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

Cinque TerreEmma RechenbergThe best photo opportunities are from the trail. Here’s a look at Corniglia on the way to Vernazza.

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, anyone would look anywhere near as glamourous as the views ahead.

The experience, however, was absolutely worth the hike. In total, I hiked almost 4.5 miles of uphill terain 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

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

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 the website to see which trails will be open for your trip

2. Purchase a hiking pass

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

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

3. Know where you are going

Emma Rechenberg
These colourful homes are stunning to photograph.

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 I turned to Rick Steves to see where I should begin. He recommends starting at the southern most town and working your way North. I worked my way up the coast, starting at Corniglia, then to Vernazza, and finally, Monterosso.

4. Wear proper footwear and clothing

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

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. Breathe-able 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

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

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

Emma Rechenberg
The harbour at Vernazza.

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

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

The views are fantastic. You'll want something to capture the beauty of the colourful houses and aqua water. Slip it into your backpack and you're social media followers will appreciate the views as much as you do.

8. Explore the towns

Emma Rechenberg
Vernazza is a popular tourist town.

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 colourful shops and restaurants, or take a quick boat ride out to sea to view the town from a new perspective.

9. Treat yourself -- and ask for extra napkins

Emma Rechenberg
Views of the town in Corniglia.

I had a refreshing treat in every town I visited and I would highly recommend it to hikers. The sweet gelato and refreshing lemon granita will inspire you to continue to the next town. Be sure to ask for napkins when you're making 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

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

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 of the 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.

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