Do you dream of walking the famous Blue Trail No. 2 or Sentiero Azzuro in Italiano, located in the beautiful Cinque Terre? You won’t regret this fantastic 11 kilometer (6.8 mile) hike along the coast of the Italian Riviera, with visits to the charming Cinque Terra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along the way.
The Cinque Terre, which translates to five cities, is perched above the dramatic coastline of the Ligurian Sea, just north of Pisa. All five cities are accessible by train, boat or on foot. Whether you’re an avid hiker, just looking to burn off some of the decadent Italian dishes you’ve enjoyed, or want to experience one of Europe’s most beautiful hiking trails, the Cinque Terre hike, which my husband and I enjoyed in November, is an amazing and once in a lifetime experience. And, with a little preparation and planning, it can be done in a day.
1. Plan your route
The 11 kilometer trail connects the five towns and goes from Monterossa to Riomaggiore. The Blue Trail or Trail #2 consists of four individual paths connecting the five towns along the coast. You can complete the entire trail in about 5 hours at a moderate pace, but that doesn’t take into account the time needed to explore each village, which you’ll definitely want to do.
Distances and difficulty levels of each section
Monterosso to Vernazza (3.5 kilometers/2.2 miles)
This section of trail #2 is the longest and most difficult. It is also the most rewarding point of view. The first ascent climbs a long steep stone staircase through hills cultivated with vineyards and olive trees, not to mention breathtaking views! At times the trail flattens out and becomes wider. A few sections drop into the no pass zone with sea side exposure. The steep drops can be dizzying for some but worth it for the fantastic scenery.
Vernazza to Corniglia (4 kilometres/2.5 miles)
This section of the trail can also be a bit tricky. Hikers will ascend to the highest point of the trail. And come back down. Much of the ascent and descent is on steep, uneven, and not always well-maintained stone steps. Hiking poles are useful if you like them. Much more comfortable on the knees and provides extra stability on steep, narrow stairs. Once the path is stabilized, a charming footbridge descends a gentle slope surrounded by orange and lemon trees.
Corniglia to Manarola (3 kilometres/1.9 miles)
This is a relatively easy section of the trail with one exception. The Ladarin! Ladarina translates to “377 steps”. The ladarina go down to the station from Corniglia or up if you come from the other direction – all the more reason to walk from north to south.
From Manarola to Riomaggiore (1.5 kilometers/0.9 miles)
The next and final stretch of Trail #2 contains the famous Via dell’Amore or Lover’s Lane. This wide, flat, paved trail is the most accessible section of the trail.
Pro tip: You can start from any direction (Monterosso, heading south, or Riomaggiore, heading north). My husband and I chose to start in Monterossa as it is the hardest section. This way we beat the heat and approached it on new legs, but many people prefer to start at the southern terminus of the trail on the quieter paved section.
2. Check for trail closures
Occasionally, some walking trails in the Cinque Terre may be temporarily closed due to weather conditions or other hazards. It is essential to check before embarking on your walk to adjust your route accordingly.
My husband and I failed to make it on our visit. We were disappointed when we only did half of the stretch between Corniglia and Manarola before discovering that the trail had suffered heavy storm damage and was impassable.
Pro tip: Don’t make our mistake. Check trail closures and trail conditions here.
3. Buy a Cinque Terre Pass card
No entrance fee is required for the Cinque Terre National Park, but you will need a special pass, a Map of Cinque Terre, for the two most famous sections: Monterosso to Vernazza and Vernazza to Corniglia. At the start of each stretch there are checkpoints where hikers will need to show ID and their Cinque Terre Cards.
Passes are not available for purchase at these checkpoints, so do not skip this step. Buy online or at any Cinque Terre visitor center.
Pro tip: The Cinque Terre pass also gives you access to public toilets, which would usually cost you 1 euro for each use.
4. Consider buying a train pass
If you are not staying in Cinque Terre, the best way to get there is by train. Parking is limited and expensive. Trains run between the five cities throughout the day. We stayed in the more economical town of La Spezia, 20 minutes from Monterosso by train.
The train gives you options when it comes to hiking in the Cinque Terre. You can start anywhere, and if you get tired or run out of time, board the train at the next village and return to your original starting point. We bought a Map Treno Cinque Terrewho gave us unlimited train travel and the required permits for both trails in the Cinque Terre National Park.
5. Dress for success
Aside from a small section of trail #2, it’s important to remember that the trail is not just a walk. While certainly doable for anyone with a moderate level of fitness, these are hiking trails so you will need to plan and dress accordingly.
Much of the trail is rocky with occasional climbs along uneven stone stairs. Closed-toed athletic shoes or hiking boots will serve you best. Leave the flip flops and sandals for another day. And don’t even think about high heels. Ouch!
Leave your luggage and bulky bags at the hotel. A small backpack is useful. Lockers are available at some stations, but you will need the essentials with you. Don’t forget sunscreen, hats and sunglasses, and wear breathable layers as you can be outside all day.
Pro tip: As mentioned above, trekking poles are useful if you like them, especially when hiking from Vernazza to Corniglia where they will provide extra stability on steep and narrow stairs and make the experience much easier on knees.
6. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Hydration is crucial during any outdoor activity, so bring plenty of water regardless of the time of year. A refillable water bottle or hydration bladder will work well. There are water filling stations in each town for visitors to use.
You can also pack some snacks if you need a little pick-me-up between villages. We did not bring any, opting instead to participate in the offerings of each village. Delicious salami focaccia and gelato sandwiches, anyone? Be warned that you will pay high prices.
7. Check the weather
The shoulder season months of April, May, September, and October offer milder temperatures and fewer crowds. If you visit in the summer it can get very hot (so start early) and some of the narrower sections of the trail can get very crowded.
If you are hiking in the winter, keep an eye on the weather forecast. Winter is cooler and less crowded but subject to heavy rain. It is not uncommon for heavy rains to cause washouts, landslides and dangerous hiking conditions.
My husband and I did the hike the first week of November. We were lucky and had brilliant clear blue skies and temps in the high 60s. Even with the cooler temps we warmed up on some of the tougher sections – something to keep in mind.
8. Be flexible
You’re on vacation. The beauty of this hike is the train system with stops in every town. There’s so much to see and do in each of the cities that it’s easy to get distracted and lose track of time.
Pro tip: If you stay longer than expected in one place, you won’t have to do the daytime run to complete your hike. Simply go to the station, swipe your pass and board the train in either direction to your next stop. The same is true if you are tired. Maybe your plans were a little too ambitious. Carefree. Cut the walk and still see all the villages using the excellent train system.
Using these old paths and trails to visit the Cinque Terre is an incredible experience that you will never forget. My husband and I finished our trip to Riomaggiore just in time to see one of the famous sunsets. After a toast with a fine Italian wine, we said Ciao! in the Cinque Terre before getting back on the train.