I’ve always had a feeling of kinship to my Italian heritage, and an inherent bug for travel, but after trekking 15 states and five countries across three continents, I still hadn’t set foot on Italian soil. I set out to ensure that upon my 40th year on earth, I would have the pleasure of placing a big, black checkmark on Italy’s map.
By definition, our family’s preference while traveling is to “live like a local,” folding in experiences that allow us to truly connect to the people, their way of life, customs, and culture. We might walk to town with a resident fisherman, or help a farmer with the harvest, and this is why we decided to stay in Corniglia, the smallest and sleepiest of five villages that make up the Cinque Terre.
Pro Tip: We booked our family’s waterfront apartment in Corniglia through Booking.com. They guarantee the best prices for any type of property and no booking fees!Corniglia is nestled squarely in the middle of Italy’s very first national park, spanning 4,300 acres across a rugged Ligurian coastline. Also the smallest of Italy’s national park systems, Cinque Terre is home to only about 12 miles of designated trails, so most visitors and residents tend to rely on well-worn local pathways that have existed since the early 1900’s. The most popular and well maintained of these are the High Path, 22 miles in length and offering a bird’s eye view of the topography at a very low level of complexity; and the Blue Path, 7.5 miles of traverse with moderate to challenging terrain with arguably the best views along the entire route. Dating back to the 11th century, these social trails connect each of the five villages, giving an adventurous family the perfect method for discovering its diverse topography.Accessibility to the trail and direct passage to villages were two of many reasons we chose the Blue Path for our family trek. Each leg of this trail offers its own unique characteristics and various levels of difficulty. Visitors will find easier hiking by starting at Cinque Terre’s southernmost village, Riomaggiore, along a coastal walk to Manarola (Via dell’amore). This mostly flat, well-maintained paved path is also the busiest section, due to its ease and convenience. Barring any tot tantrums, an hour on the trail is all it takes to reach the next town, Manarola. Take a stroll past its tiny harbor and soak up the charm of picturesque homes daringly situated atop a 230-foot rock cliff.
From Manarola, the trail continues north along a plunging coastline, through old train tunnels, and toward the sleepy village of Corniglia. The hardest part of this otherwise-easy section is 377 stairs leading to Corniglia’s town center. Tackling this behemoth certainly requires effort with children, but if approached slowly with rest periods and water breaks, it can be conquered. Relax quivering quads at one of the village’s delightful restaurants, or sip authentic Italian wines in a local wine bar. Corniglia’s signature narrow, winding streets are also an attraction themselves, so don’t forget to wander the community and wonder at its architectural magic.Leaving behind peaceful, colorful buildings of Corniglia, the trek becomes a bit more difficult, but views of the majestic Mediterranean Sea are well worth any effort. This portion of the hike was our favorite, with green pastures and a vibrant history. Centuries-old stone walls and terraced vineyards created texture in otherwise placid hillsides, while a glimmering, turquoise ocean waved back in agreement that this journey is quite the spectacle of Mother Nature’s beauty.
Due to unusually hard rainstorms the week before our arrival, most of the paths north of this point were washed out and unreachable. On a rocky plateau, perched 208 meters above sea level, we sat, mesmerized by a Peregrine falcon soaring high above the cliffs. We had reached the midway point of a hike I had been waiting half my life to take and now, finally here, my daughter sitting next to me, it felt as if we could see the whole world. Fragrant wild rosemary tickled our noses from every direction, until we finally gave in and sprinkled its spiny leaves on the last bits of our fresh mozzarella and bread lunch. I had found heaven, and couldn’t imagine sharing it with anyone else.Cinque Terre: If you go
Trains are the best way to get around Cinque Terre. Local and regional trains are inexpensive (under 3 Euros), run frequently and take you right into the village centers from more populated areas of Italy. Try Eurail’s website for a complete listing of train routes, tickets, and options.
From luxury hotels and private apartments to camping areas and bed and breakfast options, Cinque Terre offers a wide variety of accommodations. We booked our apartment in Corniglia via Booking.com and it exceeded our expectations on every level. During the high season between June and September, advance reservations are a must.
When to go
Cinque Terre swarms with tourists throughout the summer months. If possible, plan a visit in spring or fall when weather is more enjoyable and the streets less crowded. The Consorzio Turistico Cinque Terre’s website is a great place for research.
For trail conditions, maps and detailed park information visit the Cinque Terre National Park website.
Enoteca 5 Terre wine shop and bar in Monterosso di Mare has one of the large selections of locally-produced wines, and a comfortable seating area five feet from the sand, just right for relaxing with a glass and snack.
For the best coffee in Corniglia, visit Ricardo at Matteo Cafe. In the early evening, it becomes the local hangout for an aperitif.
For stunning views and traditional Ligurian cuisine, dine at Belforte in Vernazza.
- Hiking Boots
- Bathing suit
Jennifer Fontaine is the founder of Outdoor Families Magazine, and the publisher of MommyHiker.com. She and her family live in Los Angeles, CA.