Cinque Terre National Park and the famous Blue Trail
Italy is a country known for it's amazing cuisine, stunning coastlines, great art, culture history, and much much more. Aside from these great aspects, Italy was home to some of the more memorable hikes I have done. One of these said hikes is the Sentiero Azzurro or the Blue Trail. The Blue Trail can be found in the northwest coastline of Italy, linking together the world famous Cinque Terre National Park seaside villages. As the name suggests, Cinque Terre is a series of 5 cliffside villages that look out into the Ligurian Sea.
It is commonly misunderstood that Cinque Terre is one of the seaside villages, when it is not. It is just the name of the region overall. The villages of Cinque Terre consist of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Each of these villages rests in unique locations, and each is just as vibrant as the next. The most famously recognized picture from Cinque Terre comes from the village of Manarola. The picture at the beginning of the article is that said village, and the iconic photo.
I ventured to this wonderful region of Italy on the last few days of my trip to Italy in the fall of 2018. It was a well needed resting point after being constantly on the road for the previous few weeks. My most fond memory of this destination was the peacefulness and tranquility that was felt here. It gave me a lot of good time to reflect on life during the evenings hours where I wasn't on my feet traveling between the coastal villages.
The time of year that I went (November) was perfect as there were not a whole lot of tourists like myself around. There were no huge crowds, many of the businesses had been closed for the season, or had restricted hours. The only downside to this was that the weather may be a bit more rough, and as mentioned before, business hours may be a bit more inconvienent (like trying to find groceries later at night!!).
A few days prior to my trip here, there was actually a rough series of storms that had hit Italy, and had caused some dangerous trail conditions, and some mud slides. This closed off some access to some of the trails, but I was still able to make due and find some great adventures. In all honesty, people were still going around the barriers, but it was a go at your own risk scenario. Though when you go hiking, aren't you always going at your own risk?!
One of the must do activities while in Cinque Terre National Park is hiking the Sentierro Azzuro or Blue Trail. It is a relatively easy cliffside trek that connects to all of the villages in the park. I say relatively with some hesitation as when the trail is wet, the rocks with a blueish tone become quite slippery, along with the mud. There were several occurrences where I almost or partially slipped. So take note, good footwear is important!
There are also spots on the trail that are a little more challenging and require some decent fitness as well. Though the trail overall is quite easy. I think I may or may not have wandered off on some side trails, which may account for some of the harder portions.
The views from certain points on this trail are stunning. You can great views of the cliffside villages overlooking the sea, or just of the sea itself. This trail also wanders through the villages, and you can check that you are going the right way by following the trail sign that is painted on various rocks or signs along the way. It sort reminded me of the movie the Labyrinth as the main character made her way through the labyrinth and made arrow signs with her lipstick. Fortunately, there are no little troll humans on this trail!
If you find yourself in this part of Italy, I recommend hiking this trail for at least an hour, if not the whole thing. It truly is a great experience, and one you won't ever forget. Plus it's one of the few ways to access these villages. Parking is extremely limited, and if I remember right, most parking requires a permit. Driving in this region in general is a pain, I wound up on some extremely narrow cliffside roads, and it was more of a headache than help to have a car. Once I parked at my villa, I did not use the car again until I left in the early morning hours to the airport in Milan. Aside from car, or walking, there is a very timely and useful train system.
The train system is a great option for getting into the region for a day trip, or multiple day trip. Trains depart from Levato which is north of Cinque Terre National Park, or La Spezia to the south. Each of the villages of Cinque Terre has a stop heading both north and south. For more information on this awesome train system, please visit the website located here.
Bring your typical gear with while doing this hike, including good shoes, clothes appropriate for the weather, a backpack for snacks, sunscreen, water, and whatever else you need. Also, another important thing to bring would be a camera as the picturesque views are endless!
Travel tip: If you are taking the train, have money or a credit card on you for fare. I have heard rumors that in the off season , the train does not require tickets, or they do not check as its mainly just local traffic utilizing it.
When to travel to Cinque Terre National Park and where to stay?
While you can go pretty much any time of the year, it is often recommended to visit in September and October due to the limited tourist activity. I went in November, and it was perfect. The summer months bring lots more vacationers, and the frustrations that go along with it. Plus, the temperatures are much warmer. Bottom line, June to early September, is going to be busy. September through June the numbers can drop off a little bit, but weather may be a bit more unpredictable.
As far as places to stay, there are many options in the area. Depending on the time of year, it may be necessary to make arrangements well in advance. Hotels, guest houses, hostels, and Airbnb's are all options in this region or in the neighboring cities of La Spezia or Levato. My stay here consisted of a Airbnb (Actually much of this trip consisted of Airbnbs, which is my favorite way of traveling nowadays. I really recommend this form of travel stays, it is a great experience, if you do want to try it, use my referral link if you so please :). )
This Airbnb stay was actually one of my most memorable stays. I wound up in a cliffside villa surrounded by fruit trees, all on it's own. It was incredible how little I paid to stay here (off season). It was quite relaxing to reflect back on the trip and while looking out over the sea. My only complaint? I had no one else there to share the experience with, but solitude is not a bad thing either!
Included are some of the views from the mentioned Airbnb villa. I highly recommend using Airbnb on any trips you take. It's a great way to provide money into the local economy, and you are paying an actual person, versus the potential of paying some giant hotel corporation. The stays generally feel more personal too.
Things to do and summary
Great views, train rides, great restaurants, scenic hikes, great people watching, boat rides, and more. There are plenty of things to do while you are in the Cinque Terre National Park. Seafood is a specialty since it is literally right next to the sea. Take some time and wander around these beautiful ancient villages. There are interesting things to see down each alleyway or street. You can get lost for hours wandering around each individual village.
The Cinque Terre National Park is a wonderful region, and is well worth the trip to see all of the villages, if not just the famed Manarola. I have people say that Cinque Terre is overrated, but I would disagree. It was a unique region filled with vibrant old homes. This is a destination that you will never forget, and I would definitely return if the opportunity presents itself.