Close your eyes for second.
Now visualize the most idyllic, multi-colored villages lining the Italian Riviera.
The crystal clear waters. Coastal trail of terraced vineyards. Unforgettable food stops.
Welcome to the Cinque Terre National Park, a trail runner’s paradise that offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience to run or hike Sentiero Azzurro. The path that connects all five villages of the Cinque Terre – Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.
In my quest for the best trail runs in Europe, decided to hike the Vernazza – Monterosso leg, considered the most beautiful stretch of the Cinque Terre Blue Trail.
Follow this guide and you’re as good as there too…
Cinque Terre Route details
- Name: Blue Trail (Sentiero Azzurro)
- Total length: 12 km or 3.5km (Vernazza – Monterosso al Mare)
- Terrain: Coastal trail & Village paths
- Ascent: 180 m (591 ft)
- Hike time: 1 hr 20 min
- Cost: €5 Euros (Blue Trail passes)
- Feelings: Wonder; Surprise; Gratitude
What to Expect on the Blue Trail: Monterosso to Vernazza
The route from Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza is nothing short of extraordinary.
As you navigate through ancient stone walls and climb steep steps, you’ll be surrounded by lush vineyards and olive trees, secluded picnic stops, and dreamlike views of the Ligurian Sea. The path takes many twists and turns, climbs and descents, against an impressive mountainous backdrop. That sounds more complicated that it is – the route is a single track, so impossible to veer off.
The steady rhythm of intermittent bays is interspersed with some short treks slightly inward, offering welcome moments of shelter from the sun.
The 3.7km Monterosso to Vernazza stretch is the toughest part of the Blue Trail, but the sense of accomplishment and stunning vistas mean it’s 100% worth the effort. The breathtaking views making up for the breathless climbs with countless photo opportunities around every corner. But be warned: it is on the harder side of moderate.
What the guide books also don’t tell you is how much of the route is single file. It’s a minor inconvenience but it does force you to complete it at a more leisurely pace. I’m nitpicking though.
The undoubted highlight of this great hike is when the quaint and colorful village of Vernazza comes into view. One of those rare experiences where the over-saturated pictures pale in comparison to the real thing.
There’s trains at both the start and end points, plus you can run or hike the trail in either direction (Vernazza to Monterosso or Monterosso to Vernazza). I chose the latter on a hot 27 C (80 F) day in September, towards the end of Summer.
Related Reading: Tips for Running in Hot Weather
Tips When Running or Hiking Cinque Terre
- Take money for the toll booth – cash or card
- Bring plenty of water as the only places to refuel are the villages
- Go very early in the morning if running or hiking at pace
- Much of the path is exposed so take sun cream and a cap
- Don’t forget your “thank you”s when let through in single file stretches
- Vernazza to Monterosso is hilly (180m incline) so some people take hiking poles
- Vernazza is full of coach tours so there might be a wait for a restaurant table
- Take a camera for the awe-run photo opportunities
💌 Learn Runner Psychology… in 5 Mins a Month
Cool Down: Beaches and Swimming Spots
Cinque Terre boasts a variety of beautiful beaches and swimming spots, perfect for a rejuvenating dip after your hike.
Monterosso al Mare’s public beach gets extremely busy. I’d suggest paying to access one of its private, more sandy beaches (Scoglio di Monterosso) complete with sunbeds and umbrellas. Or the much quieter Spiaggia Tragagia beach on the old town side.
If finishing in Vernazza, make the most of its natural pools or explore the rocky coves of Manarola.
Rewards like this are one guaranteed way to make hiking and running more fun!
You’ve Earned It: Famous Foods of Cinque Terre
If the unforgettable views aren’t reward enough, food lovers are in for a treat. Local Cinque Terre delicacies include:
- Artisan gelato
- Fritto Misto (fried fish mixes)
- Pesto genovese
- Lemon drinks & deserts
Exploring the 5 Villages of Cinque Terre Region
Each of the five villages that make up Cinque Terre – Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore – boasts its own unique character and history.
As you walk the azure trail, also prepare to be blown away by a microcosm of all that’s wonderful about Italy – stunning natural beauty, cultural heritage, favorable hiking weather, and beautiful blue water of the Mediterranean.
Monterosso al Mare
Monterosso al Mare, the biggest and northernmost village of Cinque Terre, is renowned for its sandy beaches and serves as the starting point of the Blue Trail for most people traveling from Genoa.
The train station empties out on to the beach. We tried the Fritto Misto (fried anchovies, prawns, calamari) from the stall attached to the station.
Follow Monterosso’s flat, endless beaches towards the old town, where you’ll find charming side streets and more good food options. If you have time, it’s worth doing a bit of sightseeing around the village. A short hike will reveal the stripy Santa Croce Oratory and the ancient ruins of the Cappuccini Monastery.
The Blue Trail at Monterosso offers a wonderful panoramic ‘window’ of Punta Mesco, where the large mountain juts into the sea to create the gulf of Monterosso.
Its beautiful cliffs are home to former sandstone mines, the source of the stone that paves many of the village’s streets. At its summit is ‘il Semaforo’ (the stoplight), an old abandoned lighthouse and the ruins of the monastery named Saint Anthony of the Mesco.
Vernazza, the second village on the Blue Trail, is often considered the most picturesque of the five. With its charming harbor, colorful buildings, and stunning views, it’s easy to see why social media pictures of the village attract visitors from afar. As you explore the narrow streets and steep staircases, be sure to stop at the Church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia, a 14th-century Gothic church overlooking the sea.
I’d recommend venturing up to the Castello Doria, an ancient watchtower that offers panoramic views of the Cinque Terre coastline and the village below.
The colorful harbour is too small to spend quality time on so, I’d recommend grabbing an al fresco bite to eat in the restaurants that overlook it instead.
Perched high atop a hill, Corniglia is the only village in Cinque Terre not directly on the coast, offering a quieter atmosphere and panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. To reach the village, visitors must climb a series of steps known as the Lardarina, making it the perfect destination for those seeking a more peaceful and secluded escape.
While in Corniglia, be sure to explore the village’s narrow backstreets, climbing the 380 steps up the Lardarina, and taking your time to find the best panoramic views along the Cinque Terre.
Manarola, the fourth village of Cinque Terre, is famous for its vibrant houses, terraced vineyards, and scenic coastal trails. As you wind your way through the village’s narrow streets, be sure to stop at the Church of San Lorenzo, a 14th-century Gothic church with a stunning rose window.
For yet more unforgettable views, take a stroll along the Manarola Scenic Viewpoint.
Riomaggiore, the southernmost village of Cinque Terre, and the final stop on the trail beauty parade, unless you’re traveling from La Spezia.
By now you’ll be used to the colorful higgledy-piggledy houses that seem stacked on top of one another and postcard-perfect harbor with traditional fishing boats.
If you’ve braved the entire 12 km Cinque Terre National Park hiking trail, you’ll be rewarded with the best views of the sunset any of the villages have to offer.
Cinque Terre FAQs
Is Cinque Terre a UNESCO World Heritage Site?
Yes, Cinque Terre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. It has been included as a cultural landscape of extraordinary value which represents the harmonious interaction between man and nature. The area is composed of five villages, each with its own unique character and charm. The villages are connected by a network of hiking trails, which offer stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea.
Why is Cinque Terre so special?
Cinque Terre is one of the world’s most stunning coastal landscapes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a national park in Italy’s Ligurian Coast. It has become renowned for its dramatic natural environment, producing an incredible landscape of exceptional scenic quality, and draws visitors from all over the world. The area is made up of five villages, each with its own unique character and charm. The villages are connected by a network of trails, allowing visitors to explore the area on foot.
What is the Cinque Terre Card 2023?
A one-way train ticket between two Cinque Terre villages costs €5 Euros. It also grants you access to the Blue Trail above.
The proceeds of the Cinque Terre Cards are used for the general upkeep of the walking trail.
What is the best train from Genoa to Cinque Terre?
Trains run approximately every 1hr from Genova Piazza Principe and Genova Brignole to Monterosso, Vernazza, and beyond. A one way ticket is approximately €10 Euros.
It’s important to note that not all services stop at every village train station – check the train timetable to be sure.