If you’re planning an active holiday in Italy, then you might not immediately think of the Cinque Terre, yet the area offers a fantastic range of outdoor activities, from watersports to hiking and mountain biking, where you can immerse yourself in the nature of the costal national park, avoid the crowds, and in the evening enjoy the mouthwatering food and wine at the trattorias and cafes.
Read on to discover why it makes such a great active holiday destination.
About the Cinque Terre
The five villages of Manarola, Vernazza, Corniglia, Riomaggiore and Monterosso cling to the steep, rugged and breathtakingly beautiful Ligurian coastline in north-western Italy. Thanks to the ingenious way they overcome the challenges of the terrain while merging harmoniously with the landscape, the Cinque Terre National Park became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The villages are car free and are linked by boat, rail and coastal paths (see below) so you can travel between them easily.
They have retained their considerable charm despite the increasing issue of overtourism which sees around 2.5 million people descend on this fragile area of coastline annually, many of whom are daytrippers arriving by train and boat from the nearby port of La Spezia where cruise ships dock for the day. Tales of ill-equipped tourists venturing on to the rocky hiking trails wearing flip-flops and requiring rescue, on at least one occasion by helicopter, have hit the news in recent years, meaning that fines have been introduced for those not wearing the correct attire for hiking paths.
Does this mean you should avoid it as a holiday destination? No, as long as you travel responsibly.
How to avoid becoming part of the problem:
- Stay locally, don’t breeze in and out – this way you will get to see and enjoy the towns when the daytrippers have left for the day
- Support the local economy, use local guides and services
- Respect the environment, this goes without saying but some visitors don’t abide by these basic courtesies - don’t litter, respect no trespassing signs – basically leave it as pristine as you would like to find it
- Visit during low season when possible, the hot temperatures and crowds (and subsequent higher prices) make July and August the months to avoid.
- There is a whole national park to explore, hit the walking trails (with the right footwear), explore the inlets and coves by kayak, and you will avoid the crowds that gather in the villages during the day, as well as getting to enjoy the fabulous scenery of the Italian Riviera.
Without question the most obvious activity is to discover the numerous hiking trails that link the 5 villages and stretch out along the coastline. The steep, uneven terrain means that you need a certain level of fitness to be able to get the most out of the area, but the rewards are the incredible views of the cost and the impressively engineered terraced vineyards and olive groves that have been formed to seem an almost integral part of the landscape.
The best periods for hiking in the Cinque Terre are April-May and September-October when the milder weather make conditions perfect for the sometimes arduous hikes.
The five villages are linked by a 12km long scenic coastal trail called the Sentiero Azzuro. The trail is relatively easy, though parts are closed due to landslides in 2011 and are not due to reopen until 2021 at the earliest, including the famed Via dell’amore between Manarola and Riomaggiore, and the stretch between Manarola and Corniglia. Both have alternative inland routes which are a little steeper.
The higher, more challenging 40km Sentiero Rosso (also known as path no. 1) takes you from Sestri Levanto to Porto Venere and again offers fantastic views, but with fewer people.
Make sure you get a detailed trail map (included in our packages) and always check before you head out that your chosen route for the day is open. Due to the fragile nature of some of the trails they are sometimes closed for maintenance following bad weather.
A fantastic way to explore the coastline is to go for a paddle with an experienced local guide. They can take you to places you won’t discover on foot and you can enjoy the full splendour of the landscape from the water. Want to make it even more special? Ask about a sunset tour.
Thanks to its landscape, Liguria has many great rock-climbing spots, and there are a few just south east of the Cinque Terre National Park around Portovenere, where there are routes available for all levels, from beginner to expert. Choose from sea cliff routes or Alpine routes further inland.
Again, as aficionados will know, Liguria offers some of the best mountain biking in Italy (like Finale Ligure up along the coast past Genoa – for experts only). Some of the higher trails along the Cinque Terre can be accessed by bike but you need to know where to go, so go with a guide to get the most out of your excursion. There are trails suitable for less experienced mountain bikers so you don’t have to throw yourself down single trails but can pedal and enjoy the scenery.
Other activities like canyoning and river trekking are available further inland, as is diving in the marine protected area and paragliding is available over the winter months from October to April.
If you fancy something a little more laid back, culinary activities like wine tasting, pesto making and cookery classes are also available.
Check out our multi-activity and self-guided walking holidays here:
Cinque Terre card - for train travel between the villages plus access to all hiking trails
Parco Nazionale Cinque Terre - official site of the park, check for up to date trail information