One of my favorite parts of traveling is that no matter how much you think you know about a given place, you can’t truly understand until you have actually been there. In today’s world, there is no place in the world that you can’t read about and see pictures, so it would be easy to think that seeing something in person would not be that much different or better. I remember thinking this the first time that I made my way to the Eiffel Tower. I had seen the Eiffel Tower in a million photos and I had seen buildings that were taller than it, so how impressive could it really be? Then you arrive and you breathe the air, smell the smells and hear the sounds, and it is so much different – and better! This is exactly the feeling that I had when we visited Cinque Terre.
Cinque Terre means “five lands” in Italian. Cinque Terre is made up of five small towns (Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore) along the Italian coastline that are connected by train and by hiking trail. The towns and surrounding area make up Cinque Terre National Park, which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The beauty of Cinque Terre is hard to describe but the colorful buildings contrasted against the rugged hillsides and the beautiful blue ocean make Cinque Terre one of the most special places that I have ever visited.
Getting to Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre is several hours away from Florence, and transportation to the area can be a bit challenging. Therefore it can be done in a day trip, but it makes for a really long day. If you can swing it, it is probably worth staying overnight somewhere in Cinque Terre, but we did it in one day (including hiking) so it is definitely possible (especially on Sunday)
Probably the easiest way to get to Cinque Terre is to take organized excursion through a tour provider. I know that there are many providers in Florence that do various trips to Cinque Terre, including hiking trips that allow you to hike from town to town. I imagine that such offerings exist from other parts of Tuscany as well. Organized trips are a great option if you like having all of the logistics taken care of for you. Sometimes it can be nice to let others take care of all of the transportation and other logistics that can be challenging to figure out if you are in another country. Just remember to book through a trusted provider that has good reviews and make sure that you completely understand all of the details. We have used Viator to book tours in the past, and we have never had a bad experience.
All of the Cinque Terre towns are connected via train so it is easy to get from one to another. Going by train is probably the best way to get to Cinque Terre since most of the towns are not accessible by car. Going to Cinque Terre as a day trip from Florence is possible, but it does require some serious time on the train, normally about 2.5-3 hours each way, and will require changing trains. If you schedule allows, and you are there during summer, look for a direct regional train that departs from S.M. Novella in the morning on Sundays. This is what we took and it worked out really well. Just remember to double check all of the timetables because I think that they last train departed Cinque Terre sometime around 6 or 7 PM. You can purchase your tickets and use E-Tickets (with you confirmation number) directly from the Italian train operator, TRENITALIA. Check out this site for more information on getting to Cinque Terre by train,
I don’t recommend that you drive to Cinque Terre. We did not try this as we read that the road to get there is dangerous and parking is limited since cars are not allowed in most of the towns. If you do wish to drive, consider driving to La Spezia and taking the train from there to any one of the Cinque Terre towns.
Hiking in Cinque Terre
One of the most popular activities in Cinque Terre is hiking between the towns, and this was certainly one of our most enjoyed moments while we were there. There are several trails but probably the most popular is the Sentiero Azzurro “blue trail” which runs along the coast and connects Riomaggiore to Monterosso. While we were there, some of the trails were closed due to serious mudslides a few years back so hiking the whole way would not have been possible. Here is a good site that provides good information on Cinque Terre in general but also about the status of the hiking trails. Either way, should you chose to take on the challenge of hiking between the towns, you will be rewarded with some sensational views and an incredible experience. We hiked the part of the Blue Trail from Vernazza to Monterosso. The hike took about 1.5-2 hours and covered 3.5 km. It has been said that this section of the trail is the most difficult section. I can’t say that with certainty because it is the only part of the trail that I have been on, but I can tell you that it is pretty difficult. In some areas, the steps are very steep and the rise/descent seems to keep going and going. Lindsay and I are in pretty good shape, and we made it through, but I would only recommend this part of this trail if you are confident in your ability and your fitness level. Also, make sure to bring plenty of water. On the day that we did the hike, it was extremely hot, probably between 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit. Although it was challenging, completing this hike was truly an unforgettable experience and one of our favorite activities while vacationing in Italy. The views of the towns and the ocean were really incredible. I definitely recommend that you do this if visiting Cinque Terre.
FYI, There was a fee to hike along the trail so make sure to have some cash (always a good idea to have cash while in Europe). I think that the fee was around 7 Euros per person. They charge this fee so that they can afford the maintenance cost associated with keeping the trail in safe and usable condition.