Walking Cinque Terre's Sanctuaries Way

Walking Cinque Terre’s Sanctuaries Way

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The Sanctuary Way (La Via dei Santuari or alternatively, La Strada dei Santuari) is an appealing 12km walk in the hills behind the 5 villages of Cinque Terre. This route commences from upper Monterosso and leading to Riomaggiore. If you are looking for an easier walk try our guide to walking Cinque Terre’s Blue Trail.

Each village in the Cinque Terre, has its own sanctuary, which holds great significance and devotion for the local inhabitants. These sanctuaries can be reached by carriage roads, with the exception of Riomaggiore, which can be accessed via two paths. One path, shorter in length, starts from the SP370, also known as the “Litoranea.” The other path begins from Riomaggiore itself. Both routes meander through vineyards and the Mediterranean scrub, offering stunning panoramic views of the entire gulf. While the walks can be physically demanding, they do not require specialized equipment or mountaineering training. It is worth noting that during the respective feast days, the faithful embark on processions from their villages to reach the sanctuaries. The routes are marked with white-red signs, providing guidance to visitors.

Some trails will be closed for maintenance, it is advisable to check on the National Park website before setting out.

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Monterosso to Nostra Signora di Soviore

Sanctuary Of Nostra Signora Di Soviore, Cinque Terre
CC BY-SA 3.0 / jim walton

A good starting point is the centre of Monterosso.  To get to the Sanctuary of Nostra Signora di Soviore, you can take the minibus from Monterosso al Mare or walk up the trail. 

The walk to the Sanctuary is 2.5 kilometers loan and typically takes about an hour and a half to complete the walk. The trail is along the 509 path (formerly known as path number 9). The first stretch runs along main street of Monterosso the Via Roma.  It then joins an old stairway that climbs up the ridge among cultivated terraces and lemon and olive groves. A small tabernacle with a wrought iron cross can be spotted just before the trail meets the paved road, reminding that this path was traditionally used on Good Friday for the procession of the Stations of the Cross. Only a few other tabernacles of the Stations have survived.

The Sanctuary of Nostra Signora di Soviore is a remarkable church encompassed by ancient holm oak trees. Its first documented mention dates back to 1244 AD, although it likely existed long before that time.

The Legend of Sanctuary of Nostra Signora di Soviore: The church is associated with an intriguing legend intertwined with the 7th-century invasion of the Barbarian Longobards. As the Longobards approached from the north, the inhabitants of Monterosso fled their town, taking their most treasured possessions with them. Some of the villagers sought refuge in the valley below the current site of the sanctuary. In an effort to safeguard a wooden sculpture depicting the Madonna and Child, they buried it in the ground. For reasons not explained in the legend, they ultimately left it there. More than a century later, a local priest happened to pass by that very spot at dawn while out hunting. To his astonishment, he witnessed a white dove fluttering up from nearby ruins before disappearing. Intrigued, he returned the following day with a group of laborers. As they excavated the area, they made a miraculous discovery—the sculpture remained remarkably preserved despite the passing of decades. 

The construction of the first church dates to this period, making it the oldest Marian sanctuary in Liguria. In time, the devotion to the Madonna increased so much that eventually the present sanctuary was built over the 8th century church. During the period of the Black Plague in 1348, the sanctuary gained significant importance as a refuge for pilgrims. It continues to serve this purpose for modern-day walkers, as it offers rooms, a hostel, and a restaurant. According to an ancient legend, during the incursions of the Longobards of Rotari, the coastal populations sought safety inland and buried a sacred wooden statue of the Madonna to protect it. A hundred years later, a priest discovered the statue following the flight of a dove. To commemorate this event, a chapel was built, representing the first historical nucleus of the current sanctuary.

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From Santuario di Nostra Signora di Soviore to Santuario di Reggio di Vernazza

Sanctuary Of Nostra Signora Di Reggio, Cinque Terre
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Francesco Adami

The walk from Sanctuary of Our Lady of Soviore to Shrine of Our Lady of Reggio starts out along the 591 (former 1) (Il Termine – S. Antonio Mesco) past the houses and along the road, from which the narrow hiking path 582 branches off to the right through the Mediterranean scrub to Madonna di Reggio. You walk over 500 meters above the cliffs and can enjoy the scents of plants and breath-taking views along the way. Before arriving at the pilgrimage church, the road descends slightly downhill.

The Sanctuary of Reggio is of great antiquity and is first documented in 1248. The entire site holds historical significance, as it is believed to have been frequented even during Roman times as an important crossroads. After the year 1000, the people who eventually established Vernazza on the coast departed from this area. Inside the church, you will find numerous votive offerings and the venerated painting of the Black Madonna with the Child Jesus.

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From Santuario di Reggio di Vernazza to Madonna San Bernardin

Santuario Di Nostra Signora Delle Grazie, Cinque Terre
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Davide Papalini

After a short rest with the wonderful view from the Balcony of Reggio, continue on hiking trail 581 towards the Sanctuary of Nostra Signora delle Grazie, also known as the Sanctuary of San Bernardino (Chiesa della Madonna di San Bernardino). After a short stretch of road, you must not miss the climb using the steps on the left on the wall. The narrow path leads to the dry walls of the vineyards and through olive and chestnut forests. In between, plots are traversed. Care should be taken to lock the gates again. They serve to protect the grapes from wild boar. In the forest, you have to cross brooks and you come through Muro Superiore and above Muro Inferiore. A stretch of path with wonderful views before reaching San Bernardino.

The sanctuary itself is relatively recent, having been built in the early 1900s on the ridge of the mountain to replace an older chapel that dates back to at least 1584. It stands at an elevation of 390 meters above Corniglia.

According to legend, in the 1700s, the inhabitants of Corniglia discovered a miraculous occurrence when they went to the sanctuary to restore a painting of the Madonna. They found the painting intact, with bright and vivid colours. The coronation ceremony of the Madonna took place in 1874. The façade of the sanctuary features a faded alternation of black and white bands, which is characteristic of Ligurian Romanesque architecture.

The festivity of the sanctuary is celebrated on September 8th with a Holy Mass and procession. Additionally, a Holy Mass is held every Saturday at 4 pm.

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From Madonna San Bernardino – Santuario di Nostra Signora della Salute

Santuario Di Nostra Signora Della Salute, Cinque Terre
CC BY-SA 3.0 / avide Papalini

From San Bernardino, you have a wonderful view of the coast. The towns of Corniglia and Manarola lie deep below the sea. From San Bernardino, the path 507 climbs steeply to Fornacchi and Cigoletta. The serpentine road has to be crossed a few times before the hiking trail continues steeply through the bushes. Once at the Cigoletta intersection, take the AV5T hiking trail (Alta Via delle Cinque Terre) towards Riomaggiore. But after a short time, you have to descend on path 506 towards Volastra. The trail goes downhill through forests directly to Volastra and the Church of Nostra Signora Della Salute.

To reach the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Health in Manarola, follow path number 586 (formerly known as 6D). The total distance is approximately 2 kilometers, and it takes about 1 hour to complete. The starting point is near the car park in Manarola, specifically at the barrier marking the beginning of the ZTL area. From there, ascend the valley while keeping to the right of the Groppo stream. At the beginning, you’ll encounter a gentle staircase, and after passing a few houses, continue on the path. At the exit, you’ll find the mule track that leads to an elevation of 268 meters, where you’ll connect with path number 6D. Take the left fork and continue towards Volastra.

Volastra is known for its excellent wine and olive cultivation, evident from its ancient Roman name “Vicus Oleaster,” meaning “place of the olive trees.” From Volastra, ascend to the left via a long staircase to reach the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Health. The sanctuary dates back to the 12th century and showcases Romanesque architecture with later Gothic elements, such as the mullioned window on the façade. The facade itself is simple yet elegant, constructed using square and regular ashlars made of local stone. The portal is crafted from sandstone. Inside, you’ll find a single nave with a vaulted ceiling, a Baroque altar, and the venerated image of the Madonna, honoured by the residents of Volastra, Riomaggiore, and Manarola. The feast day of the sanctuary is celebrated on September 8th. The sanctuary is open every day for visitors.

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Riomaggiore - Shrine of Our Lady of Montenero

Sanctuary Of Nostra Signora Di Montenero, Cinque Terre
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Groume

From Volastra you go back a little on the same path 506 to turn right at the crossroads onto path 530 towards Riomaggiore / Telegrafo. On a wide path, it goes for long distances along a contour line. At the intersection, take the SVA 593 turnoff to Madonna di Montenero.

The church’s existence dates back to 1335. On the Saturday before Pentecost, the villagers embark on a procession to the sanctuary, accompanied by the exhibition of the votive “Gli ori di Montenero.” From the square at the sanctuary, you can enjoy a panoramic view of the entire Gulf of the Cinque Terre. Near the square, a path starts that leads to Portovenere. Although it is a longer walk (approximately 2 hours), it is worth undertaking for the breathtaking views and the natural beauty along the way. Another path to reach the Shrine of Our Lady of Montenero starts from the SP370, following the tunnel and a small parking lot along the road. This path takes about 20 minutes to climb and consists mostly of steps, with the exception of the final flat section. Along the path, you will be treated to stunning views ranging from the island of Tino to Punta Mesco. The path is equipped with lighting for convenience.

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Two paths lead down from the Sanctuary of the Madonna di Montenero to Riomaggiore. You can take the steep step path (593C) or the path through the forest (593V), on the edge of which there are plaques donated by families from Riomaggiore

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