Italy – Cinque Terre

Monday 31st August: Per La Strada.

We chose to start our Italian holiday in the beautiful coastal town of Camogli. In Italy it is famous for being the town in the Italian version of  “As I was Going To St Ives“.

Per la stada che porta a Camogli..

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There was something of St Ives about the town with its beautiful sweep of beach and golden light. Clusters of high multi-coloured houses, little craft shops and lovely places at the seafront for a meal or a coffee. Mainly Italians on holiday. It was easy to get to from Genoa by train. Our hotel was the Cenobia Dei Dogi.

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Wonderful aperitivi with a sunset view.

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Tuesday 1st September: Strada Pericolosa

The basis of this holiday was the Sunflower book of Walks in this area. The aim was to hike during the day and come back in time to find the best aperitivi in the town.

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ItalySept2015__JML1024There are a good choice of walks in the Portofino area and Camogli is an excellent base for them. We pulled on our boots to do the classic hike of the area, Camogli to San Fruttuoso via the hill town of San Rocco. There are two ways of doing this hike. Either along the upper path in the hills or around the cliffs themselves, passing lookout posts, the batteries. We had read that this latter version involved some narrow, high and dangerous paths so opted for the upper route.It was scenic enough and we met with several surprises, not least someone’s tame boar who greeted startled walkers in a path through an orchard.

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San Fruttuoso is only accessible by boat or on foot. The beach looked lovely but was crowded and we did not have time to linger as the last few boats were sailing soon after our arrival. It was a chance to rest our feet after 6 hours and see the views from the sea on the way back to Camogli. We enjoyed an Aperitivi sitting by the port. The way to choose is to wander around and see what free nibbles each place is offering before making your choice. The busier they are the better.

Dinner in La Bossa on the main street. You have to pull your chair in to let the bus squeeze past behind you but the food is good and the service very friendly.

Wednesday 2nd Sept: Percorso Breve

A shorter walk around Santa Margherita Ligure. A busier town than Camogli with a fish market that only opens in the afternoons. We went to the Villa Durazzo which is a little like a National Trust property but not kept to the same standards of the UK.  Still worth a look in the house and the gardens.

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We had a leisurely lunch in La Camogliese restaurant on the Camogli sea front. It is very easy to over-order in Liguria as the starters and pastas are huge portions.

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Thursday 3rd September: Sentiero di Montagna

Another walk from the book, this time to Rapello by train then up in the cable car to the Sanctuary of Montallegro. This church is dedicated to local sailors and some have put up pictures or souvenirs from near-death experiences. We particularly enjoyed seeing the very old stuffed crocodile.

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Then it was across the mountain paths and then down to Zoagli where we were able to get a train back to Camogli. Zoagli is not a pretty village but does have cafes good for coffees and gelato. There is a walk along the foot of the cliffs near the station.

Excellent aperitivi at Il Barcollo. This gets our vote for Camogli’s best as it ticks the boxes for people-watching, seafront, sunset view and superior nibbles.

Dinner at the next-door Ostaia da o Sigu. Again, the best spot in the town for dinner and really lovely food. Fantastic black pasta with chilli and prawns.

Friday 4th September: Percorso Costoso

We took the train to Santa Margherita and then walked to Portofino along the coast. It is supposed to be a short and easy walk but there are some uphill sections. We bought a picnic lunch from a marvellous deli near the station in Santa Margherita and had our choice of scenic spots along the way. Beautiful aqua blue sea and one huge superyacht.

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Portofino is more like a film set than a real town. Very busy with tourists. We went up above the harbour to see Castello Brown, as featured in the book and film Enchanted April.ItalySept2015__JML1150

We took a boat trip back. These are reasonably frequent but only when the weather is good and it is advisable to queue early to get a seat. The cost was usually around 9 euro each, quite a lot more than train tickets which were around 2 euro per person

Aperitivi at Il Barcollo then dinner in the little backstreet steakhouse, Braceria Le Gole di Cerbero. This was David’s favourite. Real man food and a great little find with cool jazz and a modern dining room which made up for a lack of sea views.

Saturday 5th September: Percorso Costiero

By the coast via the train again. We moved on to the Miramare Hotel in Sestri Levante.  We found Sestri to be bigger and livelier than Camogli. Two distinct parts with an old town and the two bays. Our hotel was on the smaller bay, the breathtaking  Baia del Silenzio. Just what you dream of when you think about the Italian Riveria.

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We stretched our walking legs with a hike up the steps in the old town to the Vis a Vis hotel. The bar on the rooftop has a spectacular sunset views and the aperitivi were well presented.  Down for our dinner at the beachside in the Miramare Hotel. Not the best food we had eaten but unbeatable for a romantic location.

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Sunday 6th September: Il Percorso di Muli

The big walk of Sestri Levante in our book was based on old mule paths taken by the slate miners many years ago. This was a tough one which was meant to be about 5 hours but took us 9 in total. There was a tough early climb to the top of Monte Castello where we had panoramic views. Then across a high ridge and taking some overgrown paths which Una very much doubted were our intended ones. Having GPS was especially useful on this walk.

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It was a varied walk with farms of olive trees and the ruins of the old houses. Eventually we made it to the village of St Giulia where a local family was having a three generational family lunch like an advert for pasta sauce. We just had coffees and admired their platefuls.

ItalySept2015__JML1320We descended down to Sestri via the ruined church of Santa Anna which dates back to Roman times.

Dinner was in Balin Cuisine where the chef chatted to everyone and his home-made slow-cooked ragu was the best I had ever tasted.

Monday 7th Sept: Percorso Lento

Today’s walk was the Punta Manara, the hill above Sestri. We were supposed to start this by bus but had no clue how to get tickets as they cannot be bought at the stop or from the driver. We eventually got to our start point and the hike up to the lighthouse point. This was a hike where we saw more people than we had on any previous ones which were usually just us and a great variety of lizards.

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It was well sign-posted and had boards with information on the local vegetation and wildlife. Fine for a morning and that gave us an afternoon to finally enjoy the private beach of the Miramare hotel.

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We had our aperitvi in Grand Hotel Dei Castelli. A spooky spot but very atmospheric and a great place to catch the sunset. Don’t think we would have liked to stay in it though.

La Cantina da Polpo in the old town. Dinner was one of the best so far – real local flavours and content. The best ever tiramisu. Member of the slow food movement.

Tuesday 8th September: Sentiero Turistico

We were shocked when we arrived in Vernazza.  We could not move for tourists. Day trippers, tour groups from cruise ships and coaches.  It was such a contrast after Camogli and Sestri where we had felt we were in the real Italy. We were self catering here and all we could see were shops selling soaps and Papa Francisco teatowels. We were so glad we had brought nice fresh pasta and steaks from Sestri.

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We stopped at the Il Pirate de Cinque Terre cafe for lunch and to await the agent who was to let us in to Le Terrazze Apartments. Il Pirate became our living and dining room for much of our stay in Vernazza. The Sicilian twin owners are real characters and the food is basic but excellent.

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Le Terrazze apartments are modern and in a good position but have not been well maintained and the customer service was in the hands of pretty hopeless local youths.  The place was fine for our needs and what we paid but caveat emptor.

Wednesday 9th  September: Sentiero de Santuario

We opted to do the walks from our book which take you away from the National Park official paths. These generally involved the chain of churches or Sanctuaries high above the tourist towns of the Cinque Terre. We took the train to Monterossa and then walked back to Vernazza via one of these high wooded trails. We found that we liked Vernazza best at 730am when the bakery opened or at 7pm when the daytrippers had gone.ItalySept2015__JML1425

As we descended to Vernazza we stopped at the cemetery which has good views of the town and then down to chat at Il Pirates and a well deserved beer.

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We went up to the view point along the coastal path to watch the sunset which is seen on all the postcards of Vernazza.

Thursday 10th  September: Sentiero Cinque Terre

Change of plan after seeing the crowds on the official coastal walk. We hopped on the train to Manarola one of the more picturesque towns.

ItalySept2015__JML1586Having spent some time wandering around taking pictures from the park and cemetery we decided to walk the 581 path over the hill to Riomaggiore.

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This was probably the roughest path we’ve taken and we weren’t in our walking boots for a change. Straight up crude steps and then straight down for over an hour in the peak of the heat. We watched the grapes being placed on the mini monorails ready to make the sweet Sciacchetrà wine.

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We stopped for lunch over looking the harbour in Riomaggiore before booking a boat home and seeing more of the convoluted side streets and stacked up coloured houses.

Nice views of several of the towns from the sea.

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We ate a simple dinner in Il Pirates and chatted to our neighbours, exchanging travellers’ tales.

Friday 11th September: Facile Percorso

After a very disturbed night due to a thunder storm we decided to cancel our long walk and go back to bed only to be woken later by the men changing the air conditioning unit. We got up, had a really nice breakfast at the pirates before heading off to explore Levanto which we managed in a morning.

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A pleasant lunch near the sea front then back to Monterossa to walk around the old town. The place was heaving and the station packed so we decided to take the boat back for the last time.

ItalySept2015__JML1933Aperitivo was our own prosecco on the top of the tower over-looking the town. Best spot for pictures of the roof tops. Then dinner at  Ristorante Il Gambero Rosso in the harbour square which was good value and excellent quality.

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Saturday 12th September: Ultima Passeggiata

A 14 km walk from near La Spezia across the hills back to the coast, number 7 in the walks book. We failed to find the bus mentioned in the guide so opted for a 15 euro taxi to San Benedetto. The walk was “moderate” mostly tree covered so cooler than previous adventures.

ItalySept2015__JML1966ItalySept2015__JML2011We passed through some wonderful towns including the medieval town of Quaratica which was all twisting passages and arches with odd shaped houses piled on top.

One of the farmers offered us some grapes which he’d just laboriously manhandled down from the terraces. Very kind.

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Sadly not a single coffee stop the entire trip. We went wrong near the ridge as the instructions were a little opaque but managed to rejoin the walk later. Even dropping a little embellishments at the end still put us over 16km and 8 hours with a total of 1.5km of ascents and descents.

When we got back to Vernazza we found out that a train strike was planned for Sunday and also an amber flood alert had been issued meaning that you should stay out of the ground floor of buildings and boats were also being pulled from the harbour – a bad sign. These storms are taken very seriously given the horrors of a few years ago. Given the options, we booked a hotel room in Genoa and grabbed a takeaway dinner in the Pirates (very helpful team) before hitting the station for a late train. Which it was. Everyone was late so we missed our connection and stayed on the slow train. The hotel Grand Savoia was a welcome sight.

Sunday 13th September: Caruggi di Genova

Our impressions of Genoa were not very favourable. The streets were dirty, there was graffiti everywhere and it spoilt the grand historic buildings. Our hotel, The Grand Savoia was perfectly ok but venturing out felt more than a little unsafe.

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ItalySept2015__JML1846The most off-putting aspect were the dark carrugi, the alleyways leading off the main streets where shadowy figures loitered. David did not take his camera and we did not see any tourists with cameras during our time there. We did try and see what we could and enjoyed the Aquarium and the excellent Galata Museo del Mare.

The Eataly shop/restaurant at the portside was also great with plenty of interesting foodie souvenirs. We just could not get to like the rest of Genoa and found the atmosphere somewhat menacing. Like Naples. Dinner at Soul kitchen. Really nice carefully and thoughtfully prepared food and music of my youth in the background. Una thought he had borrowed my iPod. A great meal among locals. Interestingly, they keep their door locked “ to keep our clients safe “.

Monday 14th September: Passeggiata in città

We both feel that Genova saw it’s best days a couple of centuries ago and has been fading ever since. It has the feel of run down decay even in the streets which are meant to be the main tourist routes.

We walked past the grand palaces on Via Garibaldi (closed on Mondays) and then took the Righi funicular to the city walls. We started on a trail but didn’t have the right footwear so opted to walk back down to the town along an old cobbled stairway endlessly downhill. Lots of interesting views across the city and buildings that were once grand but now faded beyond run down. We walked back to the start of the funicular to have a coffee at an old historic cafe. There are several of these in the town and our Liguria guidebook was a useful resource.

Dinner at Soho restaurant which was forgettable.  Aperitivi beforehand at Caffè Letterario delle Erbe was much better.

Tuesday 15th September: Finale !

Coming home today after what feels like a very long break over a number of towns and cities. My overall impression is of a friendly people, beautiful scenery and excellent food. The region seems mostly ignored by the British though it is very easy to get to.

We recommend the following books:

  1. http://www.bradtguides.com/liguria.html This book is a mine of interesting stories from a writer with a real passion for the region. Excellent resource for Genoa.
  2. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Steves-Snapshot-Italys-Cinque-Terre/dp/159880684X We saw countless Americans clutching this book. It was great when we were at the planning stages.
  3. http://ciaolunigiana.com/sunflower-walking-guide-cinque-terre-levante-riviera/ Our walking companion and the book that made the holiday for us.