Aside from swimming and soaking in the atmosphere of unspoiled fishing villages, the most popular activity in the Cinque Terre is hiking from one village to the next ★★★ along centuries-old goat paths. Trails plunge through vineyards and groves of olive and lemon trees and hug seaside cliffs, affording heart-stopping views of the coast and the romantic little villages looming ahead in the distance. The well-signposted walks from village to village range in difficulty and length, but as a loose rule, they get longer and steeper—and more rewarding—the farther north you go. Depending on your pace, and not including eventual stops for focaccia and sciacchetrà, the local sweet wine, you can make the trip between Monterosso, at the northern end of the Cinque Terre, and Riomaggiore, at the southern end, in about 4 1/2 hours. You should decide whether you want to walk north to south or south to north. Walking south means tackling the hardest trail first, which you may prefer, because you’ll get it out of the way and things will get easier as the day goes on and you start to tire. Heading north, the trail gets progressively harder between towns, so you might like this if you want to walk just until you tire and then hop on the train.
The walk from Monterosso to Vernazza is the most arduous and takes 1 1/2 hours, on a trail that makes several steep ascents and descents (on the portion outside Monterosso, you’ll pass beneath funicular-like cars that transport grapes down the steep hillsides). The leg from Vernazza to Corniglia is also demanding and takes another 1 1/2 hours, plunging into some dense forests and involving some lengthy ascents, but is probably the prettiest and most rewarding stretch. Part of the path between Corniglia and Manarola, about 45 minutes apart, follows a level grade above a long stretch of beach, tempting you to break stride and take a dip. From Manarola to Riomaggiore, it’s easy going for about half an hour along a partially paved path known as the Via dell’Amore, so named for its romantic vistas (great to do at sunset).
Because all the villages are linked by rail, you can hike as many portions of the itinerary as you wish and take the train to your next destination. Trails also cut through the forested, hilly terrain inland from the coast, much of which is protected as a nature preserve. The tourist office in Monterosso can provide maps. Note: At press time, the section between Corniglia and Manarola, and Via dell'Amore were closed indefinitely due to landslides. For updates, visit the Cinque Terre National Park website, www.parconazionale5terre.it.
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