This summer, we spent ten days in Liguria or the so-called Italian Riviera. It's a beautiful place where both the sea and the mountains are never too far. You see a view like this again and again, yet you are awed every single time.
Our first attempt to discover this part of the world was as rocky as most of the region’s beaches. Two years ago, we made a short trip there to attend the wedding of our good friends, Giada and Tommy. Having jet lag in the sweltering heat, we almost got one passport stolen only to leave both of them behind in a hotel safe. We got delayed with a train, then caught the wrong bus, thus missed another train and the actual wedding ceremony.
The adrenaline ran even higher with late-night dancing and strong cocktails, so when we managed to some time to wind out, there were only a couple of afternoons left. As we lay on the beaches, felt the stones pressing in our back and the seafood settling in our belly, we decided that another trip to this part was needed. At the very least, we owed ourselves a visit to the famous Cinque Terre.
As promised, we went back this year to see the place and our friends properly. From two newlywed couples, we have become new parents and soon-to-be parents. Yet, we didn’t just chill on the beach. If one thing you need to know about travelling Liguria, it is that you must go hiking. The mountain and its vegetation are lush, and the views often include the mighty sea. So pack your hiking shoes with your bikinis and check out these highlights of the Italian Riviera.
Cinque Terre - Too beautiful to miss
Of course, you have to visit Cinque Terre, but how you go about seeing the five villages makes all the difference. You can take a boat tour, hop on and off the train, take buses or you can hike. If you have the time, see all five villages. If you don't, pick a favourite in the mix depending on the season.
We went to three villages: Riomaggiore, Manarola and Corniglia. They all have those famous quaint and colourful houses edging mountain cliffs. It was a sunny day so the centres were all very busy. If you really look though, you would find quiet corners and empty rocks to sit and chill.
It’s lovely in the villages but I would highly recommend hiking the track connecting one village to another. It is not always possible as the tracks go along the seafront and are prone to weather damages. Ask at the tourist centre for a map and a possible route at the time of travelling.
As we have a baby in a sling and another one in “the oven” (aka my belly), we settled for a short hike of two hours and took a bus halfway up the mountain. It wasn’t easy for me, who was 7-months pregnant at the time, or Tommy, who carried a 7+ kg baby, but I am so glad that we did that walk. The views from the hike were something that would take your breath away. In the beginning, the track was one-person wide, with a sheer drop toward the sea on one side and scrawny grape vines on the other. Those vines didn’t look much like one could hold on to them to stop falling, so I placed my feet very carefully. Gradually, the path opened up, and at one point, it’s almost like in a fairy tale with tree branches meeting in the middle and giving away precious shadow.
And finally, when you get to the next village, you will enjoy an aperitif a lot more.
Camogli - A perfect base to explore Liguria
We picked Camogli as our base so we could move up and down the coast, seeing different fishing villages along the way. It turned out to be our favourite place.
Our friend told us that back in the day, Camogli used to rival Genova and its shipping industry. Now, all the big ships are built and sold in Genova and Camogli steps back to be a peaceful village with more and more tourists.
It has a long promenade which you can walk along with your gelato and feel like being in a postcard. Restaurants are quite expensive in Camogli but we had some very great dining experiences. Besides, you can grab delicious fried battered seafood at a couple of takeaways. It's fresh from the sea and as tasty as food can be. There is also a local market on the main “high street.” We bought amazing sun-dried tomatoes there at a very reasonable price. Ian also picked up a bottle of wine for 2 euros, and it was rather decent, even better than some wine we had in restaurants during the trip.
From Camogli, you have several hiking options, varying from one-hour hikes to half-a-day trips. We did a few, including a climb up San Rocco viewpoint. It was a misty day so we didn’t see much on the top but the climb was very special as it took us through an isolated path. We encountered many rare breeds of domestic animals, like this friendly sheep.
Portofino National Park
We saw a part of the national park on our hike from Saint Margherita to Portofino. Though the super posh village of Portofino was the destination, we found the mean a lot more interesting. We hiked through dense forest, overlooking the sea and all the massive villas supposedly belonged to some celebrities. The national park is on the mountain edging the sea, and there are several hikes starting from Camogli, San Fruttuoso and of course Portofino.
I would avoid Portofino town centre altogether. The main square is full of overpriced restaurants and gelaterias. There are many designer shops which are neither charming nor affordable. After reading about the place, we went there with a plan to spend the afternoon but ended up with taking the first ferry boat back to Saint Margherita, which was way nicer a town. The ferry boat is, of course, expensive.
There is apparently a sleepy side of the Italian Riviera, lying west of Genoa. If you have the time and want to avoid the crowd, perhaps head there and let me know what it is like.