So you have decided to plan a trip to Cinque Terre, and you are set on hiking the paths, but you are wondering which of the myriad options might best suit? I highly recommend taking the less trodden trails way up high on the ridgelines. Not only will you be soaking in the most picturesque views all along the way, you will encounter much fewer people (and in the summer, this place gets crowded). During my hikes in late June 2013, there were long (30-60 minute) stretches where I did not encounter anyone else. This is a great way to enjoy a highly popular tourist destination, get in some great exercise, and also personally capture many postcard-worthy photos.
Seeing the views of the villages yourself is so much better than looking someone else’s. If you start hiking in the early morning, you’ll also escape the hottest part of the day and beat more of the crowds (to the extent the tough high trails are ever “crowded”). By midday, you also get wonderful sea breezes which rustle through the bushes and carry the unique smells of the land to your nose.
Without question, my favourite section of the hike is from Corniglia to Manarola via Volastra. Yes, the steps seem absolutely endless descending from Volasta to Manarola, but the hikes through the vineyards are absolutely stunning.
As long as you study your route and pay close attention at all trail junctions, the markings are actually quite well done. Though some of the trailheads are a bit difficult to find (most notably, the Santuario di Soviore trail out of Monterosso), once you have done a day or two on the trail, you will be comfortable in picking your path as you go.
After the end of a long day of hiking, there is nothing more refreshing than a cold cocktail or a filling snack. Some of my favourite eats included the fried seafood cones found throughout the villages (freshly caught, lightly battered, and just salty enough) and stuffed mussels (full of garlic goodness).
If you are looking for a true beach, Monterosso is probably the closest option you’ll find. If your idea of soaking in the sun involves laying on large rocks (and imitating a mountain goat to get to the rock in the first place), Corniglia is your place (be prepared for tons of steps). Vernazza also has a small beach in an unusual location. While Manarola does have a popular area for sunning and swimming, it is also very near some strong breaking tides and is probably only for strong swimmers.
Finally, if you have heard that trails are technical or you’ll need a lot of equipment, consider that I hiked all 5 villages over the course of a week, with all my things in a small carry-on sized rucksack. My choice in footwear … espadrilles and flip flips. I required some blister protection with the espadrilles, but I managed just fine and my feet were not overly sore.
If you have any questions about taking this fantastic route of high trails in Cinque Terre, please get in touch.