Thursday, June 23, 2016

Visiting the Italian Riviera Liguria and Cinque Terre

The Harbour of Portofino
The Italian Riviera, also known as the Liguria, is one of those ridiculously beautiful places, you have to wonder why it isn't on more lists of places to visit in Italy. Not that we mind. While busy with tourists, both local and international, it never felt like a tourist trap like much of Italy's more popular tourist destinations.

It is here where you will find the Cinque Terre national park, a UNESCO world heritage site. The entire park is only accessible via railway, boats or trails. You could drive within a mile or so distance to a couple of villages, but Cinque Terre is best enjoyed walking. The five villages of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggioreare are connected via four well marked trails (though two are currently closed due to the devastating floods of 2011), and is via these trails that I recommend you enjoy the national park. There are also other off the beaten path hiking trails around Cinque Terre.
Have a cocktail in Manarola
These five villages are also connected via a railway network to the rest of Liguria. We made our base in Rapallo, about one hour away, putting us somewhere in between the port city of Genoa (where you would normally fly in, or take the train down from Milan) and Cinque Terre. On the east side you have La Spezia which connects the Liguria region to Florence and the rest of Italy. You could also take the ferry to most of the villages (bar Corniglia) from Rapallo, La Spezia and Portovenere. Rapallo is also a good base to stay if you want to visit Portofino, the glamorous harbour village favoured by celebrities on honeymoons.

We went in early June, just after the bank holiday and before the school holidays. The weather was sunny and warm (about 22 C average), though it also got very wet in the evenings due to the geographically nature of the region. It wasn't too busy and most holidaymakers were Italians with the odd Americans, Germans and Brits. Incidentally, the path of Cinque Terre are ticketed and you can also include the usage of unlimited train rides between the villages within your ticket.
Vernazza of Cinque Terre
While Cinque Terre itself isn't too expensive to eat out (expect to budget about 20-40 euros per person for food). we found Portofino to be ridiculous pricey (we ate at a restaurant famous for the 30 euros prawns - that's five euros per prawn!). This is hardly surprising considering Portofino felt more like Mayfair than a fishing village it once was - thought still incredibly photogenic and well worth visiting.

The Italian riviera might not be as well known as the French riviera and Amalfi coast, but if you want to enjoy good food (pesto and seafood), amazing coastal towns that appeals to both backpackers and celebrities, I would recommend making this region of Italy a top priority to visit in the near future. In fact, we are already planning a return visit for next year.

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