What makes a perfect hiking day in Cinque Terre, Italy? Being anywhere and doing anything in Italy is a great start for a perfect day of [insert anything here]. Add to that a hike along centuries-old trails, among car-free, seaside villages. Not to mention, the convenience of these villages to provide easy access to coffee, lunch, and a post-hike swim. Follow this with a dinner of “menu tipica” of local specialties, and you have a perfect hiking day.
Beginning in Manarola, follow the 1A hiking path that climbs through trees and macchia, with significant elevation changes, sometimes with steps and sometimes just a steep path, to Corniglia. Now, high above the sea, the breeze carries the sounds and smell of the ocean, which always seems within reach.
Since Corniglia is the only village on top of a hill, you actually arrive by the hiking path below the town. To get to the village, a bus winds upwards through small farms, or, since this is a hike, you can take the almost 400 steps, passing through fully grown oleander bushes set up on the landings.
The next portion of the hike, from Corniglia to Vernazza, is steeper and longer. Since the path is also narrower, there will be momentary rest periods when you stop to let hikers pass from the other direction. Again the beautiful views are of the sea, and the terraced vineyards from which is made the famous local white wine, the Cinque Terre D.O.C.
After about forty-five minutes of hiking, the café in tiny Prevo, is a perfect rest spot with a snack of fresh fruit torta, a drink of limonata (or something stronger) and big windows facing the sea below.
Following the Prevo refreshment, it is a short 30-minute hike to Vernazza. First, you see the tower, then the town itself, tumbling down below you. Follow the stairs down, staying left when you have options. Turn left at Via Roma to go to the piazza. Choose from one of the many restaurants for an al fresco, seaside lunch, eating something with anchovies, of course!
For the final portion of your hike, take the steps behind the church leading you on the path to Monterosso. The hardest portion of the hike is unfortunately, this last stretch, but it is also the most beautiful. You’ll find it difficult to avoid stopping for incredible photos. While you are passing through the vineyards and the olive groves, look back at Vernazza, at the harbor with the boats, and il castello above it. Going through bushes, you may be joined by friendly cats, who will accompany you until you reach the end of their particular territories. You cross tiny bridges with small waterfalls, and under archways of bush.
Getting close to Monterosso, you again reach vineyards, with man-made steps leading down and eventually into town.
Monterosso has two parts of town, the older of which is reached first. Here you’ll find shops selling local made pottery, jewelry, crafts, and of course local wine and olive oil. From the waterfront, there is a tunnel leading to the newest part of town, with its beach and waterfront shops and cafes. If you brought or wore a swimsuit, the sea is beckoning.
And a perfect day of hiking must include the “after hike” activities, which are best enjoyed in Vernazza, the acknowledged jewel of Cinque Terre. To get to Vernazza, there is a 3-minute train, or of course, hiking back to Vernazza by the same path is an option.
In Vernazza, the best thing to do is to head to the beach or pier. The water is safe and clean for swimming, and some seaside relaxation is perfect after this hiking day. You can rinse off the sea water at the shower below the church or on the pier.
An aperitivo can be enjoyed on the pier or in the piazza. Locals will have a wine, Campari or Martini (as in vermouth, not a martini-US style). Enjoy a bit of the chips or nuts that sit on the bar.
Following the aperitivo, have dinner at the traditional local time of 8 pm, or later. Head to Ristorante Incadese. It is located a few steps up the side street by the Internet Café and Pharmacy. It is simple, local, and very good food, serving the traditional Vernazza dishes such as acchiughe con limone (anchovies with lemon), acchiugue insalata (salted anchovies), tegame alla Vernazza, (casserole with tomato, potato and anchovy), risotto (delicious for 2 or more people and more soup-like than most risottos) and a fresh fish such as branzino.
To finish your perfect day of hiking in Cinque Terre, join locals sitting in the piazza, enjoying the company and the atmosphere. If you visit Cinque Terre, Italy it’s important to take time to hike through the beautiful and cultured villages.