Cinque Terre is one of the most popular places in Italy and once you see the delightful colorful seaside villages you can understand why girls on Instagram would sell their left kidneys to get here. Wow I started off dark with this one, huh? Cinque Terre attracts mobs of tourists and if you want to escape the gauntlet of selfie-sticks and insta-star wannabes, one option is to visit an equally beautiful and surprisingly uncrowded seaside town called Portovenere. I only found out about this place right before my trip and am so glad I made time to see it. One of the best ways to visit this region is to take advantage of all the hiking trails in the Cinque Terre National Park. I will share in what may be called
idiot-proof annoyingly meticulous detail everything you need to know about hiking to Portovenere.
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Table of Contents
I started in Biassa, a village between Riomaggiore and La Spezia. This is where my hostel (Ostello Tramonti) was. This takes 3 1/2 to 4 hours. Hiking to Portovenere is possible from many different starting points. Some crazy ass hikers will do the entire Cinque Terre hike from Levanto to Portovenere. This is a 40 km route and takes at least 9 hours. I will outline two options below (and not the 9 hour option).
You can start the hike in Riomaggiore (the southernmost of the 5 villages). This is called walk 6151 and will take roughly 6 hours. To do this one, start from the Riomaggiore station and follow the pedestrian tunnel into the village center. Walk up Via Colombo through a car park to the small roundabout. Look for the beginning of path 3 to Telegrafo. Follow the path to pass a wooden cross. Continue up a steep path to reach a main road. Cross the road and continue up the steps still on path 3. The climb is now more gradual and eventually levels to reach the Santuario della Madonna di Montenero.
Continue to take path 3/3a from behind the sanctuary in the direction of Telegrafo. The narrow path climbs to reach a junction. Ignore this right turn and continue ahead to reach another junction. Turn right here on path 3. Follow this as it contours across the hillside taking care as in some places there are steep drops off the path. The route passes two derelict stone houses, a chapel and a further house before bearing left uphill into woodland following path 3 to Telegrafo. The rocky trail continues uphill with red and white waymarks to reach the park information office in Telegrafo which is also a small bar. Eventually, you will join path 1 (This is the “high path” the one that connects Levanto all the way north with Portovenere in the south) to continue to Portovenere. (more details later)
If you want to start in Biassa, there is a public bus from Riomaggiore to Biassa. Just check the schedule because it’s not very frequent. From Biassa you basically walk towards the woods to the east of the village and you will see signs. Anyone in the village can point you in the right direction. You will have the choice of road or a wooded path. Take the woods for a nicer walk. You will see steps leading upwards away from the road.
The first 40 minutes is steady uphill, but not horribly steep. I only huffed a little. After that, it is mostly flat with rocky ups and downs near the end. Remember to follow the red and white markers with the symbols AV5T. It isn’t too challenging to stay on course at the beginning but eventually, there are choices. Ugh, choices.
Read More: Hiking Cinque Terre and Where to Eat After
At the point where you see a fork in the road and no signs that make sense, do take a minute and drink some water and be annoyed. Let yourself have a long exasperated sigh and then walk towards this church (Chiesa Sant’Antonia) picture below. Right after it, you will see signs! Oh, precious signs.
If you go the wrong way here, you could end up at the beach on the coast pretty far from Portovenere and lose a couple hours walking time. If that happens just go for a swim and hitchhike a ride with the next boat that goes by. No thanks! There happens to be a picnic area and a small cafe behind this church. I stocked up on water here because you know me. The one who never plans properly and often runs out of water on hikes. Such a role model.
After the church and along the way you see these little fitness stations. As if you want to exercise MORE when you are hiking! I found this one especially amusing. What is this particular movement for exactly?
After the church, you will be in dense woods that run parallel to a road. You can take either the path in the woods, or the road. The woods are more scenic but sometimes too dense. There are many tiny trails in the woods that seem to run in essentially the same direction. It can get confusing but ultimately if you stay parallel to the road you will be fine.
At times there will only be road but the trail takes you into the woods again eventually. You will see some pretty views to your left. I have no idea what this village is but I was excited to see it.
Eventually, you come to the little village of Campiglia which is about halfway. Yay!
I love seeing the water because I can get a sense geographically of where I am. I also liked passing through the village and seeing some signs of life. Hiking alone for hours can get kind of weird.
Campiglia is an opportunity to get refreshments. You will pass a church and a little outdoor restaurant with picnic tables and a bright blue fence. There are some pretty views from the church. You have to walk through the patio fo the restaurant to find the trail again. Maybe there is a better way but I couldn’t find it!
This is how the “trail” is. More like a bunch of rocks, then a trail. Rocks going straight up a hill on the edge of a cliff with the ocean below. Pretty, but scary.
Finally, I could see it that the end was near. I used a photo shoot as an excuse to stop and breathe. I just propped my camera on a rock and set the timer. (I had managed to break my tripod on this hike and later tried to glue it back together and got super glue all over my new skirt…have you ever tried to get super glue out of dry clean only fabric? And if you are wondering where the heck I found super glue in Italy I went to one of the Tabacchi shops and asked for super colla. You’re welcome.)
Yes, yes, YES! Getting close! Hallelujah. I won’t die alone up here. (Just letting you into the crazy thoughts I tend to have)
After that little peek of the island through the trees, eventually I had this panoramic view:
Getting a bit further I saw the church and fortress at a closer distance. I was so excited to see the beautiful view in addition to being at the end of my hike. However, I couldn’t figure out the way because the ground to the left looked more like a path then what was straight in front of me. Why does life have to be so hard????? Finally, I noticed the red and white trail marker on a rock on the ground.
Can you find it in the middle of this shot? It ain’t easy, right? Jeez why they gotta make it so hard for us city folk?
Now that all that pesky getting lost stuff is out of the way, let’s concentrate on the gorgeous view of the Church of San Pietro. Ok, now we gotta get some pasta in my belly.
Be aware, most restaurants close at either 2:30 or 3:00. Italy don’t play with tourists eating whenever the hell they want! If you are a horrible planner like me and arrive sweaty and ready to eat your body weight in gnocchi, don’t arrive at 2:45 and be forced to cry to a waiter in order to be fed! Not that I did that or anything…
To return to Cinque Terre, you can take the ferry to either La Spezia or Riomaggiore or any of the other villages except Corniglia. If you stayed in Biassa like me, either of these two villages will work and from there you can take the bus (or in my case, the free shuttle from Riomaggiore).
You don’t need anything special except the will to live. Just kidding. You need basic stuff. Backpack, water, snacks, sunblock and a hat (even though it’s mostly in the shade). Decent trekking shoes would be nice. The rocky parts can be slippery. Definitely no flip-flops. I did it with Chucks but I did fall and twist my ankle so factor that in.
A good GPS or phone with a map app that works well doesn’t hurt! Don’t count on seeing other people to ask for directions along the way. I saw one other person the entire time. Even in Portovenere I was shocked by how few tourists were there. In July!
Hiking to Portovenere is really beautiful and I highly recommend it. I hope my diligent details weren’t too obnoxious but I couldn’t live with myself if you got lost and got stuck in a charming Italian village the rest of your life. Oh wait…
If you want to visit Portovenere without hiking there, I won’t judge you. Check out this post from YogaWineTravel. She also lists many ideas of things to do there.
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Have you been to Cinque Terre? What was your favorite thing to do?
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