One of the most scenic hikes a person can do in Italy is the Five Villages Hike along the Mediterranean region of Cinque Terre. When we took a look at our Rick Steves’ Guide book, he named it as one of his favorite things to do in Europe, so we knew we made the right decision.
When we found ourselves on the French Riviera; a mere 3-hour drive from Cinque Terre we had to hop in our rented Nissan Micra and make our way to this spectacular region. 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 we were about to witness something special.
Hiking Cinque Terre, Italy
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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.
Making a Base In Levanto
Levanto was the perfect home base for the Cinque Terre region.
It is far less touristy than the other villages, but it is extremely accessible to any place that you want to go to.
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 Cinque Terre hike.
The ferry and train also stop frequently at Levanto so when we set off for our Cinque Terra hike, we had no problems at at.
About The Five Villages Hike
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. (we were car camping our way through Europe making our trip very affordable)
€8.50 will get you unlimited train travel and give you your national park entrance fee to Cinque Terre.
The trains travel frequently from town to town and we hopped on the 08:38 am train to Riomaggiore where we started our Cinque Terre hike.
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 Cinque Terra Hike is 12 km / 5 Hours
The Cinque Terra Hike is an easy 12 km hike that takes approximately five hours to walk through winding through olive groves, vineyards, and beautiful coastal scenery.
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 at Riomaggiore, 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.
Riomaggiore to Manarola – 1.5km
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 hiking from Riomaggiore to Manarola. 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.
Since we felt that we had a lot of time, we decided that we should check out this town and see more than just the waterfront.
Main Square of Manarola, Italy
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 neighbor’s house and we overlooked a view of vineyards and orchards.
Before starting on the trail we enjoyed a cappuccino and chocolate pastry.
The old men from the bus stop bench came into the café and the usual friendly and hearty, “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. Traditional Italy is alive and well in Cinque Terre.
You don’t want to rush through the towns or through the trail. You want to absorb the culture and energy of the Cinque Terre.
Watch our Hiking Cinque Terre Video
The views along the Cinque Terre are too perfect to not enjoy slowly and the towns are too beautiful and inviting to not take the time to enjoy every moment.
Manarola to Corniglia – 3 km
While 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.
Specialties of the Cinque Terre
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.
Corniglia to Vernazza
The hike to Vernazza is wilder and more difficult 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 to hike uphill.
Vernazza is the busiest of the towns and where many tourists make their home base. It is very central to everything, but it is very busy.
If you want to buy pasta or olive oil, pesto, or wine to take home here is the place to do it. It caters to tourists and hikers of the Cinque Terre.
After tasting their pesto drenched over pasta you will find it hard to resist taking a jar home for yourself.
While you are in Vernazzo stop and enjoy a mouth-watering delicious triple scoop of gelato. It is a great way to break up the hike and to get some energy for the next stretch.
Vernazza to Monterosso – 3.5 km
Our day ended here at the village of Monterosso the most rugged terrain of the Cinque Terra Region.
After a fun day of hiking, we chilled out in Monterosso for a couple of hours.
We were able to lay on the beach and work on our tans with the other sunbathers. I can’t believe I am sunning myself on the Italian Riviera. It’s definitely a bucket list item checked off the list.
The End of the Hike
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.
We loved hiking the Cinque Terre, but we were happy to escape the crowds and spend the night in Levanto.
The crowds of the Cinque Terra were large as tourists flock to the region.
But the views are definitely worth putting up with the crowds, and the villages are set up well for tourists.
There are shops and restaurants along the way to eat, enjoy a glass of wine, and to pick up some souvenirs.
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 villages are not even accessible by car.
If you happen to find yourself on the French or Italian Riviera, a trip to Cinque Terre is a must-stop on your itinerary.