A short walk in the Cinque Terre
The Cinque Terre is five villages on the coastline between Genoa and La Spezia. The villages used to be very isolated and the locals lived by fishing and working the terraced hillsides. Now the area is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Italy. The Cinque Terre is a National Park and a World Heritage site. People visit it to see the villages, walk the path between the villages and [mainly] because their tour companies include it in their itineraries.
There are several paths in the area. The most popular is the 11 kilometers long Sentiero no. 2 [or Sentiero Azzuro]. It passes by all five villages and we went with the intention of walking the full trail; from Riomaggiore in the east, through Manarola, Corniglia and Vernazza to Monterosso al Mare in the west.
Parking and accommodation in the villages is very limited and the easiest way to visit is by taking a train from La Spezia [there is plenty of cheap parking and lots of hotels in La Spezia]. There is a National Park office on your right as you enter La Spezia station. For 8 euros you can buy a train ticket and a permit to walk the Sentiero Azzuro. You will need this permit. There are men in little huts along the trail who will check that you have paid. Make sure you sign your permit. The Park office will also give you a rail timetable. Services are very frequent.
Our trip did not start well. The path from Riomaggiore to Manarola is supposed to be romantic. We found it dull and oppressive. It is a level paved path with the sea on one side and a cliff on the other.
There are steel nets and braces all over the cliff and the path ends in an ugly concrete tunnel. Manarola just appeared to be a tourist trap. It had lots of shops and restaurants and was swarming with people.
When we got to Manarola we found the path to Corniglia was closed. Apparently it has been closed for a long time and there was no indication when it would reopen.
We decided to catch the train to Vernazza and walk back to Corniglia.
This path was much better and we enjoyed walking it.
You could see much more of the local flora and fauna. Along the way you pass a lot of abandoned terraces and some that are still being worked. There were nets set up to catch the olives when they were shaken from their tree.
You need to be fit to tackle this path. There was a long steep climb out of Vernazza and a descent of about 300 steps from the end of the path in Corniglia to the railway station.
I understand the section of path from Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza is even steeper. The path surface was rough. I saw two girls trying to walk it in flimsy sandals. Don't attempt this path unless you are reasonably fit and have good footware.
My summary is that sections of the Sentiero Azzuro are well worth walking, but the part from Riomaggiore to Manarola, is a waste of time. As things stand at the moment you are likely to be unable to walk from Monterosso al Mare to Riomaggiore without a considerable diversion.
The villages look great from distance. Up close they are too commercial and full of tourists. Some of the locals are not maintaining their properties and there is far too much peeling plaster.
I am glad I went, but I would hate to visit the place in July or August. The Cinque Terre, like many other tourist hot spots [think Mont Saint-Michel and Carcassone] attracts too many people for a visit to be comfortable. The trick is to find places that the other tourists have not heard of. For example, instead of Cinque Terre, try visiting the Certosa di Pavia. It is only a couple of hours travel away and is much better.