Most people don’t realize just how close the 5 towns of Cinque Terre are to each other, but there’s only 12 kilometers between the first and the last. In fact, if all 4 coastal walking/hiking paths are open, the entire route can be hiked in about 5 hours.
When I first heard of Cinque Terre, this magical place on the Mediterranean where people went to literally walk from town to town, I imagined a place for serious hikers/campers only. I mean, hiking between towns? Five of them? That sounds far!
The paths between the towns are many things, but far is not one of them.
Unfortunately, due to recent landslides, not all the coastal paths were open during our visit (side note: be sure to check before you go whether they are open or not). For us, to walk between all 5 villages in day, it would take between 7 and 8 hours, since we would need to climb higher to avoid the dangerous areas. This might still be doable in one day if you’re a super hiker, but we are not. So we decided to split our hiking between three days, in order to take our time and enjoy the view (and also so that we had time to eat pizza and drink wine in the evenings). This way, even the longer routes that were still open to us were manageable.
Here is the itinerary we set for ourselves:
Day 1 (Arrival Day) – Riomaggiore to Manarola
Since we stayed in Riomaggiore, we decided to use our first afternoon to hike to Manarola. Normally, this is by far the easiest route, a simple 20-minute flat stroll along the coast. But due to the path closures, we had to take a 1-hour and 20-minute route up and over the hill separating the two nearby towns. It was pretty steep, and entirely up for 30 minutes, followed by 20 minutes of flatness, and ending with 30 minutes of descent. Not too bad, and a nice introduction to the area.
Day 2 – Corniglia to Monterosso via Vernazza
This was our longest day, and maybe the most interesting. We took the train to Corniglia in the morning, and hiked north to Vernazza, taking about one and a half hours. Over the final half hour, we probably stopped every 50 feet or so to take more pictures of Vernazza. This town is by far the most photogenic from the hiking paths. We stopped there for lunch, gelato, and to do some walking around the town.
After a couple hours, we started again towards Monterosso, the northernmost of the Cinque Terre. This hike took about 2 hours, including a steep descent near the end. The path was also quite narrow in many places, and since we were there during peak tourism season, we often had to wait for others to pass us on the single-wide path.
Day 3 – Corniglia to Manarola
On our final day in CInque Terre, we completed the last remaining leg. Once again, we took the train to Corniglia (since Corniglia is situated 100m above the sea, it is the only one of the five towns without ferry access, thus, we used the train). This time, instead of going north, we set off south.
While only a little over two hours, this was the hardest hike for us – though maybe the two previous days of hiking had something to do with it. The route we took was once again lengthened by path closures; instead of taking the flat coastal walk, we went up (and up and up and up) to a small town called Volastra, and then back down from there. If you can handle it though, it’s worth it. This path offered the best views of the entire coastline, in my opinion.
Our three-day itinerary allowed us to take our time hiking (especially when it comes to constantly stopping to take pictures), and it also allowed us to enjoy time in each of the five towns. While Cinque Terre can definitely be hiked end-to-end in one day, that only makes sense for those who simply want to check it off a list. If you’d rather enjoy yourself, and see Cinque Terre in ways other than through sweat-soaked bangs, take your time.