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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

An Incredible Day Hiking the Five Villages of the Cinque Terre

If you follow us on Instagram then you'll know that during our recent visit to Italy's Cinque Terre we absolutely fell in love with this gorgeous destination. One of the highlights for us and many other people to the region is hiking the Sentiero Azzurro, the path along the coast that connects all five villages of the Cinque Terre. Unfortunately a few years ago terrible landslides closed the world-famous Via dell'Amore which is the path that connects the villages of Riomaggiore and Manarola. However, it is still possible to hike between the five villages it now just involves a much more strenuous hike! These ancient trails are rough but manageable and the charm of the area is that it is natural and unspoiled so don't expect nice even steps or safety rails along the path. We undertook the hike between Riomaggiore and Monterosso al Mare, taking the time to stop at each of the villages on our way and it was without a doubt a highlight of our time in Italy!



RIOMAGGIORE TO MANAROLA 
We were staying in Riomaggiore and set out quite early in the morning, just after breakfast. We'd highly recommend starting out early as it was only early May during our visit but it was extremely hot and by early afternoon the path was really full so we can imagine just how hot and crowded it would be during the peak of summer.

We purchased Cinque Terre Trekking Cards which were €7.50 each from the tourist information centre in Riomaggiore which is located next to the train station. We wouldn't be needing these until the second half of our hike as the path between Riomaggiore, Manarola and Corniglia is free. We headed up the road from the train station until we found a hiking sign and off we went uphill! The path began with an almost never-ending vertical staircase which had everyone puffing and covered in sweat by the time they finally reached the top. By the time we'd made it to the top it was then a long, steep walk down a lot of rough stairs to Manarola. This first leg of the hike took us just over an hour and was probably one of the toughest, most strenuous parts of the hike with very steep hills, no hand rails and big steps but if you take your time and wear good shoes you'll be okay.

We then walked down into Manarola to explore this gorgeous village which is somewhere that we'd love to return to one day and spend more time in to allow us to fully experience its beauty, charm and hidden streets and secrets!









MANAROLA TO CORNIGLIA (VIA VOLASTRA)
There was a lot of steps to get out of Manarola and back on the path but once we did we had amazing, panoramic views of beautiful Manarola. Our second leg of the hike then took us through beautiful vineyards and along gorgeous paths over the cliffs where we were speechless from the breathtaking scenery and gorgeous blue waters below us! The path was extremely steep and we had a very tough, long climb to reach Volastra which overlooked the whole coastline. Volastra had a small shop where we picked up some cold water and gatorade which was amazing as the extremely long and steep climb had taken it out of us. From Volastra we then headed back down for a long walk into Corniglia. This leg of the hike took us about an hour and a half as we had a lot of water and rest breaks along the way (most people were doing the same thing). We had a quick look around Corniglia but didn't spend too much time there as we were aiming to get to Vernazza for lunch and were absolutely starving by this point. Despite not spending a long time in Corniglia we could still appreciate its beauty and charm, which is something each of the villages on the Cinque Terre have!



CORNIGLIA TO VERNAZZA
From Corniglia to Vernazza and Monterosso we had to pass through a check point and show our Cinque Terre "Trekking Card" which we'd purchased that morning in Riomaggiore. The path between these three villages was a lot better maintained and a lot more reasonable to walk than our initial path (but still certainly not easy)! It still involves a lot of steps but it hugs the coastline rather than going up and over mountains! I think a lot of people choose to just walk between these three rather than all five now that the Via Dell'Amore is closed as there was a lot more people on this part of the path than we'd encountered at the beginning. The scenery was just as beautiful and as we got further along we caught glimpses of the other villages dotted along the coastline and it was magical!

It took us just under an hour to walk from Corniglia to Vernazza and we stopped in Vernazza for lunch of a calamari cone (which was our favourite food on the coast as it was delicious, fresh and super cheap) and a little break before tackling the rest of the walk to Monterosso. Vernazza was our second favourite village after Riomaggiore, it is a gorgeous village that is buzzing with life and has a beautiful little port with lots of fishing boats!



VERNAZZA TO MONTEROSSO AL MARE
Our final leg was from Vernazza to Monterosso Al Mare and we were pretty damn tired by this stage! This part of the walk had a lot of ups and downs but not long after you climb out of Vernazza you get what is without a doubt, the best views of Vernazza. This leg of our hike took us just under and hour and half with quite a few water breaks as we were really tired by this stage! It was so exciting when we finally spotted Monterosso and its sandy white beach in the distance and the first thing we did when we arrived was pick up two, cold large beers and head straight to the beach to enjoy them. I don't even like beer but it was without a doubt the best beer I've ever had. After paddling our feet and relaxing on the sand for an hour or so we finally convinced ourselves to get up and picked up a delicious gelato on the way to the train station to head back home to Riomaggiore.






Hiking the Cinque Terre has been without a doubt one of the highlights of our trip so far. The five villages that make up the Cinque Terre are beautiful, enchanting and each have their own magic and charm. Arriving in each village was such an amazing experience and a reward for all the hard work it took to make it there. The scenery is like no other and as much as we puffed and sweated we loved every moment of it. Back in Riomaggiore that evening we arrived on the train with a few other people who we'd started the hike with that morning and there was a few very tired but satisfied smiles shared between us and pats on the back for making it the whole way. After a quick shower we picked up a well deserved bottle of wine and takeaway pizza from our local pizza shop and headed down to our usual sunset spot on the rocks. We were tired but buzzing with the sense of achievement we felt.

It felt even better the next day when we met two American girls who were staying in the same accommodation as us and they asked us if we'd hiked yet and we answered with "we hiked the whole way from Riomaggiore to Monterosso yesterday and are certainly feeling it today!" They were very impressed as they'd only hiked between two of the villages and were exhausted. It doesn't matter though whether you hike between one, two or all five or whether you train it between all of them because every second you spend on the Cinque Terre is truly magical and it is a place we'll never forget.

FINAL TIPS
  • As with any hiking, make sure you wear appropriate clothing! The path is rough, rocky and unstable under foot so it's essential to wear hiking boots or at least joggers/runners. We saw a few people walking in thongs (flip flops) and even one girl walking with high heels! I assume (and hope) she was just doing one leg of the walk but it was ridiculous. I'd say almost half the people on the trails also had walking poles. Initially we thought it was a bit extreme as I've only ever used walking poles when I hiked the Inca Trail but there was certainly a number of places along the paths where I would have gratefully used that extra support and stability. If you're a bit unsteady or unsure about the walk then there are places in the towns where you can hire walking poles. 
  • We visited in early May and it was ridiculously hot already so make sure you take suncream as the glare off the water can also cause serious sunburn.
  • An obvious one but make sure you pack plenty of water. There is places to buy water in each town and there are also some taps where you can fill up but generally between each town there's nothing and you can be walking for anywhere between an hour and two hours (or more depending on your speed) at a time and trust us, you'll want plenty of water.
  • Finally, if you're visiting the Cinque Terre whether you're hiking or not make sure when catching the train that you always pre-purchase a ticket. The guards are really strict in enforcing tickets and we saw a number of tourists getting fines. As well as getting a fine it makes the rest of us tourists looks bad when you hear lies "oh I did buy a ticket but it must have fallen out of my pocket" etc. The tickets are cheap, the trains are fairly frequent (at least every 30 minutes) and it's almost a guarantee you'll get caught if you don't have one - so don't be that bad tourist!

Want to see more of the Cinque Terre? Head over and check out our Cinque Terre Photo Diary

Are you like us and love active holidays and hiking? 
We'd love to hear about your favourite holiday hikes! x

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