One of the main attractions of the beautiful Cinque Terre region is the network of hiking paths that link the villages. While it may be easier and faster to take the train from one town to the next (only about 3 minutes stop-to-stop), hiking is much more rewarding.
The easy way to get from village to village on foot is to buy a Cinque Terre card, which costs 12 euro per day. This allows access to the flatter, well-maintained trails not too far above the sea. It’s certainly a good option, but if you don’t want to pay and you are in good shape, there are free options as well. These require much more vertical hiking than the paid trails, and they are not as well maintained.
Jolyn was in bed with bronchitis, but I wasn’t going to let the time in Cinque Terre pass without doing some hiking. So at around 7:30 AM, I decided to set off for trail #531 between Manarola and Riomaggiore. Many hike from Riomaggiore to Manarola, but I was already in Manarola, so I figured I’d start there. Trail 531 starts just at the outskirts of the upper part of Manarola. Apparently, the trail has existed for centuries – long before any of the more modern, carved-out trails existed. It was amazing to think about what life was like a century ago, when this trail (or a boat) was the only way to get from village to village.
Making my way to the upper part of Manarola to the start of the trail
Beautiful morning Italian sun
The first 30 minutes or so was mostly veritical. Even though it was still early in the morning, the sun was already beating down. I was dripping with sweat after walking up a series of steps and switchback curves up the side of a rather steep mountain, and frequent water breaks were needed. If you are not a regular hiker or experience joint pain, Trail 531, also known as The Beccara Trail, is probably not for you. If you are in fairly good shape, however, the experience is completely worth the effort.
About 40 minutes into my hike, I reached a point where I was able to enjoy tremendous vistas. In between Manarola and Riomaggiore, I could scan both villages from my hilltop perch. The water’s deep blue hue captivated me, and I could see for miles, further and further into the sea. Finally, to cap off the experience, I was surrounded by a hilltop vineyard – the source of Cinque Terre’s unheralded, albeit pretty tasty, wine selection.
Making the climb
And I can now start to see Riomaggiore. Breathtaking!
It was all downhill from there, so the rest of the walk to Riomaggiore was easy. The hike was uncrowded but also not totally empty – it was nice to cross paths with people, most of whom were going in the opposite direction as me. On the way up, meeting fellow trekkers allows me to ask, out of breath and dripping with sweat, “How much longer?” On my way down, I was able to return the favor to those at the beginning of their uphill adventure. I even met some New Yorkers on the trail who guessed I must have been from the Big Apple area upon spotting my trademark “I’m an American hiking in a hot part of Europe” outfit – my John Starks #3 Knicks jersey. After a little over an hour of mostly uphill climbing, I had made it to Riomaggiore.
Which (surprise!) was also pretty spectacular.
After spending a bit of time enjoying my second of the Five Lands, it was time to head back for breakfast. But I wasn’t about to hike back over – I decided to fork over the 2 euro and take a three-minute train ride back to Manarola.