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Click here for Trail Closure Update

Chances are, you stumbled upon this post because you are thinking about hiking the trail that links the five villages of the Cinque Terre, and you are worried the trail might be “steep” and “dangerous.”

Take it from me a worrywart (aka world’s wimpiest scaredy cat) with a fear of heights (among other things), there is nothing to be afraid of. Hiking the Cinque Terre is an experience not to be missed. Do it!
Lucca, Cinque Terre, and Lake Orta 091 Approaching  Riomaggiore – Cinque Terre

I received an email from a friend this morning who wants to hike the Cinque Terre which is a seven mile long trail that stretches along the Italian Riviera connecting five picture perfect villages.

You have probably seen paintings of the Cinque Terre villages in your dentist office, at she-she school auctions, or in any tourist town’s numerous strip mall “art galleries.”

imageLook familiar? Image taken from Fine Art America.

I started to reply to my friend, but then thought why not share my vast knowledge of the Cinque Terre (which consists of one day of hiking it) with the world?

Truth be told, Tony and I have attempted to hike the Cinque Terre four times, we were finally successful in 2010. I wanted so desperately to make the hike, and I was so frustrated with never quite managing it, that Tony and I joined a Rick Steves Village Italy tour. The tour took us to places we would have never seen on our own, and I highly recommend it especially for single women (and men) who might not want to travel alone.

imageThe unwinning Web site I created for a Rick Steves contest.

However, just to emphasize, how troublesome getting on the Cinque Terre trail is, Tony and I are the only two members of our tour group who managed to do the hike!

Why?

1. A rail strike.

2. Our tour mates were scared off by the warnings they read in their various guide books. Specifically the words “steep” and “dangerous” stopped them from the memory of a lifetime.

Lucca, Cinque Terre, and Lake Orta 018These signs all along the trail are melodramatic!

I was not letting a silly little national rail strike keep me from a day of hiking up several hills in intense heat and humidity with a broken toe and a topless Tony who looked like he should be holding a mug of beer and popping out of a cuckoo clock every half hour.

Lucca, Cinque Terre, and Lake Orta 040 Judging from his expression, Tony somehow knows that two years from now I will have a blog.

Being a worrywart, I too, was concerned by the words “steep” and “dangerous.” However, I had watched Rick Steves on PBS riding the little cart through the vineyards of the Cinque Terre for a DECADE, and if he was willing to risk bodily harm in a bucket intended for grapes on a tiny Italian track thousands of feet above the Mediterranean, I was willing to walk on a path made of dirt on my own two feet.

image Map from Lonely Planet

Now that I’m an expert, here are my worrywart tips:

1. Do not make this your first activity in Italy – sort your jet lag out before you attempt the hike. Allow three days to explore the area; one to get your bearings and plan everything, the second day for the hike, and the third in case day two didn’t work out. If we had allotted more time our first, second, and third go around, we could have saved a lot of time and money.
Lucca, Cinque Terre, and Lake Orta 082This is not as scary as it looks.

Lucca, Cinque Terre, and Lake Orta 084

2. Book your hotel ASAP. We stayed in Levanto which is a lively seaside city one train station north of the Cinque Terre. I liked it because there were lots of great restaurants and plenty of nightlife activities (we happened upon an outdoor concert). One can also stay in one of the five villages: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Anything you find at TripAdvisor.com for these locations will suffice (it’s not the type of destination where you care about accommodations as much as proximity and convenience).

Lucca Cinque 273 Levanto

Lucca, Cinque Terre, and Lake Orta 009Monterosso

Lucca, Cinque Terre, and Lake Orta 035 Vernazza

Lucca, Cinque Terre, and Lake Orta 042Corniglia

Lucca, Cinque Terre, and Lake Orta 087Manarola

Lucca Cinque 213Riomaggiore

3. You will need a ticket for the trail. Buy it at a travel agent the day before your hike (this is one of those things you need an extra day for and another good reason to stay in Levanto). If there is a train strike, ignore the travel agent who tells you there is “no way” you can take a taxi to the beginning of the trail. And be thankful for the strike because you will have the trail to yourself.
Lucca, Cinque Terre, and Lake Orta 060
4. Begin as early in the morning as possible (we started at 7:00 a.m.) Start on the Monterosso end of the trail.  The steepest legs are between the Monterosso , Vernazza, and Corniglia. We were grateful to be hiking this part in the cool morning air. Take the train (or taxi) to Monterosso , head to the beach, and look south. You will see the trail heading up the hill.
image

5. Wear tennis shoes, and if it is July, as little clothing as possible. Carry water and an extra shirt to change into. Tony had to buy a shirt in Cornigliabecause he was drenched.

Lucca, Cinque Terre, and Lake Orta 048

6. Eat lunch in Corniglia midway. If you started in Monterosso, have a cold beer. If you started in Riomaggiore, you may want to hold off on impairing your judgment.

Lucca, Cinque Terre, and Lake Orta 063

7. Going down these stairs instead of up them is another good reason to start in Monterosso.
Lucca, Cinque Terre, and Lake Orta 068Leaving Corniglia

8. As you approach Riomaggiore, feel grateful that you were not one of the tourists who only ventured out on this part of the trail called via dell’amore or Lover’s Lane. This would be like visiting San Francisco and only seeing Fisherman’s Wharf (or Lake Tahoe and only seeing Reno). Note: May 2014 – this part of the trail is currently closed, so now you know you are not missing anything (see Save Vernazza for alternative route)
.Lucca, Cinque Terre, and Lake Orta 090Via dell’amore (Lover’s Lane) is the least scenic part of the hike.

9. Take the ferry from Riomaggiore back to Monterosso. Enjoy a glass of wine (there is a café next to the ferry ticket booth over looking the sea) and photos of your picture perfect day  while you wait.

10. From Monterosso, take the train back to Levanto.

Lucca Cinque 225Ferry to Monterosso

If there is a train strike, you might just disembark from the ferry to discover your taxi driver parked under the shade of a tree listening to a CD on how to speak English. “Hello, how are you?” “I am fine.” “How are you?” And he might just drive you back to your hotel in Levanto for no charge!

Lucca, Cinque Terre, and Lake Orta 002

**** Cinque Terre Update

Naomi Baltuck reminded me in her comments below that there were devastating floods and mudslides in the villages of Monterosso and Vernazza in October 2011. I knew about the floods, but my trip is planned for fall 2012 so I assumed the trails would all be open by then. After some research I realized the repair work is going to take a long time and cost a lot of money although it seems most work will be completed by summer 2012.

Update: May 2014

Two things:

1) I’ve decided to stay in Monterosso instead of Levanto to help boost the economy of the hard hit village. As Rick Steves points out in one of his updates the best way to help the villages to recover is to donate money and/or visit in 2012: “This corner of Italy — especially Vernazza — needs travelers to keep their economy afloat. A family-run hotel or restaurant will not survive waiting a year or two for business to return. Honestly, you’ll be a hero.”

Normally, rooms are hard to come by in these villages, so you might want to consider staying in Monterosso or Vernazza as well.

and

2) Please be sure to check whether or not the trails are open if you are planning to hike:  http://savevernazza.com/traveladvisortrailupdates/ If the main trail is closed, there are several alternative routes. The entire area is beautiful beyond measure.