This remote coastal region was only accessible by sea until the railroads were built in the middle of the 20th century. Even today, the difficulties of driving through the twisting mountain roads make rail or sea the preferred mode of entry. The isolated coastal village of Portovenere, where we are based for our first two nights, was bypassed by the railroads and thus it still remains relatively isolated. For your convenience we meet you in La Spezia, the nearest train station to Portovenere, and then ransfer to this southernmost point on the Cinque Terre coast to start 5 days of magnificent coastal walking. We walk to all five villages that make up the Cinque Terre and always allow for enough time to explore en route. Additionally, we hike within the Portofino Natural Park, and visit this renowned harbor town where yachts as big as mansions lay anchor.
Day 1: Islands, Grottoes & Castles
After meeting at the train station we transfer into Portovenere, a fishing village and ancient fortified town located at the extreme south end of the Cinque Terre coast. The setting of pastel colored homes lining the narrow alleyways and harbor of Portovenere can only be described as eye-candy. These weathered domiciles were once part of a fortified wall that survived a lively and often bloody history lasting into the middle of the 20th century. . After checking in to our seafront hotel we board a boat to the small nearby Palmeria Island.
The island is a nature reserve and ideal for an easy 2 hour walk around the island that offers us incredible views of both Portovenere and the entire coast of the Cinque Terre. Also featured are unique caves and mussel farms; which you are sure to enjoy at your welcome dinner.
On our return from the island we enter this fortress town through a medieval gate that is connected to a city wall that extends along the sea and up to the castle. We examine the old homes, which in some cases still retain the facades decorated with the original medieval arches and slate portals. At the end of the narrow street of the "Caruggo" is the Church of San Pietro, and a stone portal to "Byron's Grotto" with its spectacular viewpoints. After a brief look into the Church of San Lorenzo we head down the nearby castle steps into the Calata quay, lined by medieval houses, and conclude our day of walking with a sparkling glass of prosecco along the harbor.
Lodgings: 3-star along the waterfront with sea view of the port & Palmeria Island.
Dinner: An excellent waterfront trattoria on Palmeria Island
Day 2: The First Village
We start hiking from our hotel and for 45 minutes/ 300 meters we slowly climb up and out of town, passing by Byron's Grotto, the abandoned marble mines and the Argonese Castle to embark on one of Italy's finest hikes. For those that find the going too difficult we offer a transfer to the summit. Before ending our ascent we take time to look back and absorb the beauty of the medieval castle & church that seem to have grown from the sheer cliff in which they reside. We soon pass a rock-climbing training ground that was originally used by the ancient Navies of the region and the mines that excavate the rare portrero marble.
Once at the summit we are quickly rewarded with a friendly path that reveals the vast coastal turquoise blue waters while skirting the sheer cliffs of a unique colorful geology. Soon the scent of pine and abundant wild flowers lead us up to the tiny village of Campiglia. From here the Bay of La Spezia reveals itself to one side and the open seas to the other; the ideal spot for lunch.
Our afternoon path leads along the ridge that divides the coastal area from the Vara Valley. Looking down past vineyards and fields of flowers with a deep blue sea draws us a lovely background; click. Past the gardens of squash, tomatoes and herbs we head into a pine forest and the promontory that looks back onto all five villages of the Cinque Terre.
After we reach the Chapel Madonna di Montenegro, a peaceful hillside sanctuary, we descend into the first of the five villages, Riomaggiore. To descend upon the first village from this isolated path truly accents the feeling of isolation the Cinque Terre has known for centuries. After we explore Riomaggiore, a well-preserved colorful harbor village with medieval character, we board a boat back to Portovenere. From the boat you are sure to proudly retrace your route in utter disbelief.
Lodgings: Same as precious night
Dinner: Excellent Trattoria on the waterfront in the town square.
Day 3: Cascading Vineyards & "Via Amore"
We re-board the boat and return to Riomaggiore and again marvel at the previous day's hike before disembarking for a much easier start to our day. We walk along the romantic "Via Amore"and into the second village, stunning Manarola. The path is carved along the coastal cliff where local artists have decorated the rocky walls with paintings and tokens such as the symbolic locks binding their love followed by the ceremonial toss of the key into the sea.
Out of Manarola we leave the crowds behind and begin the day's first and only ascent of 30 minutes up to the tiny olive oil producing village of Volastra. (For those that feel too challenged we can take the local bus up to Volastra). After a look around this tiny village we enjoy a trail that offers the ultimate Cinque Terre view that everyone seeks to find, yet very few do. This impressive stretch inspires almost everyone to start to paint or take up photography. The bright yellow lemon trees with deep green leaves in front of the sparkling blue ocean impress even the novice.
High above the sea the terraced hillsides of vineyards of the famed Sciacchetra wine producers serve as the ideal foreground to the villages hanging over the sea below. Our trail takes us through the lush valley filled with chestnut and oak groves, wild flowers & vineyards down to the third village of the Cinque Terre, Corniglia. Built on a sheer cliff above the sea we take our time wandering through the narrow alleyways of colorful houses and shops that lead to the town's castle of 1273.
Squarzafico, the Captain of the Genoese Republic, besieged the original inhabitant of the castle and Nicolao Fieschi, who had sided with King Charles of Anjou. Later Nicolao was quoted as wondering why he ever sided with that French King in the first place. This is one of the many legends we examine within these stonewalls.
We board a train for the quaint coastal town of Sestri Levante.
Lodgings: Stunning 4-star converted castle perched above town for 3 nights.
Dinner: A well-known restaurant with Italian elite and sports a “Godfather” ambience.
Day 4: Colorful Camogli to Portofino
Out of Camogli we hike within a completely different surrounding than the previous days. One of our favorite hikes on any tour; we pass through lush gardens and olive groves to a hillside town, where the views from the church still impress the locals. We then make our way along an unusual trail that's carved into the cliffs and leads to a tiny cove accessible only by foot or boat. Nestled here is the "Torre Andrea Doria," a medieval lookout tower and the ancient Abbey San Fruttuoso, both can be explored before we decide on lunch.
Here you may wish to go for a swim or we boat out 15m off shore to see the "Christ of the Depths" located 18m underwater (a statue erected in memory of lost sailors and to now protect scuba divers.) In the Abbey is a replica for those unable to do such a dive or a local boat enables one to view the statue from the surface.
We then walk through the south end of the park which offers some remnants of WWII as well as a very unusual chapel before we drop down into the famed Portofino where the yachts can be as big as the mansions that dot the hillsides. After exploring this renowned port we transfer into the popular resort town of Santa Margherita.
Decorated stylishly with flowers, this palm-tree-lined waterfront is filled with cafes, beautiful boutiques & colorful fruit and pastry shops. Traditional "Bagni" line the beaches and the churches are filled with fascinating art collections. For those that wish to take a break from walking or have a day to themselves then this is the place to explore and then visit Portofino, a short sdistance away. It's also always an option to end any hike early so that you can have longer to enjoy any of the villages we visit.
Lodgings: same as previous night
Dinner: Free night out. We offer plenty of options for you to explore.
Day 5-6: The Last Two Villages
Today's itinerary takes us back into the Cinque Terre and is designed to be very flexible so that you can enjoy these last 2 villages in your preferred style. Some may wish for a rigorous hike into each village while others may prefer our casual walk into town allowing for more time to shop, swim and explore the villages.
Either way we start the day by returning by train to Corniglia, the destination of our third days hike. From here we can either walk the easy 1-1/2 hours at a leisurely pace on a trail of minimal elevation gain in order to reach the next village, or for those that wish for a more rigorous hike we can head for the high ground far from the crowds and take in the majestic views of the coast before ascending down to each village. Either way each route is along a very lush path that commands views of the sea as well as a spectacular approach to incomparable Vernazza.
You’ll have more than enough time to absorb the atmosphere of Vernazza before starting on our hike to the last of the five villages, Monterosso al Mare. For those that can’t quiet get enough of Vernazza you’ll have the option of taking the train into Monterosso. Within either village there is plenty of shopping, swimming and wine tasting to be enjoyed.
Lodgings: Same as previous night
Dinner: Farewell dinner is at my favorite family-run seafood restaurant in Italy—sea bass baked in salt anyone?
The following is a list of train schedules for transportation to and from the tour start and end locations. Train departure times and tracks are subject to change, so verify before boarding.
From Pisa: ~1 hour
#176 Cisalpino Cinque Terre train:
Pisa Centrale--11:44-- arrival La Spezia Centrale--12:38
Trains to La Spezia from Florence: ~2 hrs
#3117 Firenze S. M. Novella-10:27--arr. Pisa Centrale---11:31
Change trains in Pisa for the
#176 Cisalpino Cinque Terre train
Pisa Centrale--11:44--arrival La Spezia Centrale--12:38
From Genova: ~2.30 hrs. or 1 hr
#11345 Genova Piazza Principe--10:05--arrival La Spezia Centrale---12:37
Or faster train that arrives 35 min. early (have some lunch):
#519 Carignano Genova Piazza Principe---10:52-arr. La Spezia Centrale---12:04