in the Cinque Terre Trekking Card (above)
- Unlimited second-class travel on regional trains on the La Spezia – Levanto line, including all five of the Cinque Terre stations (Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore).
(Cinque Terre Treno MS one day pass: adult €16 / child €10. Cinque Terre Treno MS two day pass: adult €29.)
Secondly, validate your card in the ticket machines at the train station.
There was a booth that checked our tickets at the beginning and the end of the very popular coast walk from Monterosso al Mare – Vernazza. However, a friend recently completed one of the inland walks from Monterosso al Mare – Vernazza – Corniglia and avoided payment.
On the coast path, follow the red and white painted lines.
* In 2016, it was announced that the number of visitors to Cinque Terre will be limited. This has not yet been implemented or finalised, but I imagine that a new procedure will eventually be introduced.
Visiting the Cinque Terre Villages
The five villages have been built into the cliffs and hillsides over the last 1,000 years. And during that time, the local people have built terraces into the surrounding hills for olive groves and vineyards. Hundreds of small farms scatter the hillsides and provide plenty of delicious produce for the local restaurants, markets and wine bars.
So, to navigate through the towns you’ll have to contend with steep stairs and narrow passageways.
What to expect when you walk the Cinque Terre
If you want to explore beyond the villages, expect dirt and rock paths that are steep, narrow and sometimes slippery or closed because of the weather.
There are inland trails and coastal trails that connect the five villages, so distances change depending on which trail you decide to walk. This is an approximate distance between the five Cinque Terre villages:
Monterosso al Mare – Vernazza: 3km coast walk, moderate difficulty, 150m at highest point.
Vernazza – Corniglia: 4km coast walk open, moderate difficulty, 240m at highest point.
Corniglia – Manarola: 3.5 km coast walk closed* / the alternative walk through the hills is more than 3.5km and very steep and not recommended for casual walkers.
Manarola – Riomaggiore: 1.6km coast walk closed* / the alternative walk through the hills is very steep and not recommended for casual walkers.
*When we visited in September 2016, the two coast walks between Corniglia – Manarola – Riomaggiore had been closed for more than 12 months because of landslide damage.
Most of the paths wind around the hills and cliffside, between farms and villages. There is some shade and plenty of great vantages points to shoot that postcard picture you’ve always wanted.
What will you find on the Cinque Terre path?
You will also encounter plenty of other tourists, hikers, pet dogs and school groups form all nationalities that are enjoying the trails as well. If you want to avoid the people, try to go very early in the day or in the spring/autumn.
It can get very hot on the trail. During September we experienced temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius at midday and some short bursts of rain in the late afternoons. We saw lightening and storm clouds off the coast. When a friend visited in March, it was chilly and the water was too cold to swim in.
In the case of orange and/or red weather warnings, some paths will be closed. So, it’s important that you get the most up-to-date information from an official Cinque Terre Information Point (found at every train station).
For more on what to expect in the five villages, read “Why the Cinque Terre, Italy, needs to be on your bucket list” and watch the video that Dan filmed and edited of our three day adventure:
What to wear when walking the Cinque Terre
It is important to wear something you are comfortable in and something you can walk long distances in. Some people stroll along the coast walk in their bikini and sandals. Others come prepared with their hiking boots and trekking poles.
If you are going to walk on the dusty and rugged paths between the towns, I would advise to wear footwear that will be supportive (so you don’t roll an ankle) and that can get a bit dirty. We wore sandshoes/joggers on the coastal path.
Some of the inland trails between the Cinque Terre towns are a little more challenging and might require better footwear. Our mate Dom tells us that the views from these hiking paths are much more rewarding.
Also, wear loose clothing that won’t overheat you in the summer (April – September). I’m glad that I wore my “active wear” leggings, but I regretted wearing a black T-shirt in the middle of a 30 degree Celsius day. Dan was quite comfortable in shorts and a light T-shirt.
If you visit the Cinque Terre in the cooler months (November – April), take something warm to wear and anorak or windbreaker to survive the cool winds.
How fit do I need to be to walk the Cinque Terre?
Did I mention the rocky/slippery/narrow paths and steep stairs? Not all of the paths are like this, but it’s not a walk I would recommend if you had a disability or injury that affects your balance/walking/fitness.
Generally, the walk is fine for adults and children with average fitness. Just remember to take enough drinking water for the few hours that you will be walking.
In each of the towns you will find a tap that dispenses free, cool drinking water. You can refill your bottles here.
You might find the stairs strenuous if you are not a fit person, but there are points on the path where you can stop to rest in the shade. Be aware that the narrow pathways and cliffs might prevent emergency services getting to you quickly if something was to go wrong, so be sensible and don’t strain yourself.
What do I need to take on the Cinque Terre walk?
There are a few essential items that you should take with you on the walk:
- Your “Cinque Terre card/pass” (information above)
- Drinking water – enough water for a couple of hours of walking in the heat
- Sun protection – a hat, sunscreen, a shirt with sleeves
- A windbreaker or warm clothing (if you’re walking in the cooler months)
- Your camera (and spare batteries and memory cards if you need them)
And, that’s it – you’re ready! Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below.