Perhaps the one thing Cinque Terre is most known for — other than the pesto, glorious wines and tiny towns — are the paths tying the five Italian villages together. Varying in difficulty and length, visitors come from the world over, clad in their best gear to experience these world-renowned trails and relish the spectacular views that is Cinque Terre hiking.
Upon arriving to Vernazza from the photogenic Venice (which was not easy due to the Italian train strikes that day), my mom and I vow to hit as many of these trails as possible. Our first — the walk from our village of Vernazza (which dates back to 1080) to the tourist enclave of Monterosso al Mare.
We amble out of the town, following hand-painted signs directing us to the trail head. Before we even begin the hike, we’re already sweating, even though the temperatures haven’t hit the scorching summer peak yet.
Higher and higher above the city we walk, up steep hills and down, winding through the outskirts of the charming village.
Accordion music begins to seep into our ears as we make our way to the booth to pay the trail fee, setting a festive vibe as we begin to embark on one of the more difficult trails in the circuit.
Then, we begin the hike. We weave up, up, up through olive groves and giant trees rooted long before our time. The air is clear, fragrant with fresh growth and bright green. I can see our destination in the distance: Monterosso.
After working out for a few months, I figure I can tackle this hike with no problem.
It isn’t the dusty dirty paths stretching up the steep inclines that cause the issues. It’s the steps. So. Many. Steps. In fact, the hike has a whopping 750 (read: ugh).
I’m not a fan of stairs and it seems every hike I decide to take has them. Maybe you know the type: stone steps that warrant an occasional hand grab of the stone below simply to propel the body up. Well, this trail has ’em. Lots and lots of them.
I look up once we hit the first round. Steps that go up, up, up.
“Shit,” I say, turning to my mom. “I hate steps.”
We begin to climb them, stopping intermittently among the lush foliage to catch our breath. Our efforts aren’t without reward though. Once we hit the first round, we turn to face the sea and are greeted by the most picturesque view I’ve seen in my life: Vernazza laying below us.
It looks so sleepy, so gorgeous. Awash in vibrant pops of yellow, pink and orange against the stunning blue of the Ligurian Sea.
Here, we don’t need to excuse our lack of breath to stop. Everyone has parked themselves at this perch, taking in the scenery unfolding below.
I stand there, looking down at the world below and feel an intense gratefulness wash over me. Gratitude for being here. For being with my best friend. For the trip I’ve taken. For the life I live.
Funny how a simple climb up some treacherous stairs and a colorful Italian world on the ground can incite feelings of wonder.
The two of us continue on, picking up other hikers along the way. Thus far, the path has been relatively quiet as we meander uphill, imagining the route being used to haul goods between the villages. Along the way, gorgeous stone homes dot the landscape. I close my eyes and imagine life for the people in them.
Then, the crowds start coming from the opposite direction once we begin our descent down towards Monterosso.
This part of the hike seems to be the most difficult — at least for those going towards Vernazza. More and more steps unfold. Steep drops rendering careful steps so as not to plummet to death. Narrow passes which require us to wait for those to pass us, or to cling on to the rock surfaces and roots so as not to fall.
Walking down steps is no fun, either. And, there are hundreds of them as we make our way the 250 meters down to the seaside resort village.
Along the way, vendors sell fresh juice and jewelry, causing crowds which are hard to push through as we move forward.
Towards the latter part of our 90-minute hike, the walkers going towards Vernazza becomes too much. I can feel the frustration begin to come over me as we wait minutes at a time for large groups to push by. I want to get there, not wait for everyone to come past us.
There are some points, where fed up with waiting, I push my mom and I forward, insisting that the others finally pause a moment so two can pass versus 20.
Then, we see Monterosso up-close. Sandy beaches. Large resorts.
It’s beautiful, but doesn’t hold the same charm the view from Vernazza holds. It’s a summer holiday postcard.
When we finally arrive to Monterosso, I feel the satisfaction an adrenaline pulsing through me from accomplishing the trek.
Even with the steps, the crowds, the moments where one wrong step equals injury or worse, I’ve made it.
“That wasn’t so bad,” I say to Mom with a smile on my face as we take our last steps from the path and into town.
Now, to hike the rest of the paths.
What to know about Cinque Terre hiking
Not all hikes are created equal and they vary in difficulty. Guides are available online which explain the treks and physical suitability. While the reviews I read stated the hikes were not difficult, the one I did — being in pretty decent physical shape — was still strenuous at times. I cannot imagine how hard it would be going the opposite direction from Monterosso to Vernazza thanks to having to climb hundreds of stairs (blech).
If you’re not into hikes, purchase a day pass on the train which runs to the villages and beyond.
Make sure to bring water and decent shoes. I saw people in flip flops and was shocked (shocked!) people were climbing in them.
You can purchase day trail cards which give you access to the trails, plus wifi, for €7,50.
More on Cinque Terre check out these books.