Are you dreaming of walking the famed Blue Trail No. 2 or Sentiero Azzuro in Italiano, located in the gorgeous Cinque Terre? You won’t regret this fantastic 11-kilometer (6.8-mile) hike along the coast of the Italian Riviera, complete with visits to the charming Cinque Terra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along the way.
The Cinque Terre, which translates to five towns, is perched high above the dramatic coastline of the Ligurian Sea just north of Pisa. The five towns can be reached by train, boat, or on foot. Whether you’re an avid hiker, simply looking to burn off some of the decadent Italian meals you’ve enjoyed, or want to experience one of the most beautiful hiking trails in Europe, hiking the Cinque Terre, which my husband and I enjoyed in November, is an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience. And, with some preparation and planning, it can be done in a day.
1. Plan Your Route
The 11-kilometer trail connects all five towns and runs from Monterossa to Riomaggiore. The Blue Trail or Trail No. 2 consists of four individual paths connecting the five towns along the coast. You can walk the entire trail in about 5 hours at a moderate pace, but that doesn’t factor in time to explore each village, which you will definitely want to do.
Distances And Difficulty Levels Of Each Section
Monterosso To Vernazza (3.5 Kilometers/2.2 Miles)
This section of Trail No. 2 is the longest and most difficult. It is also the most rewarding view-wise. The first ascent goes up a long, steep, stone stairway through hills cultivated with vineyards and olives, not to mention some jaw-dropping views! Occasionally the trail flattens out and becomes wider. A few stretches fall into the no-passing zone with exposure on the sea side. The sheer drops could be vertigo-inducing for some but are worth it for the fantastic scenery.
Vernazza To Corniglia (4 kilometer/2.5 Miles)
This section of the trail can also be a little tricky. Hikers will ascend to the highest point on the trail. And back down. Much of the ascent and descent is on steep, uneven, and not always well-kept stone steps. Trekking poles are helpful if you like them. Much more comfortable on the knees, and they offer extra stability on the steep, narrow stairways. Once the trail levels out, a charming walkway leads down a gentle slope surrounded by orange and lemon trees.
Corniglia To Manarola (3 kilometers/1.9 Miles)
This is a relatively easy section of the trail, with one exception. The Ladarina! Ladarina translates into “377 steps.” The ladarina descend to the train station from Corniglia or ascend if you’re coming from the other direction — one more reason to hike from the north to south.
Manarola To Riomaggiore (1.5 kilometers/0.9 Miles)
The next and final stretch of Trail No. 2 contains the famous Via dell’Amore or Lover’s Lane. This wide, flat, and paved pathway is the most accessible section of the trail.
Pro Tip: You can start from either direction (Monterosso, heading south, or Riomaggiore, heading north). My husband and I chose to begin in Monterossa since it is the most challenging section. That way, we beat the heat and tackled it on fresh legs, but many people prefer to start on the trail’s southern terminus on the more leisurely, paved section.
2. Check For Trail Closures
Occasionally, some Cinque Terre walking trails may be temporarily closed due to weather or other hazards. It’s essential to check before you embark on your walk to adjust your route accordingly.
My husband and I failed to do so when we visited. We were disappointed when we only made it halfway through the section between Corniglia and Manarola before discovering that the trail had suffered heavy storm damage and was impassable.
Pro Tip: Don’t make our mistake. Check path closures and trail conditions here.
3. Purchase A Cinque Terre Pass Card
No entrance fee is required for the Cinque Terre National Park, but you will need a special pass, a Cinque Terre Card, for the two most famous sections: Monterosso to Vernazza and Vernazza to Corniglia. At the start of each stretch, there are checkpoints where hikers will have to show identification and their Cinque Terre Cards.
The passes are not available for purchase at these checkpoints, so don’t skip this step. Purchase online or at any Cinque Terre visitor center.
Of the 48 hiking trails in Cinque Terre National Park, you will only need the Cinque Terre Card for the two most famous sections on the Blue No. 2 Trail: Monterosso to Vernazza and Vernazza to Corniglia. All other sections and trails within the park are free to use and do not require the Cinque Terre Card.
If you visit anytime from November through March, all of the sections and trails are free to use and will not require the purchase of a Cinque Terre Card.
Pro Tip: The Cinque Terre pass also gains you access to the public toilets, which would typically set you back 1 euro for each use.
4. Consider Purchasing A Train Pass Card
If you are not staying in the Cinque Terre, the best way to travel there is by train. Parking is limited and expensive. Trains run between the five towns throughout the day. We stayed in the more budget-friendly town of La Spezia, a short 20-minute ride from Monterosso via train.
The train gives you options when it comes to hiking the Cinque Terre. You can start anywhere you’d like, and if you get tired or run out of time, hop on the train at the next village and head back to your original starting point. We purchased a Treno Cinque Terre Card, which gave us unlimited train trips and the required permits to the two trails in Cinque Terre National Park.
5. Dress For Success
Aside from one small section of Trail No. 2, it’s important to remember that the trail is not a simple stroll. While it’s certainly doable for anyone with a moderate fitness level, these are hiking trails, so you’ll need to plan and dress accordingly.
Much of the trail is rocky, with occasional climbs along uneven stone stairs. Closed-toe athletic shoes or hiking footwear will serve you best. Leave the flip-flops and sandals for another day. And don’t even think about high heels. Ouch!
Leave your luggage and large bags at the hotel. A small backpack is helpful. Lockers are available at some train stations, but you’ll want the essentials with you. Don’t forget sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses, and wear breathable layers since you may be outdoors all day.
Pro Tip: As mentioned above, trekking poles are helpful if you like them, especially as you hike from Vernazza to Corniglia, where they’ll offer extra stability on the steep, narrow stairways and make the whole experience much easier on the knees.
6. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Hydration is crucial during any outdoor activity, so bring plenty of water regardless of the time of year. A refillable water bottle or a hydration bladder will work well. There are water filling stations in each town for visitors’ use.
You may also want to carry a few snacks if you need a quick pick-me-up between villages. We didn’t bring any, opting instead to partake of the offerings in each village. Delicious focaccia salami sandwiches and gelato, anyone? Be forewarned that you will pay premium prices.
7. Check The Weather
The shoulder season months, April, May, September, and October, offer milder temps and fewer people. If you visit in the summer, it can be scorchingly hot (so get an early start), and some of the narrower sections of the trail can get very crowded.
If you’re hiking in winter, keep an eye on the weather forecast. Winter is cooler and less crowded but subject to heavy rains. It is not uncommon for heavy rainfall to cause washouts, landslides, and unsafe hiking conditions.
My husband and I did the hike the first week of November. We lucked out and had brilliant clear blue skies and temps in the 60s. Even with the cooler temperatures, we got warm on some of the more strenuous sections — something to keep in mind.
8. Be Flexible
You’re on vacation. The beauty of this hike is the train system with stops in each town. There is so much to see and do in each of the towns it’s easy to get distracted and lose track of time.
Pro Tip: If you do stay longer than you’d intended in one spot, you won’t have to race daylight to complete your trek. Simply make your way to the train station, swipe your pass, and board the train in either direction to your next stop. The same goes for if you get tired. Maybe your plans were a little over-ambitious. No worries. Cut the walking short and still see all of the villages using the excellent train system.
Using these ancient trails and pathways to visit the Cinque Terre is an incredible experience you’ll never forget. My husband and I ended our journey at Riomaggiore just in time to take in one of the famous sunsets. After a toast with beautiful Italian wine, we said Ciao! to the Cinque Terre before hopping back on the train.