There was really one and only one thing on our agenda in Cinque Terre: hiking! (Well, and eating, but eating is always on the agenda.) The region is famous for the footpaths connecting the five villages, especially the coastal Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Path), otherwise known as Trail No. 2. Unfortunately landslides closed a portion of that trail way back in 2011, and it’s still not fully open (and may never be, according to the locals we met). When we were in Cinque Terre in early May 2017, the portions of this trail between Monterosso al Mare and Vernazza and Vernazza and Corniglia were open, but the other two segments (connecting Corniglia to Manarola and Riomaggiore) were shut. We found good alternative routes between the latter towns (which I’ll talk about in a future post) but I’m glad we had the chance to hike the legendary Sentiero Azzurro at least between Monterosso, Vernazza and Corniglia.
Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza
We began our hike in Monterosso al Mare. The trail got steep quickly and before I knew it we were looking down on the rooftops of the village.
We crested a small hill and began the long, more gradual ascent that would bring us up to the trail’s highest point of elevation. The trail winds through vineyards, meaning that the scenery isn’t only nice in the seaside direction.
There were nice views of Monterosso looking backwards, and several overlooks along the trail specifically designed for resting and soaking in the view.
Once we reached the top of the ridge, the trail was flat for quite a while and we could really enjoy the coastline vistas, made especially dramatic by the gray skies.
One of the benefits of hiking in early May: wildflowers everywhere! These are just a few of the different flowers I spotted along this portion of the trail.
We had seen Vernazza off in the distance before, but not very clearly. Eventually we rounded a bend and saw the town right below us.
Pretty soon we were descending in earnest, with increasingly better views of Vernazza.
Oh, Vernazza. There are not enough heart eye emojis in the world.
One of the nice things about the hiking trails is that they mostly enter and exit the towns on tiny back streets, rather than the main drag, so you’ll get to see a part of the villages that many visitors don’t. The downside of course is that this can make finding the “trailhead” quite difficult, but there are worse places to be lost than Cinque Terre.
This section of the Sentiero Azzurro was probably my favorite of all the trails we did in Cinque Terre. If you’re going to hike just one segment I would pick this one, and I recommend going in the Monterosso to Vernazza direction. I don’t think there was a single minute of this hike that I wasn’t exclaiming over the scenery.
Vernazza to Corniglia
We departed Vernazza on the opposite side of town from where we came in, winding our way through a more residential area further from the marina and eventually getting up high enough that we were looking down on the town.
Vernazza is closer to Corniglia than it is to Monterosso, so we soon spotted Corniglia in the distance. You can see why Corniglia doesn’t have a harbor and is such a long walk from the train station – it’s perched all the way up on the hill, not by the sea like the other villages.
Even though I didn’t mind the cloudy skies on the morning hike at all, the coastline looked extra gorgeous once the sun came out and lit up the brilliant blue water.
Before I knew it we were making our way into the village of Corniglia. Since the town is up so high, there isn’t much descent in this direction (until you walk all the way down to the train station, of course).
Again we came into the village in kind of a roundabout way, walking through Corniglia’s charming narrow streets and past markets selling baskets of fresh lemons, a Cinque Terre specialty.
I really enjoyed this portion of the Sentiero Azzurro as well. The scenery wasn’t quite as jaw-dropping or as varied as the first section (or the hike we did the next day from Corniglia to Manarola) but it was definitely picturesque. I can’t stress enough how much I recommend hiking in Cinque Terre – it’s really one of the best ways to see this area, plus then you’ll feel zero guilt about eating gelato in every town!
A few general tips about hiking in Cinque Terre:
- Only the Sentiero Azzurro (Trail No. 2) requires purchase of the Cinque Terre trekking card (€7.50/day for adults). All the other trails in the region are free. So if you’re planning to do both the Monterosso-Vernazza segment and the Vernazza-Corniglia segment of this trail it makes sense to combine them into a single day and buy the card for that day only. Back when all four segments of the trail were open, some brave people did the entire thing in one day, but I wouldn’t recommend that unless you’re in very good shape. But doing both of the segments that are currently open is totally doable in one day, even for couch potatoes like myself. Bring cash to purchase the card from the checkpoint near the beginning of the trail.
- There’s also a Cinque Terre train card that includes access to the Sentiero Azzurro as well as unlimited trains. If you do the math though, it’s only worth it if you plan to take three or more trains on the day you buy the card (trains in the Cinque Terre are €4 regardless of where you’re going and the combined card is €16/day). We only took two trains – one to the beginning of the hike and one back home at the end – and you’d really only need one train if you’re staying in either Monterosso or Corniglia.
- In general, I thought the difficulty of the trail was a little bit exaggerated in the guidebooks and blogs I’d read before our departure. Don’t get me wrong, it was a long hike (about four hours from Monteresso to Corniglia, excluding time spent exploring and eating in the towns) and had a lot of elevation gain, but the dirt trail is generally pretty good underfoot. I had read some advice that said you shouldn’t even consider attempting to hike in Cinque Terre without poles and hiking boots but we were fine with just sneakers and no poles or specialized hiking gear. I’d also heard that the Sentiero Azzurro really hugs the cliffs and could be bad for people like me with a fear of heights, but I didn’t think it was scary at all.
- Don’t feel like you have to wait for a day when there’s no rain in the forecast – if we’d done that we wouldn’t have gotten to do any hiking at all! The forecasts seemed to change constantly and not be terribly correlated to what was actually happening with the weather. Our first day there was rain in the forecast but we had good weather all day (cloudy in the morning and sunny in the afternoon); on the second day there wasn’t rain forecast until the late afternoon and we were caught in a torrential downpour on the Manarola-Corniglia hike in the morning. Although it wasn’t fun hiking in the rain (and I was very worried about my camera, since I didn’t have so much as a plastic bag to put it in), I never felt like we were in any danger. By all means use common sense and don’t head out into a thunderstorm, but I wouldn’t worry too much about rain.