The Manarola Volastra Corniglia trail, among vineyards and terraces of the Cinque Terre

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TECHNICAL DATA

Difficulty: medium

Altitude Difference: 335 meters (1099 feet)

Trail numbers: 506, then 586, then 587

Recommended period: all year round (not recommended in case of bad weather)

Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes

Suggestions: the first part of the hiking trail has a very steep climb (1200 steps!) which the lazy ones can skip taking the bus from Manarola to Volastra. Usually, there’s a bus every hour. Alternatively, it’s possible to start the hiking trail from Corniglia. The climb will be easier but a bit longer. Plus, unlike “The blue trail,” this hiking trail is free.

Vineyards and terraces, features of the Manarola-Volastra-Corniglia hiking trail.

In 1997 Cinque Terre became part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site as a “cultural landscape.” It is right on the Manarola-Volastra-Corniglia hiking trail that you can breathe the famous history and the traditions that made these villages a worldwide attraction. This hiking trail, marked with the numbers 506, 586, and 587, allows you to see with your own eyes the spectacular terraces with vineyards supported by dry stone walls that stretch from the hills to the sea. Locals, to make this territory arable, began to make changes about 1000 years ago.

MANAROLA: THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED VILLAGE IN CINQUE TERRE.

Everyone has come across online, at least once, pictures of Manarola. Of course, the most fantastic thing in these villages is the colorful tower houses face fronting the sea. But in real life is even better! Caressed by the sea breeze, you can walk through the locals’ narrow streets called “carugi,” permeated by the perfume of freshly baked Focaccia.

Manarola, founded around the year 1000 by the inhabitants of Volastra, developed around the Groppo stream, which is today covered by concrete. The first documents that mention Manarola date back to 1266, when the village was under the dominion of the Genoa-dismissed Fieschi family. A few years later, it was conquered by the Genoa Republic under the guidance of Oberto Doria, who destroyed the castle together with the walls.

HOW TO REACH THE TRAIL

The easiest way to get to Manarola is by train. Car is not recommended because parking places are limited and very expensive. From La Spezia Centrale train station or Levanto, take the Cinque Terre Express or the treno regionale (be careful, only some trains stop in Manarola!). In high season (April-October), there’s a train every 15-20 minutes.

Leaving the Manarola train station, a tunnel will bring you to the village center. Going out from the tunnel, turn right and walk for 150 meters (490 feet). On your left side, between 2 houses, you’ll see narrow stairs going up: that’s the beginning of the hiking trail.

If you prefer walking along the seafront of Manarola to see the most photographed Cinque Terre landscape, head towards the marina, continue to the right, and get to the upper part of town. This road will rejoin the hiking trail. 

First part: Manarola Volastra (trail 506) 

The first part of the path is a steep climb on the Manarola hill, known for hosting one of Italy’s most famous nativity scenes during the Christmas holiday. It’s called Presepe Illuminato by Mario Andreoli, consisting of 300 characters made with recycled materials and more than 1000 light bulbs reflecting the winter sea.

And be careful; as you go up, you might fall in love with the landscape eternally. The slate roofs of the houses of Manarola dominate the landscape, together with the vineyards where the famous Cinque Terre Bianco DOC and Sciacchetrà wines are produced. On the right, you begin to see the coast of the Cinque Terre. After about 20 minutes of climbing, you reach the highest point of the hill, continue on the right for a slight flat stretch until you reach the junction for Volastra, and start the climb again, with less steep steps. 

This section of trail derives from an ancient mule track, used for centuries to reach the sea and then the railway with heavy loads of wine and olives. The olive tree, which, together with the vine, is the symbolic plant of the Cinque Terre rural culture, dominates the landscape in this section. It is no coincidence that the ancient Latin name of this village is Vicolus Olivastre, the town of olive trees. In about 20 minutes, you get to Volastra.

VOLASTRA: SEARCHING FOR THE PIRATES’ TREASURE

Volastra develops circularly on the top of the hill behind Manarola, permeated with a charming atmosphere of legends and history. It is a perfect stop for refreshing, refilling your water bottles, enjoy a piece of Focaccia that can be purchased in the local grocery store, with a breathtaking view. In this town, with an even older history than Manarola, you can visit the 12th-century sanctuary of Nostra Signora Della Salute, made of sandstone. 

SECOND PART: FROM VOLASTRA TO THE JUNCTION FOR CORNIGLIA (Trail 586)

Leaving the sanctuary of Nostra Signora Della Salute on the right, you start the central section of the Manarola Volastra Corniglia hiking trail. It’s a pleasant flat walk with the best view of the Cinque Terre coast

Tip: the path is very narrow and sometimes has very steep steps. It is crucial not to lose your head for the breathtaking view but be careful where you step! You cross terraces supported by dry stone walls dedicated to cultivating vines. A unique feature is the presence of the monorail, used by farmers to juggle this steep area. We leave the vineyards behind and get inside a slightly denser wood with the typical tones of Mediterranean vegetation. Walking this hiking trail, you cross (literally, because the path sometimes goes through house gardens!) the tiny village of Porciana. After about an hour of walking along this path that takes us back in time, immediately after the small inhabited center of Pianca, there is the junction for Corniglia.

THIRD PART: FROM THE JUNCTION TO CORNIGLIA (TRAIL 587)

The third and last section of the Manarola Volastra Corniglia path begins right from the junction of trails 586-587, where the descent to Corniglia starts. The small village is right at our feet among the Mediterranean vegetation, perched on a steep promontory, dominating the landscape. The way down takes about half an hour. Some stretches are paved with large flat stones, and others can have slippery steps and request some attention. Finally, the trail ends up in the upper part of Corniglia, behind the San Pietro Church, built in 1334, with a gray stone facade and a Carrara marble rose window. 

CORNIGLIA

Corniglia is the only village in Cinque Terre with no direct sea access. To reach the sea from the town, go down the 377 steps and 33 flights of the Lardarina staircase, which connects the village to the railway station and the beaches. Alternatively, a small bus runs between the center and the Corniglia station.

The upper position makes Corniglia unique and special. First, it is the less crowded village of the Cinque Terre. Its location is an avoidable stop for those who visit the area in a day. Another peculiarity of Corniglia is its fantastic view. Its position perched on the slope lets you enjoy a superb seascape. A highly recommended stop is the Belvedere Santa Maria, a panoramic terrace from which you can see the neighboring villages overlooking the sea. You can get there walking along the main carugio until the end (the central road called Via Fieschi).

The village has Roman origins, named after the gens Cornelia; wine vases were found in Pompeii on which the roman town’s name, “Cornelia,” is carved. In the middle ages, in line with the surrounding villages, it passed under the dominion of the counts of Lavagna, then under the Carpena di Luni lords, and then ended up under the protectorate of Genoa.

Tips:

It is highly recommended to have with you:

– sneakers or better trekking shoes 

the hiking trail is steep and narrow, with steep stretches on slopes

– a water flask 

in each village, you will find  a drinkable water fountain to refill and avoid plastic waste

 a cap, especially in summer

– windbreaker in autumn and winter 

 sunscreen, long stretches in the sun

– a snack to prevent sugar drops and rebalance the supply of mineral salts

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