Cinque Terre, Italy is one of those adventures that inspires worthy efforts. This is a trip that will require not only mental preparation for the language barrier, flight plans, lodging and itinerary logistics, but also physical preparation. The inspiration of this unique place is two-fold. The challenge of the hiking will inspire you to stay focused on
The path weaves you around the homes of the locals and their place of life.being or getting in shape months before the trip takes place. The beauty of the place will encourage and confirm those preparatory efforts and re-inspire your passion and commitment to this adventure. Committing to a trip like this is a great way to bust up the doldrums of winter, and leave you energetic and happy.
Italy is a beautiful, warm place. But, not much compares to the experience of hiking through the five connected villages along its northwestern coastline. Cinque Terre, or five lands, is five small hillside villages: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. These coastal villages were of strategic importance during the ages of the Roman Empire. Since they were attacked often, the people who called this place home grew accustomed to keeping a watchful eye to the sea. Eventually by the 11th century the Tuscan Obertengo family ruled the area, and the “five lands” began to take shape, as the people cultivated the area with vines and olive trees. Cultivation, however, was no easy task on this steep terrain. The innovation of these Italians is very impressive as they molded with the land using stones and natural forests to create terraces on the hill. This allowed them to plant and access their grape vines for making delicious wine. The olive trees, grapevines, and other fruit bearing trees, along with fishing, proved to be very productive for this once untouched area.
If you want to learn the definitions of commitment and determination, the people of Cinque Terre can show you the way. In 1870 the first rail line to pass through the five villages was built. It went from Genoa to Rome, and was a major economic boost for Cinque Terre. However, it wasn’t until the 1960’s that the coastal road was finished allowing vehicle transportation to these places. Neither of those amenities probably made any difference to the people of the villages at that time. In fact, the coastal road was unnecessary to them as few, if any, had vehicles. The villages themselves are solely pedestrian areas built without motorized transportation in mind. The people of Cinque Terre used their legs to conquer this land, and still do today. I wish I had counted how many steps I climbed and descended while there because I’m sure this place holds some kind of record. Now, imagine climbing those steps with stones, wood, grapes, olives, lemons or fish everyday; that is the kind of commitment and determination the locals have. Their workouts and lifestyles bleed as one, but to them the beauty of where they live overcomes any discomforts of their labor.
The beauty of this coastline is surreal. Every grueling step of the way presents a new surprise in awe-striking landscapes. If you start the journey in the southernmost village of Riomaggiore, you will find yourself falling in love with the views as you migrate your way along Via dell'Amore, lover’s path. As cues from its name suggests, this path is more of a stroll than a hike. It curls around the steep cliff face that butts up with the aqua blue Ligurian sea. With the brightly colored houses, stacked like building blocks, as a back drop and the unending view of the boat streaked water you will hardly notice that you have already walked just over half a mile and entered the next village of Manorola.
Manorola also has the colorful houses that enhance the beauty of the natural landscape as they jut out of the rocks like all the rest, but this village strikes a strong pose as thick rock formations seem to hug the harbor and village center, protecting it from unwelcome sea intruders. It is here that your journey of the steps will start to sink in. In order to reach the next connecting village you will have to go up in elevation as Corniglia sits 100 feet above sea level.
The steps may seem endless as each foot feels heavier and heavier the higher you go, but the dominating view of this rock peninsula village erases that pain in a heartbeat. Corniglia is the smallest village of the five, but it is no less impressive. The path weaves you around the homes of the locals and their place of life. It’s like taking a minute in their shoes as you refill on water at the central fountain and watch a mother hang the day’s laundry out to dry on the line. Corniglia is the halfway point with only two more trails to conquer on your Cinque Terre adventure.
The hike to Vernazza will not be easy. The sun will have been leaning on you by this point, and you will have already walked around 3 miles depending on how much you walked around the villages themselves. This will also be your longest stretch of hiking. It is about 2.5 miles from Corniglia to Vernazza with some large steps and rocky, rooted terrain. However, do not let this deter your ambitions because on this hike you will get to see yet another side of Cinque Terre. The path will take you inland to the farmer’s back yard as you pass cherry trees, lemon trees, olive trees, grape vines, and other garden vegetation. The smells and the luscious colors of the fruits will distract your aches and keep you driving forward.
Once you finally arrive at Vernazza don’t be surprised to find it bustling with visitors as it is considered the pearl of Cinque Terre. Rightfully so, this village has a beautiful natural harbor that attracts everyone on those warm summer days. Noted as one of the most picturesque of the villages it will be hard to pull away from Vernazza, but it’s a must if you want to see its best view from the hillside leading you to Monterosso.
Again, this final leg of the hiking journey is another strenuous one. It is not as long as the trip between Corniglia and Vernazza, but it will take a bit longer due to its steep inclines. Well taken care of steps lead you up and up into some forested areas that will be a welcome shelter from the blazing sun. If you accepted the challenge to complete all four legs of the hike in one day, you will probably be hot, exhausted, sore, and feeling a bit beat up at this point. Take it slow if you have to and enjoy the views peaking out from the vegetation surrounding you. Once you come around the corner of the last cliff you will have the finish line in sight, Monterosso. Stepping down into this last village will bring a rush of accomplishment. Find one the great eating spots along the beach to watch as the sun sets and rejuvenate your body with the amazing Italian cuisine. Then treat yourself to some gelato because you have just conquered the five lands and your body deserves a reward.
Hiking from Riomaggiore to Monterosso in one day is definitely possible, but it will take some preparation and strict time calculation. Depending on where you are staying the night, I recommend catching the train to one end or the other by 8:00 AM or earlier. This way you can get a good start with lots of daylight. The full hiking trip from end to end will take you a minimum of 5 hours. Always plan an extra hour incase of detours or closed paths. For example, on my adventure there had recently been a mudslide that closed the path between Manarola and Corniglia. There were a few different options for a new course. One was to be lazy and catch the train; not an acceptable option. Another was to take a different route on the red path that lead further inland and would take over an hour longer. We decided on a most unrecommended path; we crossed the closed mudslide. Either way our journey added extra time, which was not planned, so be prepared for anything.
The allotted five hours of hiking does not include stopping for lunch or any other water breaks, photo breaks, souvenir breaks or places of interest within the villages themselves. Therefore, it’s safe to say that the whole trip will take a solid 8 hours, and you will be reaching the finish line right around sunset. Due to the time constraint of daylight, take a pass on visiting the places of interest and relaxing at the beach. Make that your plan for the second day. You will have already scoped them out from a distance, and have a good idea on which ones struck your fancy. Take the easy way by either driving to the parking points or riding the train back to each village. Soak in the beautiful sandy beaches while you work on your tan. Jump in the cooling water and relax your sore muscles. The relaxing will feel rewarded after your strenuous day of hiking, and you will enjoy your surroundings even more because you have already conquered it by foot. Your body will feel tired but good and there will be no guilt about indulging in some of the traditional goodies of the area.
Looking out your rearview mirror, it will be difficult to leave the beauty of Cinque Terre behind. This is one of those trips that will remain in your memory for a long long time. Cingue Terre will continue to linger long after you are back home. It’s not just a trip to another beautiful place. It’s an adventure that makes you healthier, driven, and passionate. Cinque Terre is truly inspiring.