How to travel solo in the Cinque Terre.
In mid May 2017 I spent 10 days in the Cinque Terre and the surrounding areas. There was so much to see and do, but still plenty more that I didn't get to experience. It was fabulous to spend a decent amount of time in one area.
This blog is about the Cinque Terre villages and how to travel solo and as a minimalist traveller in the Cinque Terre. The next blog will cover the areas adjacent to the Cinque Terre that I explored.
So, my trip started with a seven hour train trip from Naples to La Spezia, and then a bus ride to a tiny country village in the hills about the Cinque Terra villages. I chose to stay away from the main towns because of accommodation prices and also the crowds. Plus I had heard amazing stories of this hostel in Biassa where I would be basing myself for five days. It was the best decision to stay there.
Staying outside the Cinque Terre villages.
Biassa is a quiet village about 10 minutes drive up in the hills above Riomaggiore - the first of the five fishing villages on the immensely popular Cinque Terre. I stayed in a hostel there and was so grateful for choosing this as an option.
The hostel ran frequent shuttle buses down into Riomaggiore in the morning and then return shuttles in the evening. It was all very convenient. Accommodation in the region seems to be very well set up for those who want to be staying outside the Cinque Terre villages.
The comraderie in the hostel was lovely and the place was relaxed and safe for a solo female traveller. The food deserves a special mention - breakfast was substantial and unbelievable, and then dinner was mind-blowingly delicious for a fraction of the price elsewhere.
The little village also had a pizzeria but I was too tempted to try all the dishes at the hostel, so gave the pizzas a miss.
The rooftop view from my Biassa hostel.
Walking the Cinque Terre.
Seeing the Cinque Terre villages for the first time is a moment full of delight. There was so much anticipation for that first glimpse. You've seen the pictures on the internet and social media, but it's a real pinch-me moment seeing it for real. And you do that five times!!!
The rustic, pastel coloured buildings, the rugged pathways, the sea crashing into the harbours, and the fishing boats pulled up to safety made you realise that this was a working place - this is not just a tourist mecca.
In 2017, the coastal footpath that had been washed away in storms and mudslides was still in disrepair, so anyone wanting the walk to each village had to take the UP and DOWN option. And that's not an easy option.
Seeing the villages in real life! I was so excited to get here. They were just as stunning as I expected.
Hiking the footpaths of the Cinque Terre.
I was led to believe that the Cinque Terre walkway was pretty easy. With the coastal paths closed, the alternative paths are not a stroll and you need to be prepared.
I was fit and strong and I found the hiking pretty hard-going at times. Parts were steep, very exposed to the sun, and very rough underfoot. It was a steep 300 metre hike in elevation up a rugged, often precarious, goat track and steps, and then down the other side.
You need to take plenty of water (I was there in the coolness of spring, but it still heated up), sturdy walking shoes, a snack to keep you going, and a basic first aid kit - I used mine on someone else!
Hiking between the villages is certainly worth it. Beautiful scenery of the coast and sea, vineyards, local houses, and statues abound. You need to allow plenty of time to catch your breathe and take plenty of photos.
Even on a spring day in mid May, the track was pretty warm.
One day hiking from Riomaggiore - Manarola - Corniglia.
I arrived late in the afternoon, so there was great anticipation to see Riomaggiore. I did consider walking down from Biassa, but after 7 hours on a train and waiting for the bus - the excitement would just have to wait for the morning.
And it did not disappoint. It was just gorgeous. I grabbed a pastry for the walk from one of the many deli's, and headed into the hills. I had imagined very manicured footpaths, but this track was the poor cousin to the lower closed coastal track. Very much in a state of disrepair, it was rough underfoot and very steep in parts.
Walking down into Manarola.
There were the most amazing views from the most breathe-taking climbs up in the hills. With lots of people on the tracks meant it was also very social. I enjoyed the comraderie of the walkers and chatting away to complete strangers. I even bumped into the mother and daughter I chatted to on the train for 7 hours the day before!
Once at the top, it was then a steep goat-track descent down into the next village of Manarola. This would probably be my favourite. I think it was the rough sea bumping into the village that I just loved.
Or maybe it was the dark pastel coloured houses. I lost myself for a good hour wandering through the back streets, up and down stairs. The whole place was just mesmerising.
But it's hard to have favourites - they're all such charming villages with the most welcoming locals.
No, I think I'm going to have to state that this was definitely my favourite!
My fave - Manarola - such a pretty village!
Walking down to Corniglia.
After a photo from the well known photo points, it was up, up and over to Corniglia - my final stop for the day.
Corniglia is a diversion off the track from Manarola to Vernazza. Corniglia is the one village not down at sea level but has great views up and down the coast. I loved its vantage point and the views out to sea. A market was on when we arrived, and the fresh fruit , cured meats, and baking were divine!
Since my walk for the day was done, I headed down to the train station at sea level. The stairs went forever. And as much as I can be abit of a purist and not want to miss any of the route, there was no way in hell I was walking up those steps to Corniglia the next day and then walk back up the hill where the track met to go onwards to Vernazza.
I arrived in Vernazza by train from Riomaggiore. The train stops at the back of the town and the walkers even at such an early time of the day, pour out of the train, and spill down the main street to the harbour.
Another incredibly picturesque village filling fast with walkers and day-trippers. But the stall-holders and shop owners were ready for us all.
I quickly found the path, although a brief stop was required to listen to two men playing accordions. It was magical - like something out of a movie.
While the track up was hard, I was incredibly relieved to be doing it in this direction. The track down was narrow and full of walkers who were looking very worse for wear! It was a constant giving-way to those poor souls going up.
The highlight though was finding a man selling freshly squeezed orange juice on a remote part of the track. It was sweet nectar! And even though this was May it was getting pretty hot so this drink was an extremely welcome relief to my warm water!
On the path to Monterossa al Mare looking back at Vernazza.
Monterossa el Mare.
Arriving at Monterossa al Mare after a very hot and sweaty track was a welcome relief. Dipping my feet in the ocean was very much needed.
It was a Sunday so family groups were playing games on the beach, and the cafes were spilling over with people. I was embraced by a large family visiting from Milan at the café I had collapsed into. It's these encounters that you can miss when travelling with others. Just the most beautiful, chatty people - all of us quizzing each other about lifestyle and our countries.
My walk from Vernazza, although very hot, hadn't taken as long as I had thought and I was keen to walk a wee bit further. Plus I'd heard about the Punto Mesco… a peninsula further round from Monterossa al Mare that offered superb views of the entire Cinque Terre.
But this walk and others will be covered in my next page "Beyond the Cinque Terre villages".
Walking beside the vines towards Monterossa al Mare.
Taking the time to explore - no rushing here!
Since I was staying in the area for five nights I had the luxury of taking my time to explore the villages and not race through them, tick the box, and say I've been there! The joy of slow travel and solo travel!!
My plan was to do the first three villages (Riomaggiore-Manarola-Corniglia) on the first day and the last two the next day (Corniglia-Vernazza-Monterosso al Mare). There are lots of people that walk this all in one day, but you do need to have a decent level of fitness, and the stamina to walk up and down steep hills for seven hours.
After the first day, I decided to change my plan. Instead of walking up from the Corniglia train station (picture 1000's of steps!) I took the train to Vernazza and walked on from there. I did miss a short section from the Corniglia turn-off up in the hills to Vernazza, but since I was planning on staying a night in Vernazza a week later - I could fill this bit in if I so desired.
Meeting people on the Cinque Terre.
While the tracks were busy, I really enjoyed the opportunity to meet people. Probably because I was travelling solo.
It was great to have a coffee stop with some fellow hikers from New Zealand. I was often adopted by groups to join them, and I was incredibly grateful for their company.
As much as I didn't feel lonely, it was probably because other travellers and locals are so nice to solo travellers.
Why travel solo?
The fact that I was by myself meant I could change my plans easily. Waking with sore legs, meant I could easily change the walking route I wished to take that day - or even skip a day of walking entirely. The choice was mine to take and enjoy. And I did!
You can plan all you like but sometimes you get to a place and realise you don't have the energy, you are simply exhausted, or something else attracts your attention.
My plans to walk the missed section from Corniglia-Vernazza - were thwarted when my mind and body just hit the wall. I think three weeks of travelling by myself and at a pretty fast pace, all caught up with me. I couldn't even last to take a picture at sunset!! Yes, I missed THE Instagrammable moment of them all - sunset at Vernazza. Man, I slept well that night...from 8pm!
When I travel solo I am more open to meeting people. People see me as being by myself so they seem happy to approach me.
I'm also much more observant when I'm travelling solo. I notice a lot more - most likely because I am acutely aware of my safety and surroundings.
Solo travelling in the Cinque Terre is very easy.
There is so much tourist information around the place, walkways are well sign-posted and well-trodden routes (If you happen to lose the other hikers!)
The internet is a huge source of information about walking tracks, the trains, accommodation, places to eat etc. My favourite offline map Maps.Me (no affiliation) was well used in this region. I strongly recommend you download the regions you need before you get there as they can drain data.
Probably because there were so many people around on the tracks and in the villages, I never felt unsafe. At night, the place was a hive of activity.
If you're thinking of exploring this area, I can't recommend it high enough. It's absolutely beautiful with it's colourfully painted fishing villages, and rustic rural surroundings.
Despite the crowds, it is still the most picturesque spot, and I would happily return there.