Hiking the Hills (Mountains) of Cinque Terre, Italy

If you have ever been on Pinterest perusing the most beautiful places in Europe, you have definitely seen pictures of the towns of Cinque Terre (pronounced CHing-queh Terr-ey). “Cinque Terre” translated literally from Italian means “The Five Lands”. Cinque Terre is a rugged part of the Northern Italian coast that consists of five seaside villages: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore, which have some of the most amazingly beautiful scenery in the world. Ever since I saw pictures of this place, I wanted to explore this unique part of the world. Plus, I am just obsessed with everything about Italy—the culture, the food, the architecture, and how absolutely diverse and beautiful the landscape is.

My friend Danielle and I flew into Milan to begin our 4-day trip. There wasn’t much that I was dying to see in Milan besides the Duomo di Milano, so during our 3-hour break before our train to the villages of Cinque Terre, we decided to visit the massive cathedral and walk around that area of Milan. The outside of the Duomo is COVERED with sculptures and carvings and is so ornate and detailed. Every time I look at the churches/cathedrals/basilicas here in Europe all of the details, time, and effort that went into making them so spectacular amaze me.

I’m not sure what it is about churches here, but pigeons seem to love hanging around outside of them. DISGUSTING.

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We hopped on the 3-hour train from Milano Centrale to Monterosso, which is the largest of the 5 villages that make up Cinque Terre. Unfortunately, we happened to travel to this area on one of the only rainy weekends in June in recent history. When we arrived, it was misty and wet and was not the sunny weather that I had anticipated. The first thing we did when we got off of the train was get gelato, obviously. Next, we hopped on the regional train to Manarola which was the little village where our hostel was located. When we FINALLY got off in Manarola at 5 pm after a 2-hour weather-related train delay, there was another little surprise that I hadn’t expected. There were SO MANY HILLS. And not just little slopes, these were 60 degree inclines that we had to lug our backpacks and all of the rest of the crap we brought to the top of the village where our hostel was.

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By the time we got there, we were soaked in sweat and so exhausted. We dropped off our stuff and were ravenous so we hiked down the hill in search of food. Manarola is TINY. There are maybe like 8 restaurants, and only one street in the entire place. We ate, and then walked to the water where the most famous scenic view of Cinque Terre is captured and admired the beauty of this tiny seaside village with the colorful homes built onto the sides of steep cliffs. Unfortunately, the pictures we took the first night don’t really do the place justice, as it was cloudy and the water was murky. But, DON’T WORRY I have about 1,000 pictures of this view from when the weather was nicer on other days.

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Day 2:

We woke up early and decided to explore the villages. Because it had poured rain the prior day, all of the trails were closed which was a huge downer. We took the train up to Vernazza, which was the town that I had read was the jewel of the 5 villages, and it did not disappoint. Vernazza has one main street that is full of restaurants, gelato shops, souvenir places, and clothing stores. It was packed with tourists even though the day was cloudy. We walked down to the harbor area and up to the castle that overlooks the little village and has a great view of the coast. We took some ridiculous pictures with the selfie stick and of each other on top of the castle. We spent a few hours wandering the little village—going into the old church by the harbor, eating some amazing pizza, and people watching.

After a nice morning in Vernazza, we took the train to Monterroso which is the largest of the 5 villages. Right by the train station is this beach with a gorgeous rock formation. The beach is covered in stones, so while it hurt my feet, Danielle loved it because she is strange and collects rocks.

We continued walking and decided to hike up this mountain to see where it went. We stopped at the statue of St. Francis of Assisi and continued on this windy green train and ended up at this old cemetery at the top of a mountain. It was so beautiful, with the mountains on one side with a view of colorful Monterroso, and the view of the rugged coastline overlooking the Mediterranean.

The hiking trail from Monterroso to Vernazza was closed, but we saw a bunch of people hiking it anyway so we decided to take our chances and hike it (sorry, Mom). I did ask about whether we were going to die and the hikers said that it was safe, so we were on our way. We saw some people who were definitely over 60 hiking it, so we thought it was going to be easy.  Let me tell you, these hikes are NOT a piece of cake, however they are so beautiful that it is worth the thousands of steps and uneven rocks you have to climb to see this part of the Italian coast.

The hike took about 2 hours and we ended up in Vernazza again, took the train back to Manarola, caught the sunset, ate dinner, and passed out in order to ensure that we could wake up early to start hiking.

Day 3:

We woke up super early so that we could get to the tourism office at the bottom of Manarola to see which trails were open to hike. When we got there at around 9am, we found out that all the trails were still closed. Since this was our last full day we were fuming (even though we had illegally hiked the longest trail of Cinque Terre the day before). Some tourists told us that the mayor of Cinque Terre would make an executive decision at noon about whether the trails would be open for the day, but we decided that it was too long of a wait. Danielle had read on this girl’s blog that the most beautiful hike in the region actually wasn’t one that connected the 5 villages. It was from Riomaggiore (the last of the 5 villages) to Porto Venere, which is another fishing village. It is a 22 km hike and takes about 6 hours (without breaks). We were advised to not do this hike without trekking shoes because of the rain, but decided that we are young and fit and damn the hiking shoes. We left at around 11:30am and began the hike.

20 minutes into it, I was ready to quit. When I tell you we hiked up mountains, I mean we literally hiked up MOUNTAINS. Loose rocks, uneven steps (if there even were steps), the beginning part of the trail especially felt never ending. It was a much needed break when we got to the top of the first mountain and were able to admire the view. This was the theme of this hike. We were drenched in sweat, scaling cliffs, climbing rocks, hiking the millions of stairs, and had to be super careful (I only fell once), but the incredible views made the hike totally worthwhile. It is hard to accurately explain how beautiful, gorgeous, and amazing this hike was, but the pictures do it more justice than my words ever could. We saw a monastery on a mountaintop, olive trees, orange groves, vineyards on cliffs, wildflowers of all colors, and the castle of Porto Venere which was the perfect way to end our exhausting hike.

Day 4

On our final day, our train back to Milan was at 2pm, so we woke up early again, and decided to do the hike from Vernazza to Corniglia, which was finally open. My entire body was sore and I wanted to chop my feet off, but I kept asking myself “When is the next time I will be here?” and because I didn’t have an answer I decided to deal with it and just go. This trail took a little over an hour but unfortunately was truly all rocky steps up a mountain. And I don’t mean casual walking steps, I mean jagged, huge rocks that you had to climb in order to reach the next jagged, uneven set of rocks to get to the top. It was exhausting, but Corniglia  I think might be one of the most beautiful of the villages. It is surrounded by steep cliffs on 3 sides with one entrance from the hiking trails and one entrance from the train station. After eating gelato in Corniglia, we walked down the 365 steps to the train and went back to Manarola.

We walked down to the harbor in Manarola and stripped down and jumped in the water to go swimming because we were so disgusting and wouldn’t have time to shower. The sun was finally shining and the water was so clear and refreshing that it was the perfect way to end our trip. We hiked it back to the hostel, changed clothes, took more pictures in Manarola where we didn’t look like sweaty trolls and made it back to Barcelona safely after an amazing, active 4-day trip to one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Some final thoughts:

  1. The train ride down the coast is legitimately so expensive. It costs 4 euros every time you get on the train, whether you are going one town over or 5. They had apparently just raised the prices which really made me mad. 4 euros might sound cheap but when you actually have to take the train every time you want to switch towns because there is not other way to get there besides a hike, it adds up.
  2. I successfully completed my goal of eating pesto with every meal(#winning). I have a weird obsession and ate it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for 3 full days. Sorry I’m not sorry.
  3. I consider myself to be pretty in shape, but these hikes were definitely not for the faint of heart or for someone looking for a super relaxing vacation. SO MANY STEPS/MOUNTAINS. However, our butts and legs definitely got a solid workout and made us feel not so guilty for all of the pizza, pesto, cheese, and wine we drank.
  4. If you ever have the opportunity to go to this amazing place, GO. I cannot say enough good things. It was so nice to do something completely different from all of my other trips. Even though there aren’t famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower or the Tower Bridge here, the views and the beauty of the land here make every second of this trip worthwhile.

Danielle, thanks for being an awesome hiking/travel partner, couldn’t have done it without ya! (P.S. you are still cray but I miss you anyway, you rock collecting weirdo.)

I’m way behind on these blog posts, but now that most of my classes have ended for the summer, I can finally finish up my posts about Sevilla/Granada and Grand Canary from about 5 million years ago. I think I’m just going to hang in Barcelona for the next month until I leave for Italy and the Greek Islands with my family (tough life, I know) so I’ll try to finish everything ASAP. Until then…Adios amigos!

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