I first hiked the full length of the Cinque Terre trail in the spring of 1992 while studying abroad in Florence, Italy. I have since hiked the Cinque Terre trail countless times with study abroad students, family visitors, and friends. If you are going to Cinque Terre for the day you might be wondering if you can hike the entire trail in one day without missing your train.
An average adult can hike the Cinque Terre trail in 3 hours and 45 minutes at a speed of 2 miles per hour without taking any breaks. The trail is 7.5 miles or 12 kilometers in length. With rest breaks, an average adult can hike the trail in 5 hours.
If you don’t have this much time to hike, I will share with you which sections are the most popular and the most beautiful.
Hiking The Sections of The Trail.
The Cinque Terre comprises ‘five lands’ or villages nestled into the steep coastline of the Italian Riviera south of Genova and north of La Spezia. The entire area is an Italian National Park and is a beautiful compliment of centuries of interaction between nature and man.
The trails pass through wooded areas with breath-taking views of the sea below. You will also hike through terraced farms with drystone masonry retaining walls, maintained by local farmers who cultivate wine grapes and other crops. It is a unique hiking experience.
Four sections of the hiking trail connect the five towns. This trail is called the Sentiero Azzurro, or Blue Path. This table provides information on the four sections of the Sentiero Azzuro traveling from south to north.
|Trail Secion||Distance||Average Hiking Time|
|Riomaggiore – Manarola |
(Via dell’ Amore)
|0.5 miles |
|Manarola – Corniglia||1.2 miles |
|Corniglia – Vernazza||2 miles |
|Vernazza – Monterosso |
(my favorite section)
|2 miles |
Riomaggiore – Manarola ‘Via dell’ Amore’
If you are coming to Cinque Terre as part of a romantic trip, such as a honeymoon, then you cannot miss the first section of the trail. It is called the Way of Love in Italian. It is the easiest and shortest of the four sections.
I brought my wife here when we were dating. There was a massive electrical storm, and we were confined to our rented room for an entire day. There was no cell phone reception, and her mother nearly flew from Ecuador to Italy to come and find her daughter.
I have hiked the entire Cinque Terre trail in both directions multiple times, but I prefer hiking from Riomaggiore in the south to Monterosso in the north.
There are many reasons for this. My favorite section is the northern one from Vernazza to Monterosso. It is beautiful and brings back many memories from the past three decades. The other reason I like to finish in Monterosso is that there is a lovely sandy beach to dip your toes in when you finish the hike.
Manarola – Corniglia
This section is lovely. You are now starting to get in some good hiking and are experiencing more of the local nature and its long history with the local inhabitants.
The great thing about finishing each section is that you rewarded with a picturesque Italian village perched on the rocky seaside cliffs.
Corniglia – Vernazza
Now you are really hiking and if you are out of shape you will start to feel it. This section is similar to the last section but is not quite as spectacular in my opinion.
The section is a beautiful mixture of Mediterranean fauna interspersed with terraced farm plots. You may wonder how the aging Italian farmers carry equipment and crops to these plots hanging out over the sea far below. You will see a small monorail train that use to access some of the areas.
As you start to get close to Vernazza, the trail descends and transforms into steps and alleyways that are part of the village of Vernazza. You will begin to see the homes where the inhabitants of Vernazza live. As you continue to descend, you will enter the main road of Vernazza that leads from the train station uphill and down to the quaint port and beach.
The University of Genoa produced an extensive technical manual on how to build and maintain the drystone masonry walls that hold up the terraces. I used this manual to restore a similar wall at a villa near Florence in 2010.
Vernazza – Monterosso
This final section of the Sentiero Azzurro is my favorite. It is a steep climb out of Vernazza up a series of steps and steep paths.
If you stopped and had lunch in Vernazza and are climbing this first segment, then you are reconsidering your choice to eat that tiramisù and to have that second glass of wine. If you did your homework, then you also had a glass of Sciacchetrà dessert wine made in Cinque Terre.
Trust me. Keep climbing. It will stop, and the views back on Vernazza are featured in the pictures that most tourists post about their trip to the Cinque Terre. Be sure to stop and take that picture!
In 1996 I finished lunch in Vernazza with a group of university students from the USA. One of the students had recently been discharged from the Ranger Regiment in the US military and suggested that we run to Monterosso and catch the train. At the same time, the rest of the group relaxed on the small beach in Vernazza, waiting for that same train.
We had about 30 minutes to run to Monterosso and get on that train. I like to think that this was the fastest time on this section of the trail ever recorded. It probably isn’t. I do not suggest running on this path because it is full of people, and some areas offer a 200-foot fall to the sea below if you slip.
Monterosso is much different than the four other villages that comprise the Cinque Terre. It feels less touristy, and there are roads with cars, more locals, and a great beach. I had stayed there a few times when friends or family visited from the US and wanted to see the Cinque Terre.
If you are only in Cinque Terre for the day, then I suggest that you do this northernmost section of the Sentiero Azzurro. You will get the full experience of the trail with some seasonal waterfalls, the terraced farming, and spectacular views of the coastline far below.
Transportation and Logistics.
The Cinque Terre National Park is not free. When I hiked it in 1992, it was mostly unknown, there were no entrance fees, and the only other tourists were four Northern Europeans on a trekking adventure with their walking sticks and daypacks. All beautiful spots eventually become famous, and the Cinque Terre is very popular.
It appeared in some influential guide books from the 1990s and now it is nearly overun. I still suggest that you go and experience Cinque Terre but there are other places nearby with similar trails and beauty without hordes of tourists.
Whether you plan to experience Cinque Terre for the day or more, I suggest that you get the Cinque Terre Card. With one payment you get access to all the hiking trails mentioned above, unlimited rides on the trains running through Cinque Terre, free rides on the local buses, and discounts on some museums in La Spezia.
If you don’t want to get the Cinque Terre Card then I suggest you plan your day around your hike. You will most likely arrive by train from La Spezia. Get off at the village where you want to begin hiking. You will pay the trail fee at the entrance to the trail. At the end of the day, you can take the train back to La Spezia from the town where you stop hiking. Doing it this way might save you some money.
I suggest that you stop in Vernazza for lunch. There are more restaurant options than the other towns, except for Monterosso. Vernazza is arguably the most picturesque of the Cinque Terre or five towns. It is so adorable it seems almost fake.