When I worked as a hiking guide in the Cinque Terre more than a decade ago, we pretty much had the trails to ourselves. Surrounded by lemon trees and fig trees (a wonderful snack), we’d walk the now-famous paths that link the five towns, marveling at the sea below us and enjoying the quiet breeze. These days, although the scenery is the same, those famous trails have gotten busy. It might be worth hiking them just to see what the – justified – fuss is about, but then, head away from the crowds and go hiking near Cinque Terre, where you can avoid the crowds.
Here are four of my favorite avoid-the-crowds nearby trails: each is just long enough to be a satisfying hike, yet short enough to do in a morning and then enjoy a long Italian lunch. Perfetto!
Levanto is just up the coast from the northernmost Cinque Terre town of Monterosso. I would suggest walking from Levanto to Monterosso rather than the reverse because the views are slightly better, though of course you could walk it either way. Get to Levanto by train, or by boat in high season from Monterosso. It’s not a difficult hike: just 5 miles and about 3 hours long. This hike is described on Everytrail with good detail including lots of photos and a map: the Levanto – Monterosso hiking trail. This hike is also a great way to see what all the Cinque Terre fuss is about: after a nice hike from Levanto, arrive in Monterosso, have lunch, and then explore the other towns either by train or boat. Then leave. Levanto is a really pretty town with lots of accommodation and good restaurants, so you could also start in Monterosso and have lunch in Levanto.
Portovenere is a gorgeous little town at the end of the peninsula to the south of the Cinque Terre, and is worth a visit even if you are not hiking. This is a mostly easy hike but it does have some narrow and steep bits, and is easier in the Campiglia-to-Portovenere direction compared to the reverse. Views from the trail are spectacular and include the islands of Palmaria, Tino, and Tinetto as well as the town of Lerici and the Bay of La Spezia. There’s a description and some nice photos of the Portovenere to Campiglia hike – in Italian – along with a list of plants you may find in the area. Trains don’t run to Portovenere, but you can take a boat from the Cinque Terre, or take a train to La Spezia and then a bus to Portovenere. To get to Campiglia, take the train to La Spezia and then a bus. And, if you decide to hike in this area between October and December, wear bright clothing and make lots of noise because it’s wild boar hunting season!
This small island off Portovenere is a nature park with lots of trails – the colored lines in the map below show two hikes but there are many more as you can see on this detailed map of Palmaria island. The yellow trail below is under 4 miles long and the red hiking trail is about 7.5 miles. The long hike is medium difficulty, with elevation gain and loss totaling about 700 feet. Here’s a detailed description of the hike around Palmaria island.
The towns of Manarola and Corniglia are two of the five Cinque Terre towns, but the trail that everyone walks goes along the sea and is an easy, hour-long walk. Instead, leave the crowds behind and hike a different trail between Manarola and Corniglia that goes up through the lovely town of Volastra. From Corniglia, path 7a connects you to path 6d, which takes you through Volastra. Then take path 6 down into Manarola. Or, do the reverse; it doesn’t really matter. If it’s a warm day, bring your swimming suit and a towel and go for a swim in Manarola!
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