Cinque Terre, or “Five Lands”, is situated along Italy’s northwest coastline and provides a very unique and adventurous alternative to the traditional Italian tourist circuit (Rome-Florence-Venice). I’ve read several articles that recommend doing a day trip to Cinque Terre, but in my opinion, I would suggest a minimum of one night to experience each of the 5 town’s unique charm – something that can only be explored at leisure.
Getting There & Around:
Cinque Terre is most easily accessed by train or car, and has two entry points: La Spezia (south end) and Levanto (north end). I took a direct train from Florence to La Spezia. From La Spezia, you can buy a pass for unlimited train rides between the towns. The trains act as a shuttle, running every 15 minutes between each of the 5 towns. Even though we hiked between towns, we still bought a pass to include unlimited rail travel to cover our arrival and departure with our luggage – something that was well worth the cost.
The hiking trails are certainly not technically challenging, but can still be tiring even for those who are physically fit. I’ve tackled some pretty difficult trails around the globe, and still wouldn’t classify the Cinque Terre trails as a walk in the park. At the end of the day, it is a cliff-hugging trail that can become somewhat laborious after a few hours in the heat. I embarked on the trails backwards. Well, I didn’t literally walk backwards, that would be silly! I say ‘backwards’ because the trail is meant to start at Riomaggiore and gradually increase in difficulty as it approaches Monterosso a la Mare. I happened to be staying in Monterosso a la Mare, so I started the hiking trail there and worked my way back towards Riomaggiore. I’ve read many travel guides that suggest a one-day hiking trip to Cinque Terre, but I just don’t understand how that is possible unless you intend on starting early in the morning and finishing well after sunset – I’m still not sure if there would be time to spend in the towns, which is the essence of the trip! It took me approximately 2 hours to walk from Monterosso to Vernazza, and another hour to walk from Vernazza to Corniglia. Keep in mind, there are two trails that vary in difficulty levels, and I took the easier one.
TIP: Check the trail status online before you go. Half of the trail was closed for restoration when we went due to flooding back in 2011.
The train is the easiest way to get around, next to the more expensive options of hiring a driver or renting a car. As mentioned, the train shuttles between each town quite frequently and is a great alternative to the hike, or even a great supplement to the hike. I had to do a combination of hiking and the shuttle train to get between the towns. Even if you do take the train, there is still a fair bit of walking that needs to be done to get from the train stations to the centre of town. For example, when we got to Corniglia, we were forced to catch the train to Manarola because the trails were closed. Little did we know that the train station was a good 15 minutes (uphill) from the centre of town. Other than timing, it wasn’t really a big problem for us because we enjoyed the walking. But, if you are unable to walk, note that there is a van shuttle available, but you should allot extra time because the shuttle gets filled very easily.
Car & Boat
While it is possible to reach each town by car, the towns themselves are meant for walking and are essentially pedestrian-only. I didn’t actually try the boat because we visited in the off-season and it was still a bit chilly, however I heard that approaching the towns from the Sea provides some truly breathtaking views.