Cinque Terre – Vernazza to Corniglia

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In my last post I described my short hike on the Cinque Terre National Park’s coastal trail from Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza. In this post my day’s journey continues, from Vernazza to Corniglia, again hiking from north to south. The coastal trail sections from Monterosso to Corniglia were open, but the remaining sections were officially closed. I planned to explore as much as I could of the coastal trail, in addition to enjoying each town briefly. The day of my visit was a typical late summer day: sunny and quite warm, with the temperature in the 90’s.

The GPS track is shown here, with blue lines indicating the tracks.

GPS track

GPS track

The elevation profile shows the entire stretch from Moterosso to Corniglia, with Vernazza at sea level around the 3-mile mark. Corniglia is actually perched on a small promontory at about 250 feet elevation (near 6 miles), though the train station is closer to the sea. Between Vernazza and Corniglia the trail reaches the highest point of the coastal trail, at about 700 feet elevation.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

As I approached Vernazza the trail completed its descent right along the shore. North of town there is a small harbor, and at the north end of that there are several spots that look like ancient lava flows.

image of lava flow near Vernazza

Lava flow near Vernazza

I arrived in Vernazza around noon and spent some time just wandering around and enjoying the ambience. The town was built before there were cars, and in any case land is precious. As a result, the streets are narrow, but lined with the colorful buildings typical of the region. As you may imagine, there were quite a few tourists and the supporting restaurants and souvenir shops. In this view the higher inland range of hills is visible.

image of Vernazza street view

Vernazza street view

I wandered to the little peninsula at the west end of town but did not find my way up to the tower I’d been viewing from the trail as I approached town. I stopped for a quick snack and had my first taste of local gelato – delicious!

It is important to note that the Cinque Terre region was hit by a freak severe storm on 25 October 2011, when some 22 inches of rain fell within 4 hours. Vernazza was hit especially hard, with its topography funneling the rain and mud from higher areas right down a river channel that runs through town below the main street. The mud was 10 feet deep along the main street. Since then renovation has been extensive, as infrastructure has been repaired, buildings repaired and refurnished, etc. Amazingly, just 4 years later, there are relatively few signs of the devastation in town. However, the two sections of coastal trail that are still closed were damaged in the 2011 storm and repairs are not complete; in cases there is no timetable for repair.

After my break I walked back uphill to find the continuation of the coastal trail to Corniglia, and before long found signage to direct my way. The path crosses high above the railroad tracks past a second fortification tower and provides pretty views of the town from an elevated perspective. Punta Mesca is visible in the background of the picture. The small white area by the water in the background is Monterosso al Mare, where I started the day’s hike.

image of Vernazza and its fortification towers

Vernazza and its fortification towers

South of Vernazza the trail climbs rather steeply (13.5% grade) to 300 feet elevation, passing pretty prickly pear plants and an Italian cypress in someone’s garden on the steep hillside. The grade lessens for perhaps 0.2 mile. In this section I encountered a trail work crew temporarily blocking the trail. I surmised that they were stabilizing the hillside and improving the retaining wall, in part by moving some soil to the downhill side of the trail. Every 5 minutes or so the supervisor would have the workers pause long enough for waiting walkers to pass the site. Yes, we (those of us who were waiting) walked right on top of the pile of soil that was on the trail!

image of trail work just south of Vernazza

Trail work just south of Vernazza

After I passed the trail work the climb again got steep, this time about a 25% grade for a 270-foot ascent. Views of the coastline were quite astonishing, though I tried not to pause too often. After reaching a small rise I did take note that the trail, while wide enough for comfortable walking, mostly had no guard rail on the steep downhill side, and I needed to pay attention to where I was walking, and perhaps stop walking in order to enjoy the views. After another short climb the trail crests at about 700 feet elevation, actually not far from the village of San Bernadino slightly higher on the hillside. From this vantage point there is a spectacular view of Corniglia, whose outskirts are about a mile away perched on a promontory nearly 300 feet above the Ligurian Sea. Behind Corniglia the next Cinque Terre town of Manarola is visible much closer to the water’s edge.

image of view of Corniglia, with Manarola visible in the background

View of Corniglia, with Manarola visible in the background

From the outskirts of Corniglia there was a great view of San Bernadino.

image of San Bernadino

San Bernadino

Continuing along the trail, the town of Corniglia was spread out on one hillside, and vineyards were on the next hillside across one of the little valleys between the hills that seem to tumble down to the sea.

image of Corniglia


I walked along Via Fieschi, the main street, past the Oratory of Santa Caterina. Because the afternoon was so warm and because I’d given myself permission to eat whatever I wanted, I located a gelateria mentioned in Rick Steves’ book on Cinque Terre, Alberto’s Gelateria. It was a perfect break!

image of Alberto’s Gelateria in Corniglia

Alberto’s Gelateria in Corniglia

From the main part of this small town (population: 240) you need to descend most of the way to sea level to reach the train station. The way to go is down a 385-step brick staircase with numerous switchbacks. The slope of the staircase is actually quite gentle; there are just a lot of steps. The steep-looking 200-foot descent at 6 miles on the elevation profile is where the steps are.

image of the famous staircase of Corniglia

The famous staircase of Corniglia

If you are planning to take the train between towns of the Cinque Terre you pay attention to the train schedule. Trains that stop at all of the towns run about once an hour. I had enough time to try to find the beginning of the coastal trail section toward Manarola, the next town. The trail follows close to the edge of the sea, beginning just below the train station. The first part of trail goes behind a few buildings and then passes a public beach area. There were pretty pink flowers: some resembling fuchsia and others resembling oleander (Nerium).

image of pink flower similar to oleander

Pink flower similar to oleander

About 0.4 mile from the train station I arrived at a barricade with a sign announcing the end of the trail. Just ahead I could see that the trail was completely washed out, presumably by the 2011 storm, and not yet repaired. I do not know how many gaps there are in the section of trail to Manarola.

image of washout of the coastal trail just south of Corniglia

Washout of the coastal trail just south of Corniglia

At least I could see why the trail was closed! I gather that it won’t be repaired until the experts feel that the land is again geologically stable enough to support the trail. On my way back to the train station I paused to look behind me several times to enjoy the beautiful coastline. Here is a view showing Manarola, probably only about 1½ miles away. I think I can see the route of the trail at least in some places, and it looks like at least one landslide came down the very steep hillside.

image of coastline to Manarola

Coastline to Manarola

I reached the train station with just a short wait for the next train going south to Manarola, a ride of only a few minutes. The next post describes my explorations in Manarola and Riomaggiore.

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4 Responses to Cinque Terre – Vernazza to Corniglia

  1. Pingback: Cinque Terre – Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza | trailhiker

  2. Pingback: Cinque Terre – Manarola and Riomaggiore sightseeing | trailhiker

  3. Pingback: Cinque Terre – Riomaggiore to Porto Venere | trailhiker

  4. Pingback: Pisa sightseeing | trailhiker

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