One of the most scenic hikes a person can do in Italy is the Five Villages Hike along the Mediterranean region of Cinque Terre.
We had heard about this hike in France and when we found ourselves on the French Riviera a mere 3-hours from Cinque Terre we had to hop in our rented Nissan Micra and make our way to this spectacular region. When we took a look at our Rick Steves' Guide book, he named it as one of his favourite things to do in Europe, so we knew we made the right decision.
Beautiful Cinque Terre
The views of the Mediterranean are outstanding during this drive and we seemed to have witnessed an awesome phenomenon from the highway. As we drove along the same road that Grace Kelly was killed on so many years ago, we soared above the clouds and could not see even a glimpse of the sea below.
We knew that it had to be unique because cars with Italian license plates were pulled over to take photos. It was outstanding.
Once we reached Cinque Terre we enjoyed another breathtaking drive through a high and winding road from Levanto to Vernazza. This time the clouds and fog had lifted and we witnessed unobstructed views of one of the most beautiful stretches of coast along the Mediterranean.
We didn't end up staying in Vernazza though, the road was closed to traffic so we turned our car around on the narrow curving road. I hopped out to make sure the coast was clear as the Italians whip around these roads at great speeds. It was a blessing that the road was closed because we ended up staying in Levanto.
Levanto is not one of the 5-Villages but it is a gorgeous little town on the Mediterranean Ocean that is conveniently located on the train line that takes you right to the beginning of the hike. We thought Levanto was the perfect home base for the Cinque Terre region. It is far less touristy and busy than the other villages, but it is extremely accessible to any place that you want to go.
The ferry and train also stop frequently at Levanto.
We awoke early to start our 5-hour hike through the Five Villages. We walked to the train station from our $23 Euro a night campsite and bought our tickets for the day. 8 € 50 will get you unlimited train travel and give you your national park entrance fee to Cinque Terre.
Note: Make sure to stamp your ticket at one of the machine. Anyone caught on the train without a stamped ticket will be given and automatic 50€ fine.
The trains travel frequently from town to town and we hopped on the 8:38 am train to Riomaggiore. Riomaggiore is the farthest village out on the train line of the Five Villages and it is an excellent starting point to the 5-hour walk.
We hopped off the train, had our tickets checked at the information booth and when we asked, “Where does the trail start?” She replied, “right here!”
The trail winds its way along the Italian Riviera's Mediterranean coast between the Five Villages. All we had to do was follow the crowd.
It was a very short and easy hike to Manarola. We were surprised when we were already at the first town and we felt that we hadn't even started. It had only been about 10 to 15 minutes of walking and we wondered how on earth this hike was going to last for 5-hours. At this rate we will be done before the morning is even over.
We decided that we should check out this town and see more than just the waterfront. We walked up to the main square by the church and it was everything that you would expect from Italy. Old men were sitting on a bench waiting for the local bus, old women were walking in dark skirts to the neighbour's house and we overlooked a view of vineyards and orchards.
Traditional Italy is alive and well in Cinque Terre.
Before starting on the trail we enjoyed a cappuccino and chocolate pastry. The bus driver came into the shop as we ordered with the old men from the bus stop bench that we saw. The usual friendly, Ciaos, Grazies and Pregos were exchanged as they helped themselves to a pastry and enjoyed the morning's conversation.
We then realized that hiking the Five Villages takes five hours because of the experience. You don't want to rush through the towns or through the trail. The views are too perfect to not enjoy slowly and the towns are too beautiful and inviting to not take the time to enjoy every moment.
Oh Yeah, we love Italy.
The first stage is a short and easy walk from Riomaggiore to Manarola. It does get harder and steeper, so even adventure seekers will be satisfied with this hike along the Italian Riviera.
From Manarola to Corniglia the hike is higher on the coast and ends with a 382 step climb up to the highest town in the region. The climb will make you huff and puff a bit but the payoff is worth it. By this time it is lunch time and restaurants and cafés are a plenty. It was here that we enjoyed our first taste of deep fried anchovies, one of the regions many specialties.
Other specialties of the area include Olive Oil, Pesto, Lemons and Wine. You will see vineyards and orchards during your entire walk and witness a culture that is surviving the way it has for generations. Only now with a few more tourists looking on as they do.
After lunch it is off to Village number four.
The hike to Vernazza is wilder than the rest. The wide paths give way to narrow dirt walkways with roots and trees covering the path. It is steep and we felt for the people hiking in the opposite direction. While we enjoyed our downward climb many were struggling uphill.
Vernazza is the busiest of the towns and many tourists make this their home base. If you want to buy pasta or olive oil, pesto or wine to take home here is the place to do it. After tasting their pesto drenched over pasta you will find it hard to resist taking a jar home for yourself.
While you are there stop and enjoy a mouth watering delicious triple scoop of gelato.
Our day ended here and we took the train to the 5th Village of Monterosso. The path was closed due to landslides caused by previous rains and we were a little disappointed not to be able to hike the most rugged terrain of the Cinque Terra Region.
Then again by hopping on the train and arriving at Monterosso a couple of hours earlier, we were able to lay on the beach and work on our tans with the other sun worshippers.
The trains were packed at the end of the day, but we still had our stamped ticket and unlimited travel through the region. It was back to Levanto for sunset dinner at yet another reasonable and delicious restaurant.
Apparently Cinque Terre is an undiscovered gem but we will beg to differ that it is definitely discovered. The crowds were large and tourists seem to flock to the region. By European standards on the Mediterranean coast however it may be quieter than other ocean front resorts.
What we love about the Cinque Terre is how the Italian government is trying to control tourism and keep it green. The Cinque Terre is a designated national park and traffic is limited to the towns. No modern buildings are allowed to be built here and you won't find any giant resorts ruining the coastline. Most people travel to the Cinque Terre by train and cars are not allowed in many of the towns. Some are not even accessible by car.
If you happen to find yourself on the French Riviera or on the Italian Mediterranean coast a trip to Cinque Terre is a must stop on your itinerary.