I hiked one of the most beautiful trails in Italy — here’s what I wish I had known going in

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The best photo opportunities are from the trail. Here’s a look at Corniglia on the way to Vernazza.
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Emma Rechenberg

There’s no debating it. The Cinque Terre in Italy is breathtaking.

What you won’t see when you’re looking at the picturesque photos on social media is the out-of-breath photographer behind the lens.

Trust me, there’s no way after hours of hiking that anyone would look anywhere near as glamorous as the views ahead.

The experience, however, was absolutely worth the hike. In total, I hiked almost 4.5 miles of uphill terrain and my phone tracked 119 flights climbed. Needless to say, I got my steps in for the day.

This was a few weeks ago. It was my first time exploring the cliff towns along Italy’s west coast. After learning the proper pronunciation (think cheenkwah-terrah) and discovering it’s English translation (“cinque”-five, “terre”-lands), I was ready to take to the trail.

I’ll admit – my previous hiking experience was limited. And while I can’t compare hiking the Cinque Terre with hiking Everest, I did learn a few tips that should benefit visitors of all experience levels.


1. Make sure the trails are open

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Look closely and you’ll see the blocked off trails to visitors. Plan your destinations accordingly.
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Emma Rechenberg

When I was there, two of the five legs were closed for preservation efforts. The 14th-century fishing towns are being overrun with tourists, as it’s becoming a popular cruise destination. Check in with thewebsiteto see which trails will be open for your trip


2. Purchase a hiking pass

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Seeing the town in the distance is a huge hiking motivator.
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Emma Rechenberg

Whether you take the red or blue trail, you’ll need a pass tohike from town to town. For 16 euros, you can pick up an all-day hiking pass at any of the town visitor centers. People are stationed throughout the trails to check the pass, so be sureto keep it with you. Don’t forget to validate it at one of the nearby machines.


3. Know where you are going

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These colorful homes are stunning to photograph.
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Emma Rechenberg

With two of the trail legs closed, I was determined to see the three open towns. The question was- what order should I see them? I figured it was best to consult an expert, so Iturned toRick Steves to see where I should begin.

He recommendsstarting at thesouthern-most town and working your way north. I worked my way up the coast, starting at Corniglia, then to Vernazza, and, finally, to Monterosso.


4. Wear proper footwear and clothing

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Get the perfect view from above right outside of Vernazza.
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Emma Rechenberg

On the trail you’ll see people of all hiking experience levels. Some will wear hiking shoes and climb the steps with hiking sticks. Some will mistakenly wear their beach flip-flops. One thing is certain – wear tennis shoes. There are lots of stray rocks on the trail and many steps to climb. Supportive footwear will benefit you greatly for the miles you will cover.

For clothing, wear something comfortable and lightweight. Breathable athletic wear is ideal for taking on the heat and the terrain. Sunglasses and hats are highly recommended to block the bright Italian sun.


5. Bring sunscreen — for half of your body

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I ended up with an awkward half-body sunburn. Don’t make the same mistake as I did.
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Emma Rechenberg

It may sound strange, but you only need to apply sunscreen to half of your body if you plan on hiking one way. While you cling to the cliffs, the other half should remain in the shade for the majority of the hike. Of course, if you’re prone to burning easily, lather away.


6. Take a waterproof backpack

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The harbor at Vernazza.
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Emma Rechenberg

It’s hot. You’re sweating, and you would prefer to not fall off the cliffs.A waterproof backpack is your best bet to remain balanced and not have sweat ruin whatever you’re taking with you. Pack lots of water, and drink up the days before, to avoid dehydration.


7. Bring your camera

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Take a break from the hike to capture this beautiful scenery.
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Emma Rechenberg

The views are fantastic. You’ll want something to capture the beauty of the colorful houses and aqua water. Slip it into your backpack and your social-media followers will appreciate the views asmuch as you do.


8. Explore the towns

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Vernazza is a popular tourist town.
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Emma Rechenberg

Keep in mind, the majority of people you see are tourists.These towns average less than 1,000 permanent residents. Make the most of the colorful shops and restaurants, or take a quick boat ride out to sea toview the town from a new perspective.


9. Treat yourself — and ask for extra napkins

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Views of the town in Corniglia.
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Emma Rechenberg

I had a refreshing treat in every town I visited and I would highly recommend it to hikers. Thesweet gelato and refreshing lemon granita will inspire you to continue to the next town. Be sure to ask for napkins when you’remaking your purchases. The restrooms in these towns do not provide toilet paper, so you’ll want to take something in with you.


10. Plan your departure accordingly

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Beach lovers rejoice — Monterosso has plenty of beach space to enjoy.
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Emma Rechenberg

Be honest with yourself when estimating how long it will take to travel from town to town. It took me about an hour and a half to hike each leg of the trail.Be sure you have enough time to make your departing train at the end ofthe day.


Remember — You’re in Italy, surrounded by beautiful views everywhere you look.

Even if hiking is not your style of exploring, you can always take the trains from one town to the next, and experience the stunning Cinque Terre.