Tucked away in a mountainous area at the eastern side of the Italian Riviera, the historic, quaint villages are strung along a dusty, rugged trail on the Sentiero Azzurro cliffside overlooking the Mediterranean. The sleepy towns come alive during the summer months, when the vineyards are in full grape-making swing, the harbors filled with colorful fishing boats and trattorias dish up local wine. Indulge in the Liguria region’s famous sauce, pesto, smothered over thick ribbons of homemade pasta. One can laze away the hours exploring the cobbled streets of the romantic towns, and hop on the train line that connects all five villages, which have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
But the fun part is strapping on a backpack and boots and hiking through each hamlet, arriving dusty, sweaty and sun-kissed, and in need of a hearty supper.
Walking the trail harks back to olden times, when for centuries walking the clifftops was the only way to travel between the isolated villages.
The trail takes you over rugged hillsides, terraced farms and coastal forests, with breathtaking views across the coast, through vineyards and along rocky paths.
The hike, known as the Blue Trail, or the number two hike, itself is not particularly long, just 6.8 miles in length. But the beauty is lingering along the coast and soaking up the views, stopping in each town for gelato or a decadent, well deserved Italian meal.
Riomaggiore is the first stop on many visitors’ itineraries, as the paths from there are smooth and paved, and work their way up to more challenging routes. The trail from there to Manarola is known as “Lover’s Lane”, famous for its kissing statue and a tunnel covered in declarations of amore.
The next stop is Corniglia, just 2.5 miles away, flanked by stunning gardens and sea views. From there to Vernazza is a steep climb, to the highest point of Cinque Terre. Steep, uneven stairs make walking poles a good idea, but the strenuous climb is worth it for the lush olive groves and exotic flowers on offer along the way.
Just 1.8 miles away is the final destination, Monterosso. After following narrow passages and winding stairs, hikers can enjoy a panoramic view of all the Cinque Terre towns.
And, as a reward for completing the hike, the Mediterranean sea awaits for a refreshing dip.
If you fancy a little more altitude, or a longer distance to stretch your legs, there are a number of other trails in the area, one that takes in Cinque Terre’s history and visits a number of old sanctuaries. Or, you can head away from the sea and onto the mountain trails, which are far more remote and underused.
Whichever route you pick, there’ll be plenty to keep your senses occupied, whether you’re heading out for a multiday adventure in the rugged terrain or a day’s worth of sightseeing and pesto con pasta-eating.