The Cinque Terre ("Five Lands") is a 15 km stretch of rugged coast at the eastern end of the Italian Riviera. Made up of the five small villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso, the area has been designated a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 1997, and has acquired the status of national park in 1999.
Occupied since time immemorial, the cliffs are extensively terraced and used to grow olives, grapes and other fruits. A network of dry-stone walls was built by local farmers over the centuries and zigzags up and down the terraced hillsides for thousands of kilometres, over a distance estimated by some to exceed that of the Great Wall of China.
A dozen pedestrian paths crisscross the Cinque Terre National Park, connecting the five villages and running all the way to Levanto (north-west) and Porto Venere (south-east). Offering some of the most beautiful scenery in Europe, they are a definite highlight of Italy.
A lot of people only walk the section between Riomaggiore and Manarola (1 km, 20 min), a well-paved flat path cut into the cliff known as the Via dell'Amore ("Path of Love"). It is one of the most famous attractions in Cinque Terre. Lovers are allowed to write their names on the rocks along the way and on the walls of the tunnel (which can look like a place vandalised by grafitti to unaware walkers). Roughly in the middle of the path is a 'love seat' with a back shaped like a man and a woman kissing - a fashionable spot for couples to have their picture taken. Since the 2004 Italian film Tre metri sopra il cielo, sweethearts have also taken the habit of hanging locks around the place to symbolise their everlasting union.
Access & Orientation
The five Cinque Terre villages are off-limits to motor vehicles, but each has its own railway station. They are located on the line running from Genoa to Pisa. The closest stations and easiest access points if you are coming by car are La Spezia (south-east) and Levanto (north-west).
Trains take 9 minutes from La Spezia to Riomaggiore, then 2 more minutes to Manarola, an additional 4 minutes to Corniglia, 5 more minutes to Vernazza, and 5 more minutes to Monterosso. The ride between Levanto and Monterosso also takes 5 minutes.
There are 12 hiking trails in Cinque Terre. Visitors are required to purchase the Cinque Terre Card to access to footpaths. The day card costs 5 €. Park authorities close the footpaths once it gets too crowded, so it is best to start early in the high season (July and August). On a sunny summer day the heat can quickly become unbearable around midday, so it is a good idea anyway to confine the walking to the early morning (until 10 am) or early evening (after 5 pm).
Trail N° 1, running from Levanto to Porto Venere, is the longest (24.6 km) and highest of the walking paths, and takes approximately 12 hours to walk. It passes through San Antonio, Sovione, Drignana, La Cigoletta, Sella La Croce, Telegrafo, and Campiglia. The highest peaks along the way are Mt Malpertuso (812m), Mt Capri (785m), Mt Cuna (773m), and Mt Gaginara (771m). They are all located between Drigagna (above Vernazza) and Sella La Croce (above Riomaggiore).
Trail N° 2 is the most popular, linking the five villages directly along the coast. It is the second longest trail (9 km) and takes roughly 5 hours, although it can be started from any village. The section between Riomaggiore and Manarola is the Via dell'Amore (see above). The path between Manarola and Corniglia (1 km, 30 min) was closed after the landslide from October 2011 and is yet to re-open as of June 2012. The trail from Corniglia to Vernazza (4 km) is more rugged and takes takes from 1 hour 30 minutes to 2 hours. The trail from Vernazza to Monterosso (3 km, 2 hours) is the steepest, narrowest and most challenging, and only suitable to fit and experienced hikers.
The ten other walking trails are connections between trail N°1 and trail N°2 - except N°4 and N°11 which are forks from trail N°1 towards the sea between Riomaggiore and Porte Venere. All these trails are well maintained and less crowded than route 1 and 2. Maps are available at the park offices.
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