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Cinque Terre: Where to hike and where to dine

beena nadeem

Contributor

Cinque Terre is a picturesque huddle of five villages perched on the steep bluffs that hug the Italian Riviera. In each village of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso, the homes are painted in beautiful hues of golden yellows, ochres, greens and blushes of pink, rendering the whole panoply a honeypot scene on the rocky terrains upon which they perch. No wonder it draws the eye of hopeless romantics, gastronomes, and hikers alike.

The best time of year to visit Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre can get furiously crowded. As popularity continues to swell, it becomes a frustrating place to move around in during the summer months. For a tranquil feel, aim for the shoulder seasons around April and May and then September and October. The weather is still pleasantly warm and best to hike in, warm enough to still sit outdoors and even to swim. Best avoid November when the rain is often heavy and can induce landslides. 

Spectacular views

Hiking is big here: it’s hilly and steep and presents some of the most delicious views to drink in. Thankfully not all walking is geared towards the steely-limbed. You may find most popular walking trails pass close to the sea at the foot of hills and cliffs and, especially after heavy November rains, can at the mercy of landslides so don’t be surprised if you find bits of walking routes and trails closed for reconstruction.

There are often ways around – usually to go up over the hill it traverses. For this, your tired legs will be rewarded with incredible panoramas or rich wildflowers, trees dripping with lemons, and miles of the azure sea. If you’re not up for a long walk, a train service connects each village.

The Cinque Terre trails status can be checked daily or you can grab a map from tourist offices located at railway stations. Some trails (around four out of hundreds) require a Cinque Terre Card (sold at the entrance to the trail). To ensure you’re on track, follow the red and white markers placed every 10 metres or so along the walk. Oh, and don’t wear flip-flops: trainers or walking shoes are a must.

Credit: Benjamin Jopen

Take a hike

The Blue Path, also known as the ‘Sentiero Azzurro’, is the most famous hiking path as it connects the five villages but is currently closed due to heavy landslides in 2010. You can now only do parts of it. It’s expected to reopen in 2021, but there are plenty of other walks on offer. Try the Romaggiore Ring which does a full circle around the village and is a pleasantly easy hike. It’s best tackled from Montenero’s village parking, clockwise to the XI century parish church—the Sanctuary of Montenero. The church offers a spectacular ornate ceiling and you’ll get to see the sea coast at Montenero before descending lots of steps. Distance: 3.5 km

Vernazza to Monterosso has narrow and sinuous paths flanked by a steep drop on one side. It features steep uneven ground, unpaved rocky areas and is one of the toughest hikes in Cinque Terre. Saying that, it’s also a lot of fun! Taking two hours, it takes you through pine forests, and rocky and windy paths, all with tantalising glimpses of the unfurling beauty of land and coast. Take water and wear decent shoes. Distance: 3km.

Eating and drinking in Cinque Terre

Gastronomical delights are aplenty here, in a country where basil and lemon grow wild, seafood is plucked from the sea, and pesto, pasta and local wines are a speciality. Cinque Terre is especially known for its Bosco, Albarola, and Vermentino grapes, producing Sciacchetrà: a liquored wine with 18% of alcohol. Made by drying grapes for months in a dry place, the wine is further ripened.

Perhaps one of the most popular spots is an outdoor terrace bar, Nessun Dorma. Despite the name, its coastal views are less than clichéd. It serves local wines and nibbles such as bruschetta. You don’t require a reservation but you may have to queue. Pesto making classes are available in the mornings.

Localita Punta Bonfiglio, 19017 Manarola

Tratorri is a wonderful and popular spot in the hillside streets of Manarola. You need to book, and it’s worth it. From their salted anchovies to black pasta or can’t decide: then try its 12-course seafood appetizer made with Ligurian herbs and include warm and cold choices.

Via Rollandi 122, Cinque Terre 

Torre Aurora Mare Cucina & Cocktails is an amazing spot for cocktails and food, taking in an expansive hilltop view and located on the site of an old castle. This place is a little on the pricier side, though the food and experience are exceptional. Try the Steamed baccalà codfish, rendered smoked provala cheese, julienne of zucchini and mint, bread crouton.

Via Bastioni, 19016 Monterosso al Mare SP

Corniglia

Corniglia is the smallest and highest of all the villages and is not coastal so arguably attracts fewer tourists. This gives it a secluded charm of its own. All the eateries here are great if not plentiful. Try Enoteca II Pirun, spread over two floors of a house, this restaurant offers full plates of beautifully prepared unfussy food. Try the gnocchi con pesto, paccherri pasta with shrimp and zucchini, spaghetti and mussels, and lots of wine.

Via Fieschi, 115, 19018 Corniglia SP

While in Corniglia, if you fancy a tipple there are great choices. Check out the tiny bar Bar Terza Terra di Cadario Alison with the fabulous sea view; most of the seating is outdoors.

Via Fieschi, 215, 19018 Corniglia SP

Credit: Daniel Vogel

If you have time to spare?

Take a walking wine tour – there’s plenty on offer or a local boat trip which is especially beautiful around sunset. If you’ve had it with walking, there’s a train every hour between villages. Mountain biking is also popular here, and there are dedicated paths for those too. The area also offers scuba diving, with diving centres in both in Riomaggiore and Monterosso al Mare.

For tourist information, visit cinque-terre-tourism.com

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