Visiting Cinque Terre – a UNESCO world heritage site along the shores of northwestern Italy in the region of Liguria – had been on our bucket list for so long. We spent one and a half days in July exploring Cinque Terre and loved hiking from Monterosso to Vernazza along the Blue Trail during our visit to the region.
Stunning Cinque Terre consists of five picturesque villages nestled along the dramatic cliffs of the Italian coastline.
Cinque Terre is widely considered as the most beautiful stretch of the Italian Riviera and is also the smallest national park of Italy.
I am guessing that if you are reading this post, you might be planning on visiting Cinque Terre soon and perhaps even considering hiking along the beautiful trails in the region.
So here’s a photoessay and travel guide about our experience of hiking from Monterosso to Vernazza along the Blue Trail (Azure Trail). This post also covers the details about how to reach Cinque Terre, our hike along the Blue trail, hiking tips and things to do in Vernazza.
Cinque Terre – an introduction and how to get there
The five villages of Cinque Terre are Riomaggiore (the southernmost, closest to La Spezia), Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare (closest to Levanto). While all of these villages have the same shades of charming pastel buildings, they each have a unique feel to them.
For example, Monterosso is the more resort-like village with a classic Italian beachfront, larger hotels and attracts a lot of tourists.
On the other hand, the smaller, but probably the most beautiful village of Cinque Terre – Vernazza, exudes charms with its boat-filled natural harbor, tiny beach, narrow alleys, and a castle.
While both Monterosso and Vernazza are quite touristy, the equally charming villages of Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore are a delightful base for visitors who would prefer to experience the quieter slice of Cinque Terre.
The five villages of Cinque Terre are seamlessly connected by train, bus and boat services. We arrived at Cinque Terre after spending a memorable day in Pisa. Our train from Pisa brought us to La Spezia in about 1h 20 mins. We switched trains at La Spezia and arrived in Vernazza in about 18 mins.
The trains along the La Spezia to Genova line run frequently and stop at each of the five villages of Cinque Terre along the way. Our train journey from La Spezia to Vernazza was short but dramatic. What I distinctly remember is the train crossing through several tunnels and emerging out to stunning, brilliantly blue hues of the Mediterranean (Ligurian Sea) and pastel-colored buildings of the villages along the rugged coastline. So beautiful! Those brightly painted buildings reminded me of the colorful homes we had seen in Murano and Burano during our trip to Venice.
We hadn’t even stepped off the train yet, but I could already tell that exploring Cinque Terre was going to be a truly memorable experience. Additionally, during the peak tourist season from spring to summer, there are ferries also that run from La Spezia to Cinque Terre.
Hiking in Cinque Terre – The Blue Trail
When visiting Cinque Terre, if you don’t mind an active day of hiking, then one of the best ways to discover the region is to hike along the popular and scenic Blue Trail – Sentiero Azzuro (SVA 2, 592-4).
The Blue Trail starts from Monterosso, passes through Vernazza, followed by Corniglia and Manarola before ending at Riomaggiore. This trail is about 12 km long and can be hiked in either direction starting from either Monterosso or from Riomaggiore. It is also, of course, possible to hike only certain sections of the trail and visit other villages along the way by either train, boat or bus. A non-stop hike along the full length of the trail takes nearly 5-6 hours.
However, the real charm lies in hiking the trail and discovering each village as you go by. In order to do so, the best thing is to spread the full hike over two days as you explore the five villages, and once you complete the hike, take the boat back to the starting point to see Cinque Terre from an entirely different perspective.
The level of difficulty, as well as the time needed to hike between villages, varies quite a bit. Without a doubt though, the toughest hike in the region is the trail between Monterosso and Vernazza.
Hiking from Vernazza to Corniglia is also quite demanding and takes about 1.5 hours. Further on, the hike from Corniglia to Manarola takes one along the hills and lasts about 45 mins. The easiest and shortest hike along the Blue Trail is the one from Manarola to Riomaggiore along the level path of Via dell’Amore which takes just 20 mins to complete.
Cinque Terre Card
Cinque Terre is a national park and hiking the trails requires a fee to be paid. The proceeds from the sale of the Cinque Terre card go directly towards the upkeep of the Cinque Terre national park.
The Cinque Terre card can be purchased online or at the welcome centers located in the train stations at each of the villages.
You will notice, that at each end of the section of the trail between the villages, there are checkpoints where this card needs to be shown for entry to the trails of the national park.
There are two types of Cinque Terre cards – the Cinque Terre trekking card and the Cinque Terre Treno MS Card.
The Cinque Terre Trekking Card gives access to the hiking trail and covers the use of bus service between the villages. We purchased the 2-day Cinque Terre Trekking card for €14.50 per person.
On the other hand, the Cinque Terre Treno MS Card includes access to the Park area and its trails as well as train travel on regional trains from Levanto to La Spezia.
Our memorable experience of hiking from Monterosso to Vernazza
We stayed at Camere Nicolina in Vernazza during our visit to Cinque Terre. After breakfast, we made it a point to the first shop for some snacks and water to take along our hike in Vernazza.
We stopped by the fruit stands in Vernazza to pick up some fresh fruit and at Panificio focacceria to buy some of their freshly made focaccia. Did you know focaccia had originated in Liguria? That makes it a must-try when visiting this region and this delicious treat along our adventurous hiking day was one of the best snacks we had (the pesto focaccia was the tastiest of all the varieties we tried).
After purchasing and snacks and water, we took the train from Vernazza to Monterosso as we wanted to hike the section of the Blue trail (Azure trail) starting from Monterosso to Vernazza.
The start of the hike at Monterosso:
The trail for Monterosso to Vernazza spans a distance of about 3.7 km and takes about 2 hours to complete. Hiking from Monterosso to Vernazza leads one dramatically along the coast and through the vineyards.
It was easy to locate the starting point of the hike as we approached the beachfront of Monterosso from the train station. Facing the sea at the Monterosso beachfront, as we looked towards the left, we could see a concrete ramp heading upwards from the beach along the sides of the nearby cliff.
To start the hike, we headed towards this well-paved ramp and as we climbed it and looked back, we were able to take in some breathtaking views of beautiful Monterosso al Mare. For those who love visiting the beach, it is clear to see why Monterosso would be an ideal base for exploring Cinque Terre.
The Panoramic Window Near Monterosso
Climbing further up this ramp, we came across a panoramic window where couples had placed locks to symbolize their love for each other. Looking through this panoramic window, one gets to see the mountain of Punta Mesco – the promontory of the mountain that encloses the gulf of Monterosso. At its summit is an abandoned lighthouse named iL Semaforo.
It was really interesting to learn that the sandstone mines in this mountain that we saw from this window were once mined for stones that were used to pave the streets on Monterosso and nearby villages.
Moving further and crossing Hotel Porto Roco, the paved concrete ramp ended and a series of steep stone steps started. This was the start of the toughest section of hiking from Monterosso to Vernazza.
The most challenging stretch of the hike – the climb over the numerous, tall steps
Climbing those hundreds of uneven, stony, tall steps was challenging. Even though I am quite accustomed to hiking, my heart was racing and I could see several other hikers stopping to catch their breath at this stretch.
It is best to pace yourself during this section of the hike. The steps are actually spread out over short sections but it was clear to see that just within a short span of distance we had gained quite an elevation by climbing these steps. This stretch of the blue trail from Monterosso to Vernazza definitely requires stamina and for one to be in a reasonably fit condition.
The hike along the dirt trail further took us along local farms and also people’s backyards that had doors opening straight on to this trail. I couldn’t help but wonder how charming it must be for those locals to just step out of the backyard for a daily stroll onto this trail which happens to be one of the most popular hiking routes in Italy.
We came across locals playing music, sitting along the walls and admiring the views while they chatted with each other. As we passed by, they smiled at us and we exchanged friendly greetings of Buongiorno.
Past citrus groves, vineyards and farms -the hike starts to get easier
Hiking further, the trail took us past citrus groves that were enclosed by stone walls. We could also see terraced farms with local produce growing supported by these walls. It was incredibly interesting to see and learn that these man-made walls supporting the terraces and farms in Cinque Terre were built without mortar by skilled dry-stone masons of the region. These walls naturally require constant maintenance by the masons and volunteers from the nearby villages and universities.
Moving further away from Monterosso, the landscape started to change a bit – we could see more olive trees, lots of vineyards and lemon trees along the way. We enjoyed walking along this beautiful trail as we ate the snacks we had purchased from Vernazza.
Keep in mind that it is certainly not permissible to pluck any grapes or fruits grown in the orchards along the trails, so be sure to refrain from doing so.
Panoramic views of the Italian coastline
Once the initial stretch of steps finished, the trail became more level most of the times with occasional steps every now and then. It was definitely much easier to hike from this point onwards compared to the challenging initial section.
Despite the hike being arduous, it was clear that the rewards were immense – stunning panoramic coastline views of brilliantly blue Ligurian sea, lush green vineyards and scent of the lemons and flowers growing nearby – I was completely enchanted by this hiking experience.
The hiking trail, in general, was narrow with few sections being so narrow that only one person could cross in a direction and had to carefully squeeze past the hikers waiting to move in the opposite direction.
We crossed by more steep terraced hills and family vineyards where the grapes are grown for the production of the famous local wine of Cinque Terre – Sciacchetrà. These vineyards still use traditional techniques for wine production. Walking along the trail, one could get a sense of how the locals really appreciated the heritage of their beautiful land.
Traversing the valley of Cravarla and Costa Linaro
The trail then traversed the valley of Cravarla and Costa Linaro where we saw lots of shrubs growing on the terraced hills.
A hike along the cliffs on one side of the trail for the majority of the way and the sheer dramatic drops along the other end of the trail was thrilling. The sheerest drop off points tend to have wooden railings next to them. We couldn’t help but stop at several points along the way to Vernazza to soak in the stunning views of the Mediterranean. We were able to spot Monterosso in the distance and kept looking out for the first glimpse of Vernazza.
Trail markers and information along the way
The trail, in general, had markers along the way indicating the direction in which Vernazza was. The Blue Trail is also marked at some points with a white and blue stripe to guide hikers. Moreover, we came across information boards with location details, medic and emergency contact details along the way. It is a good idea to note such details listed in the board before moving past it in case you need to reach out in the event of an emergency.
Breathtaking views of Vernazza
The biggest thrill of hiking from Monterosso to Vernazza was our first sight of Vernazza from high up the mountain. We could see this cozy harbor village with its characteristic pastel buildings and prominent castle tower in the distance and it was a lovely sight to behold.
The hike after this point was mostly downhill and easier. We did have to climb down some more steps along the way but those weren’t as tall and steep as the steps of the trail closer to Monterosso. We came across the famous vantage point of Vernazza and stopped by for taking in the beautiful view and plenty of photographs.
Walking down along the vineyards and olive groves, the dirt trail changed to the stone steps again as we approached Vernazza. The trail brought us back to the narrow alleys of Vernazza and we walked back towards the piazza – straight to Gelateria Vernazza.
Oh yes, after this intense hike we were craving some gelato and we were in for a treat – there were plenty of delicious flavors of gelato to choose from and we loved eating our gelatos at the cute harbor of Vernazza.
Things to do in Vernazza
After having some gelato, we decided to explore Vernazza some more. We headed to the beach which is actually located just a short walk from the main drag of Vernazza but is surprisingly quieter compared to the hustle-bustle of the piazza.
Thereafter, we headed up the narrow alleys of Vernazza towards the castle – Castello Doria – located uphill towards the right side of the village. We took the stairs past the alley next to Trattoria Gianni and followed the signs for the Castello as we made our way up to this lookout.
Castello Doria, Vernazza
Castello Doria was once the watchtower warning the villagers of approaching pirates and later during World War, it served as a lookout point as well.
The views from the top of Castello Doria were such a delight – panoramic views of the Cinque Terre coastline, Vernazza and the Mediterranean.
There were several stairs we needed to climb to visit this tower, and the ticket counter was located almost at the top of the climb. Visiting Castello Doria is definitely well worth the effort given the spectacular views you get from the top.
We enjoyed the views and sitting along the walls of this castle for quite a while as we watched people cliff diving, boating, swimming and enjoying seaside dinners at nearby restaurants. Relaxing and reflecting on the beautiful hike from this perch and taking in the stunning Mediterranean views that lay ahead of us was a true moment of la dolce far niente for us.
Catch the beautiful sunset views at the lookout point near Vernazza
We then hiked up to the vista point on the trail from Vernazza to Corniglia. This vista point is located at top of the trail near the edge of Vernazza and is one of the most photographed spots in the region. We watched the sunset from this point and the beauty of the moment cannot be described in words – well worth the short hike up to this vista to experience this romantic moment.
Indulge in a delicious meal in Vernazza
Following the visit to the watchtower, we headed back to Piazza Marconi for a delicious seaside dinner at Ristorante Gianni Franzi. The seafood served at the restaurants of Cinque Terre is delicious. We also enjoyed eating the Caprese salad made with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella. Our favorite dish was without a doubt the hand-rolled pasta topped with freshly made pesto.
When visiting Cinque Terre (and if you aren’t allergic to pine nuts), be sure to indulge in the regional specialty – pesto. This pesto made from freshly ground basil that is mixed with locally produced olive oil, sea salt, pine nuts, and cheese was the most delicious pesto I have ever tasted. And of course, don’t forget to sample the regional wine, Sciacchetrà, when dining in the restaurants of Cinque Terre. Bon appetito!
Tips for hiking in Cinque Terre
1. The trails in the region can be quite uneven so be sure wear sturdy, walking shoes with a sole that has a good grip.
2. Avoid hiking the trails if it has rained when portions of the trail could be wet as the stones and steps along the trail tend to be quite slippery when wet.
3. Be sure to pack plenty of water and some snack before heading off to the hike as these are not available on the trail. We purchased focaccia and fresh fruit from Vernazza before heading out for our hike.
4. Check the official Cinque Terre website and the welcome centers regarding trail closures and conditions before hiking in the region. Trails or sections of the trails can be closed for maintenance and due to landslides so be sure to check before you go.
5. There are actually 48 trails in Cinque Terre national park and the official website lists the details and difficulty levels for each of the trails. Make sure you choose the trail according to your physical condition as certain trails or sections of trails are quite arduous, including hiking from Monterosso to Vernazza.
6. While hiking along the trails, you will likely come across medic and emergency boards – note down the emergency number and keep track of the location listed in case there is an emergency along the way.
7. The trails are not covered – there may be portions in which the trail passes through a grove and is shaded but most of the trails run along the sunny coastline. Be sure to wear a hat and sunscreen to avoid sun exposure.
8. If you plan on visiting Cinque Terre during the summer months, then hiking early in the morning is the best option in order to beat the crowds and avoid the heat.
Thoughts about hiking from Monterosso to Vernazza along the Blue Trail
Hiking from Monterosso to Vernazza is the toughest section along the Blue Trail as it requires climbing up several steep steps which are uneven and quite weathered in places. The hike initially requires climbing tall steps – the most challenging stretch – after which it is mostly a level hike as it goes uphill and downhill at a gentler gradient. Approaching Vernazza, the downhill hike is definitely the easiest section of the stretch.
It is said that while hiking from Monterosso to Vernazza is tougher than going in the opposite direction, it offers better views as one approaches Vernazza.
This was the reason we chose to hike in this direction and I also later realized it was a better choice for us given the tall steps we came across this hike. I felt that while it was surely arduous to climb the numerous steep steps along the way from Monterosso to Vernazza, it is probably riskier to climb down these same steps if coming from Vernazza towards Monterosso as the steps are quite uneven.
Hiking along the Blue Trail while discovering the villages of Cinque Terre along the way is one of the best experiences one can have during a visit to Cinque Terre. We loved exploring this beautiful stretch of the Italian Riviera at a relaxed pace and could see why this once off the beaten path destination, has become a must-see on so many itineraries.
We loved hiking from Monterosso to Vernazza for its stunning mix of panoramic views, nature, friendly locals and a chance to get to learn more about the cultural heritage of the region.
I wish we could have spent a few more days in Cinque Terre but there’s always a next time! We were enchanted by the beauty of the Ligurian sea and would love to visit Cinque Terre again in the future and hike along its trails some more.
Until then…..Ciao Cinque Terre! Happy travels and I hope you have a wonderful time visiting Cinque Terre and hiking along its trails.
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