Hidden Trails of Cinque Terre and the Italian Riviera

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14635A, International


  • Hike the Mediterranean coastline, enjoying stunning vistas of crystal blue sea
  • Explore Italian villages of historic and cultural distinction
  • Enjoy local Mediterranean cuisine in intimate restaurants


  • Lodging with private bath in charming, family-owned small hotels
  • All on-trip transportation and all meals except one dinner
  • All tips, gratuities, and entrance fees


DatesJun 3–14, 2014
Price$3,675 (13–16)
$4,395 (or fewer)
StaffAllan Wolfe
Photo: M&G Expeditions

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Along the Mediterranean Sea where the French Alps yield to the Italian Apennines, there is a rugged coastline that is at once majestic and mystical, ancient and renowned, known as the Italian Riviera.  Here one finds Portofino and the centuries-old Cinque Terre, the Five Lands.  On our outing we will explore this region of natural beauty, millennia-old culture, mountains, beaches, and historic towns. Extending from Pisa, Italy in the south to Menton, France in the west, the area is known locally as the Ligurian Riviera after the Italian province in which it resides.

We will visit some of the famous attractions, such as the Leaning Tower in the Piazza Dei Miracoli, but will concentrate our attention on less familiar hiking trails with wide-angle vistas of mountains, the Mediterranean Sea, farms, vineyards, olive orchards, and scenic villages.  Our local guide, raised in the area, will show us trails most visitors never see.  After our hikes, we will dine on authentic local cuisine in family-owned restaurants before we settle into our lodging in small, charming hotels.

Along the way, we will visit many UNESCO World Heritage sites and national parks.  Our evening conversation will recap our hikes, but we will also discuss the environmental issues of preservation in the face of rampant eco- and not-so-eco tourism; the demographic shift from rural areas to large urban centers and the impact of the resulting neglect on the human geography; the damage caused by devastating floods of 2011 and how wise stewardship might have reduced the impact; and how the Slow Food movement is creating opportunities for a new generation of environmentally aware food producers.


The leaders will make every reasonable effort to follow the following itinerary. Please keep in mind that weather or other conditions beyond our control may cause us to modify our plans to ensure the safety and well-being of the group.

Day 1: (Pisa and Porto Venere) This morning our group will meet at the Pisa airport, then head to the center of the city to visit the spectacular Piazza dei Miracoli and world-famous Leaning Tower of Pisa.  We then head toward Porto Venere and our hotel, where we will stay for the next two nights. Today’s highlights include Porto Venere’s charming little church, its colorful houses and ancient buildings (all part of a powerful fortress that defended Genoa against its rival Pisa).  You will have time to stroll and enjoy an incredible seascape from “Lord Byron’s window,” the poet's favorite viewpoint in Porto Venere.

Day 2: (Palmaria Island) This morning a short boat ride brings us to the biggest island of the region, Palmaria, just seaward of Porto Venere. Palmaria, together with the Cinque Terre and Porto Venere, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has been inhabited for at least 5,000 years. We will explore the island's vast Mediterranean vegetation (more than 500 species) and enjoy breathtaking views over Porto Venere and a very impressive 19th-century military fortification. Hiking time: around 3.5 hours, with 900 feet elevation gain.

Day 3: (Walk to the Cinque Terre) This morning we leave Porto Venere and hike to Cinque Terre ("the Five Lands") where five beautiful villages hang over the sea, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. Built in the twelfth century, today they are all part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Our hike begins with a steep but rewarding climb up the mountain behind Porto Venere to an expansive viewpoint over the Gulf of Poets.  Later, our driver will take us to our hotel in Monterosso. We will have a pleasant stroll in the old town or a relaxing swim. Hiking time: around 3 hours, with 1,200 feet elevation gain.

Day 4: (Hiking in the Cinque Terre) Today we will enjoy an unforgettable hike out of the village of Riomaggiore. The incredible landscape gives the impression we are suspended between the sky and the sea. Our hike will take us to some of the most impressive viewpoints of the Cinque Terre. Hiking time: 3.5 hours, with an elevation gain of 1,500 feet.

Day 5: (Monterosso to Levanto) Our day begins with a hike uphill to Punta Mesco, the promontory that is the natural divide between the Five Lands and the village of Levanto. We will have lunch here and visit a lovely small beach for a swim in the ocean before heading to our final destination for today, the seaside village of Camogli. En route, we will sample delicious homemade food at a tiny village in the mountains. We will stay the next three nights in Camogli. Hiking time: around 3.5 hours total, with an elevation gain of about 1,000 feet.

Day 6: (Portofino to San Fruttuoso) Portofino’s breathtaking views and wonderful location transformed this poor fishing village into a tourist destination, which became the center of the summer’s Dolce Vita and attracted countless writers, poets, painters and movie stars.  We will start hiking from the center of the village to the beautiful San Fruttuoso Abbey, built in the eleventh century. From San Fruttuoso, we will take a boat back to Camogli to enjoy more of this beautiful coast. Hiking time: 3.5 hours, with an elevation gain of 1,000 feet.

Day 7: (San Rocco to Punta Chiappa) Starting from the beautiful church of San Rocco di Camogli, 900 feet above Camogli, we have a pleasant, mostly downhill hike to the promontory of Punta Chiappa that ends with an unforgettable lunch at a tiny seafood restaurant, reachable only by foot or boat. In the afternoon we will make our way back to Camogli by boat and have some relaxation time before our last night in Camogli. Hiking time: 2 hours, with modest elevation gain.

Day 8: (Capo Manara) Starting from beautiful Sestri Levante, a village between the Baia del Silenzio (Bay of Silence) and Baia delle Favole (Bay of Fairy Tales), we will hike through a protected area on a trail sided by beautiful Aleppo Pines and Cork Oaks, a perfect combination with the expansive sea views. We will reach Punta Manara and return to Sestri Levante for a great lunch of local specialties. After lunch we will have time to enjoy the lively city center or spend some time on the beach before we head for Varigotti and our hotel for the next two nights. Hiking time: 2.5 hours, with an elevation gain of 750 feet.

Day 9: (Varigotti to Noli walk) Today’s hike will follow an ancient mule road that connected the villages of Varigotti and Noli before the building of the modern route. We will walk past the Saraceni beach and the lovely church of San Lorenzo to reach Cape Noli. We will pass typical Mediterranean vegetation, including rosemary and arbutus plants, and get to the dramatic cape viewpoint over vertical Triassic limestone cliffs. We will end our walk in Noli, which is part of the “Most Beautiful Villages in Italy” network. We will have lunch there and then explore this very special medieval town, still surrounded by its ancient walls. Hiking time: 2 hours, with an elevation gain of about 1,000 feet.

Day 10: (Bussana Vecchia, Balzi Rossi and Menton, France) Our hike this morning takes us to the ancient village of Bussana Vecchia. This medieval village was probably founded by the Romans and inhabited until 1887, when it was hit by a violent earthquake. At the end of the 1950s, artists from all over the world established a vital community based on ideals of common property and inspirational creativity. After a pleasant lunch in Bussana Vecchia, we reach the French border and stop at the important Balzi Rossi archaeological museum and visit the burial caves with Cro-Magnon remains. We will then reach our lodge in the French city of Menton. Hiking time: 2.5 hours, with an elevation gain of 600 feet.

Day 11: (Gorbio to Sainte Agnes) We will start our hike from the picturesque village of Gorbio, where we visit the old elm tree in the main square. Planted in 1713, the elders used to meet under its branches and deliberate about important common decisions. We will hike to beautiful Sainte Agnes, enjoying some of the best views of the Menton Coast.  We’ll also see the impressive St-Agnes Maginot fortification, which was built in 1932 to protect the borders from Italian invasions, before reaching the center of the village, one of the most beautiful in France. After lunch we will head back to Menton for a relaxing afternoon and the last night of our outing. Hiking time: 1.5 hours, with an elevation gain of about 1,200 feet.

Day 12: (Transfer to Nice) After breakfast, our tour will end with goodbyes and a transfer to the airport in Nice, France.



Getting There

Our group will meet at the Pisa airport at 8:30 a.m. on June 3rd.  Flights to Pisa are available through many European hubs, including Rome, Paris, Munich, and London.  You will need to arrive in Pisa at least one day before the 3rd.  Be sure to account for the extra day involved in the overnight flight from the U.S.  The outing will end on June 14th in Menton, France with a transfer to the airport in Nice, France.  Flights back to the U.S. from the airport in Nice will typically involve a flight through a European hub. Please keep in mind that if you want to take advantage of the group transportation to the airport, you should plan for a departure time after 11 a.m.

Accommodations and Food

We will be staying in comfortable and charming family-owned hotels.  The lodging is double-occupancy with private bathrooms. Singles will be assigned a roommate. If you prefer a single room, you may elect to pay a single supplement charge depending on availability.

We will have breakfast in our hotels, lunches along our hiking route, and dinner in restaurants. The emphasis will be on fresh, local produce, regional wines and cheeses, and locally made pesto and cheese focaccia.  All meals are included except one dinner, when each participant will be able to choose among various recommended restaurants.

Trip Difficulty

This is a moderate trip with occasional steep, rocky trail segments. Daily hikes will be 3-6 miles, with elevation changes up to 1,500 feet. As with all hiking outings, the better shape you are in, the more you will enjoy it.

Equipment and Clothing

A detailed equipment list will be sent to each participant. Plan to bring hiking boots, spring/summer clothes for hiking, a day pack with water bottle, first-aid kit, sun protection, and rain gear.  Walking sticks are recommended for the steep trails.


To enjoy the country and its people to the fullest, you will want to acquaint yourself with the history, religion, and culture of Italy and especially the Italian Riviera. The leader will provide a more extensive list of suggested reading and movies to each trip member in pre-trip correspondence.


  • Walters, Jess, Beautiful Ruins.
  • Nabham, Gary Paul, Songbirds, Truffles, and Wolves,  An American Naturalist in Italy.
  • Calcagno, Anne, Travelers' Tales of Italy.
  • Richards, Charles, The New Italians.


Partly in response to eco-tourism, Italy has created many parks and nature reserves to protect some at-risk ecological communities.  It has more UNESCO World Heritage sites than any other country.  Off the Italian coastline, the Gulf of Genoa is part of the Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean Marine Mammals (including cetaceans such as whales, dolphins and porpoises).  The conservation theme of our outing will address sustainability in the context of regional issues and the interplay among post-industrial culture, tourism and environmental protection.



Allan Wolfe has led more than a dozen Sierra Club outings in four countries and prefers day hiking to backpacking. He is trained as a Wilderness First Responder and loves to engage with earnest people on topics of mutual interest. His career includes positions in radio astronomy, software development, and solar energy. When he is not traveling, he works on sustainability and renewable energy projects on his Texas ranch.

Associate Leader:

Linda Cooper

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