On the Ligurian Coast between Genoa and Pisa there are many scenic towns and villages. But the most popular destination seems to be the Cinque Terre—five picturesque hill towns that are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park. These colorful villages surrounded by terraced vineyards and olive orchards are all connected by a series of walking trails that meander up and down the verdant hills and finish in one of the charming towns.
Due to the devastating floods of 2011, three of the five trails along the coastline are still closed. This has made the two coastal trails quite quite crowded and popular—the one between Monterosso and Vernazza and the trail that continues from Vernazza to Corniglia. Even in late September, 2015, we found this area just a bit too crowded for our comfort.
The solution for us was the very scenic hike from the town of Levanto heading south to Monterosso, trail #1 & #10 of the Parco Regionale Bracco-Mesco.
This trail starts behind the 13th Century San Andrea Church in Levanto. The alternating stripes of white and dark green marble make this church easy to spot on the south end of the town. Walk up the steps to the right of the church and you’ll find a stone archway and the signage for the trail (#1).
The trail slowly climbs up into the hills above Levanto, with many fantastic views of the coastline looking north. We rate this a medium to difficult hike, mainly due to the terrain. The climb is mostly gradual, but there are several steeper sections with very uneven paths covered with boulders and rocks. Sometimes the narrow path has a rather steep drop off to the sea below. Having a set of hiking poles would be a good idea.
In late September, we had sunny weather with fresh breezes. But even in late fall, it’s important to take plenty of water and have a snack or two. There are no towns or small refuges along the way. According to one map, the hike should take 3.5 hours. But with the difficult footing and fantastic views, it will probably take longer.
There are plenty of great spots to take a break and enjoy the scenery. This was not a busy trail, we met just enough other hikers to give us helpful information or have a pleasant chat. However, most of the time, we had the trail to ourselves.
The first two thirds of the trail are the most challenging. This is the longest part of the hike and there are quite a few switch backs and rocky paths during the steady climb up to the top of a peninsula called Punta Mesco. If you have the energy, it’s worth taking a bit more time to walk out to the edge of the point for some fantastic views. But even at the crossroad there is a small stone tower that you could climb for a few good photos.
At this crossroad be sure to take trail #10 to head down into the fun town of Monterosso. If you stay on #1, you could be hiking for hours. Once again, there are more rocky paths, but you are headed downhill for the rest of the hike.
Now you will have more breathtaking views looking south. This is where you first catch sight of the five Cinque Terre towns and beyond.
As you descend towards the beach, you’ll pass some beautiful villas with lovely gardens. Be sure to check out the last villa on the beach near Bar Gigante. Look for the huge giant, carved out of cement and cleverly connected to the gardens of the home. This giant is over 100 years old.
Once you arrive at the beaches of Monterosso, there are plenty of small bars and gelato shops to reward yourself for the vigorous work out. There’s also a free beach where you can take a swim or simply get your feet wet. In late September, the water was chilly, but still swimmable.
Levanto is a pleasant town just north of the Cinque Terre towns. The same train that travels between the five towns also stops at Levanto, and it’s only five minutes north. The Tourist Information Center at the train station sells the Cinque Terre Cards and they also provide maps with many more hikes of the area. We found the staff to be very helpful—even on the busy week we were there.
If you plan to hike in the Cinuqe Terre Park, I suggest you try some alternate trails—the red trails on the local maps. You might have to climb a bit more, but the views and the serenity will be worth it.