Home » 2017 European Vacation

Cinque Terre, Italy

Wednesday, June 7, 2017 - 10:15am by Lolo
170 miles and 3 hours from our last stop - 2 night stay


Day 1 - Arriving at and exploring Levanto

The colors of Levanto BeachThe colors of Levanto BeachCinque Terre is a very popular destination on U.S. tours of Italy, and several of my friends have posted Facebook photos of its picturesque, centuries-old villages tucked along the edges of its rugged, mountainous Italian Riviera coastline. Surprisingly, Europeans not so much so. Many whom I shared my list of stops with had never even heard of it. Strange, because it is a truly amazing place.

There are five of these villages (Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore), so hence the name “Cinque Terre, which means “Five Lands” in Italian. I’m sure everyone has seen beautiful photos of these villages taken from the Sentiero Azzurro trail (blue trail) that runs above them along the cliffs. This trail and those photos were the reason we were here.

The towns along the trail are quite remote and isolated and can only be reached via train, boat, or foot. Our plan was to camp in the town of Levanto, so that we could take the train to Monterosso, where the Sentiero Azzurro trail began.

Our original intent was to camp at Camping Acqua Dolce, a small campground in the heart of Levanto, in walking distance to a sandy beach on the Mediterranean and the train station. Sounded perfect -- apparently everyone else thought so too, because by the time we got there it was totally full.

Surfers on Levanto BeachSurfers on Levanto BeachThe campground host gave us a list of four campgrounds a short distance outside of town, which we tried calling to see if they had room for us. Three didn’t answer (possibly Siesta time), but the one that did said they were full as well. We were in a little bit of a panic, as we had really driven quite far out of our way along some pretty winding roads to get here.

We decided to try Camping San Michele, because it was the furthest from town, which we figured would give us the best chance of having availability. As we pulled in, a woman (the proprietress) was just getting in her car to go pick up her son at school. She told us there was room, and suggested we take a walk around to pick a site while she was gone.

Levanto Beach on the Mediterranean SeaLevanto Beach on the Mediterranean SeaWhat a difference from the hustle and bustle we had encountered down at the other campground in town. This one was so peaceful and tranquil, set in an olive grove atop a hill overlooking the countryside. We picked the site that had the best view and waited for the campground owner to return. It seemed like she ran the entire place herself.

My main concern was how we would get to the train station in Levanto tomorrow, without moving the camper. The proprietress told us there was a dirt trail that started right outside the campground that would lead us to the road to the train station, about a mile away.

We decided to take the trail that afternoon and check out the town of Levanto. Our first stop was the train station, where we got a copy of the schedule and bought a two-day Cinque Terre Train Card for 29 euro each. This would give us unlimited train travel for 48 hours, starting with our first usage, and a pass to hike the Sentiero Azzurro trail.

More of lovely Levanto BeachMore of lovely Levanto BeachAfterwards, we strolled down to Levanto’s long sandy beach on the Mediterranean and watched the surfers ride the waves. I so wished we had brought along our bathing suits, but since we didn’t, I did the next best thing - waded up to my knees in the warm water - my first dip in the Mediterranean Sea.

We continued along the lovely waterfront admiring the colorful houses and beach umbrellas. It’s amazing what a difference a bucket of paint can make. The Italians certainly know how to use a colorful palette to make things festive.

We stopped for dinner at a little restaurant called Caffe Roma on the Piazza Staglieno and sat on the outdoor patio watching people recreating and socializing in the park across the way. It was such a happy scene of locals enjoying everyday life.

We made the long walk back to our campground and set up our little rental table and chairs outside the camper to watch the sun set over the olive groves. Now this was the real Italy.

Day 2 - Hiking the Sentiero Azzurro Trail from Monterosso to Vernazza

Looking back at MonterossoLooking back at MonterossoWe were quite excited about hiking the beautiful Sentiero Azzurro trail today, so we got an early start, trekked down the path to the Levanto train station, and caught the 9:05 train to Monterosso, the first stop. From the Monterosso train station we walked up the hill to the Cinque Terre Visitor Center to get maps and information about trail conditions.

The Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Trail - marked # 2 on the maps) goes along the rugged mountainside, passing through each of the coastal towns - Monterosso (which we were in now), Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. It is supposed to be quite steep and challenging.

We would have loved to hike the whole stretch, but unfortunately the part from Corniglia on has been closed since 2011, due to a devastating flood that damaged the trails.

As an alternative, I asked the Ranger about returning from Corniglia via the inland Sentiero Rosso trail, which runs high above the Cinque Terre towns and is also supposed to be beautiful. She looked at me like I was a crazy tourist and said that not many people do that. I had no idea at this time just how hilly and rough all these trails were. We decided that we would make that decision when we got to Corniglia. If we didn’t want to do it, we could just take the train back to Levanto.

From Monterosso to Vernazza on the Sentiero AzzurroFrom Monterosso to Vernazza on the Sentiero AzzurroThe hike from Monterosso to Vernazza is the most challenging section of the trail. The trails, are steep, narrow, and rocky, and there are lots of steps. It was a rough 4 miles - felt much longer - and pretty much took us the estimated hour and a half.

Almost everyone we passed on the trail was speaking English, confirming my earlier statement that Cinque Terre is very popular with Americans.

As we approached Vernazza from the trail above, the views of the town were incredible - colorful old houses stacked haphazardly on top of each other, narrow crooked streets, and a small, sandy beach along the harbor. I think this is the vantage point from which the photos I have seen of Cinque Terre are taken. It looked very inviting.

Looking back at Vernazza on our way to CornigliaLooking back at Vernazza on our way to CornigliaWe hiked the steep trail down into the town and sat on the beach for awhile. Afterwards we wandered through the narrow alleys of this very picturesque town before climbing back up to the Sentiero Azzurro and continuing on towards Corniglia.

This section of the hike was the wildest and greenest section along the coast. The previous section to Vernazza was supposed to be the most challenging, but this was not exactly a piece of cake either.

Corniglia was different from the other CInque Terre towns in that it was not at sea level. Rather, it sat atop a 300-foot high rocky promontory surrounded by vineyards. No ferries or cruise ships could reach it, so it was quieter and more tranquil than the other villages, but just as quaint.

We took advantage of the quiet, to have a nice lunch overlooking the water. I think there was a refreshing beer involved as well.

Approaching Corniglia on the Sentiero AzzurroApproaching Corniglia on the Sentiero AzzurroThis was the end of the line in terms of hiking the Sentiero Azzurro trail since the next two sections were closed. We had already hiked 10 miles, counting the walk from the campground to the Levanto train station, and most of them had been quite challenging. Now I understood why the Ranger thought I was a crazy lady suggesting that we might want to hike back from Corniglia on the inland Sentiero Rosso trail.

The only hiking we were going to do now was to the Corniglia train station. Even this wasn’t easy, as the station is located down on the waterfront, and required walking down 365 steps. At least, we were going down and not up.

By the time we got back to the campground, we were exhausted. The thought of hiking these steep trails again tomorrow was not particularly appealing, especially since we had already seen the highlights.

Despite hating the thought of not using the second day on our Cinque Terre Cards, we decided that tomorrow morning we would move on to our next stop - Lake Maggiore in the Italian Lakes Region.


Approaching Vernazza on the Sentiero AzzurroApproaching Vernazza on the Sentiero AzzurroCinque Terre, which means “Five Lands”, is a series of five centuries-old seaside villages tucked away along an 11-mile stretch of rugged, mountainous Italian Riviera coastline.

The easiest way to reach and travel between the villages is via a train from the town of Levanto, just north of Cinque Terre. I highly recommend purchasing a Cinque Terre Train Card, which covers unlimited train travel as well as access to all hiking paths. A one-day card costs 16 euro and a two-day card costs 29 euro: http://www.cinqueterre.eu.com/en/cinque-terre-card.

However, by far the best way to visit the villages is via the Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Trail - marked #2 on the maps), which follows the edge of the hills between the villages. It involves steep climbing up rough stone stairs and walking on loose rocky surfaces, so sensible footwear is recommended. It requires a hiking pass (which can be part of the Cinque Terre Train Card). For an overview of the trail, see: https://www.walksofitaly.com/blog/cinque-terre/hiking-trails

In October of 2011, the Cinque Terre region was hit hard by a devastating flood which has resulted in the closing of the section of the trail connecting Riomaggiore (on the southern end) to Manarola to Corniglia. However, the section from Manarola (northern end) to Vernazza (1.5 hours) to Corniglia (1.5 hours) is open. For current conditions, check with the Cinque Terre National Park office (parconazionale5terre.it).

The following is a brief description of the five villages (from north to south - the direction we took):

    Exploring the back alleys of CornigliaExploring the back alleys of Corniglia
  • Monterosso if the furthest north of the 5 villages and the only one with a sandy beach. A tunnel connects the “Old” town to the “New.” The Old Town is similar to the other villages, though larger and not quite as steep. While pretty, it is not quite as stunning as the other 4 villages and has a more beach resort feel to it. Monterosso is known for its lemon trees and anchovies served right off the boat.
  • The hike from Monterosso to Vernazza is probably the most challenging section of the trail. The trails, are steep, narrow, and rocky, and there are lots of steps. Before descending to the town, make sure to take in a beautiful view of it from above. Its colorful old houses haphazardly stacked on top of each other, narrow crooked streets, numerous restaurants and cafes, eye-popping sea views, and small beach along the harbor make it a wonderful respite along the way.
  • The hike from Vernazza to Corniglia is the wildest and greenest section of the coast. Like the previous section, it is quite steep and challenging. Sitting atop a 300-foot high rocky promontory surrounded by vineyards, is the only one of the five villages not near sea level - and therefore, not accessible by water. 365 steps lead down to its waterfront train station far below.Corniglia has a much quieter and more tranquil feel to it than the other villages, but is just as quaint.
  • The hike from Corniglia to Manarola(45 minutes) is currently closed due to damage from a devastating 2011 flood. However, the town can still be reached via train, boat, or car. Manarola has a bustling main street and waterfront promenade, a nice swimming area off a cement pier, and lots of caves and coastline to explore.
  • The hike from Manarola to Riomaggiore(20 minutes) is currently closed due to the above-mentioned flood. However, like Manarola, the town can still be reached via train, boat, or car. Riomaggiore is the southernmost of the five villages and its largest. It has a lovely harbor and pebbly beach, a botanical garden, and an ancient stone castello built in 800 to protect the citizens in case of an attack from the sea. There are numerous restaurants, cafes, and bars along the Via Colombo, Riomaggiore’s main street.

Besides the Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Trail), there is another more challenging inland trail called the Sentiero Rosso (Red Trail), which runs high above the Cinque Terre villages for 22 miles from Levanto to Porto Venere. It’s mainly flat, with plenty of restaurants and bars along the way. It is far less populated than the Sentiero Azzurro.

Cinque Terre location map in "high definition"

Javascript is required to view this map.