Islands, Grottoes & Castles
We transfer to a fishing village and ancient fortified town located at the extreme south end of the Cinque Terre coast. Pastel colored homes line the harbor and the narrow alleyways of Portovenere. These weathered domiciles were once part of a fortified wall that survived a lively and often bloody history lasting into the middle of the 20th century.
A short boat ride takes us to the small nearby Palmeria Island & nature reserve for an easy 2 hour walk around the island that features incredible views of both Portovenere and the entire coast of the Cinque Terre. Other highlights include the unique caves and mussel farms, from which you are sure to enjoy at your welcome dinner.
On our return we tour this fortress town starting from the medieval gate connected to the city wall and extending from the castle. We examine the old homes, which in some cases still retain the facades decorated with the original arches and slate portals. At the end of the narrow street of the “Carruggio” is the Church of San Pietro, and the access to “Arapio Grotto”, where we take in the great coastal views. Then after a brief look into the Church of San Lorenzo, which houses some nice works we take the steps to the castle and down the Calata quay, for a look at the medieval houses once built for defensive purposes.
- Lodgings: 3-star along the waterfront with sea view of the port & Palmeria Island.
- Dinner: An excellent waterfront trattoria on Palmeria Island
The First Village
We start hiking from our hotel passing by Byron’s Grotto, the abandoned marble mines and the Argonese Castle to embark on one of Italy’s finest hikes. For 45 minutes/ 300 meters we slowly climb up and out of town, passing. For those that find the going too difficult we can transfer to the summit. Before ending our ascent we take time to look back and absorb the beauty of the medieval castle & church that seem to have grown from the sheer cliff in which they reside. We soon pass a rock-climbing training ground that was originally used by the ancient Navies of the region and the rare portrero marble mines.
Soon after the summit we are rewarded with a friendly path that opens up to the coastal turquoise blue waters and skirts the sheer cliffs of a unique colorful geology. Then the scent of pine and fields of wild flowers lead us to the tiny village of Campiglia offering incredible views over the Bay of La Spezia nd the ideal spot for lunch. We soon make our way to the ridge that divides the coastal area from the Vara valley. Our views look down past vineyards and fields of flowers and a deep blue sea that draws for us a lovely background. Past the gardens of squash, tomatoes and herbs we head for a pine forest along the ridge of the promontory that looks back onto all five villages of the Cinque Terre.
After we reach the peaceful hillside sanctuary, Chapel Madonna di Montenegro, we descend into Riomaggiore, the first of the five villages. To approach the first village from this isolated path is a spectacular introduction to the sense of isolation the Cinque Terre has known for centuries. After we explore Riomaggiore, a well-preserved colorful harbor village with medieval character, we board a boat back to Portovenere. From the boat proudly retrace your route in utter disbelief. Hotel: same as previous night.
- Lodgings: Same as previous night
- Dinner: Excellent Trattoria on the waterfront in the town square.
Cascading Vineyards & "Via Amore"
We re-board the boat and return to Riomaggiore for a much easier start to our day. We walk along
the romantic "Via Amore" from Riomaggiore to the second village, stunning Manarola. The path is carved along the coastal cliff where local artists have decorated the rocky walls with paintings and tokens such as the symbolic locks binding their love followed by the ceremonial toss of the key into the sea.
Today’s impressive walk inspires almost everyone to start to paint or take up photography. The bright yellow lemon trees with deep green leaves in front of the sparkling blue ocean impress even the novice. Out of Manarola we leave the crowds behind to begin the day’s first and only ascent of 30 minutes up to the tiny olive oil producing village of Volastra. (For those that feel too challenged we can take the local bus up to Volastra). We depart this tiny village for a trail that enjoys the ultimate Cinque Terre view everyone seeks to find, yet very few do. High above the sea the terraced hillsides of vineyards of the famed Sciacchetra wine producers serve as the ideal foreground to the villages hanging over the sea below. Our trail takes us through the lush valley filled with chestnut and oak groves, wild flowers & vineyards down to the third village of the Cinque Terre, Corniglia. Built on a sheer cliff above the sea we take our time wandering through the narrow alleyways of colorful houses and shops that lead to the town’s castle of 1273. Squarzafico, the Captain of the Genovese Republic, besieged the original inhabitant of the castle, Nicolao Fieschi, who had sided with King Charles of Anjou [later Nicolao was quoted as wondering why he ever sided with that King in the beginning. This is one of the many legends we examine within these stonewalls. Before leaving Corniglia, the third coastal village, we invite you to a tasting of this special wine at one of the enotecas. Afterwards we board a train for the quaint coastal town of Sestri Levante.
- Lodgings: Stunning 4-star converted castle perched above town for 3 nights.
- Dinner: A well-known restaurant with Italian elite and sports a “Godfather” ambience.
Colorful Camogli to Portofino
Out of Camogli we hike within a completely different surrounding than the previous days. One of our favorite hikes on any tour; we pass through lush gardens and olive groves to a hillside town, where the views from the church still impress the locals. We then make our way along an unusual trail that’s carved into the cliffs and leads to a tiny cove accessible only by foot or boat. Nestled here is the “Torre Andrea Doria,” a medieval lookout tower and the ancient Abbey San Fruttuoso, both can be explored before we decide on lunch.
Here you may wish to go for a swim or we boat out 15m off shore to see the “Christ of the Depths” located 18m underwater (a statue erected in memory of lost sailors and to now protect scuba divers.) In the Abbey is a replica for those unable to do such a dive or a local boat enables one to view the statue from the surface.
We then walk through the south end of the park into the famed Portofino where the yachts can be as big as the mansions that dot the hillsides before transferring into the popular resort town of Santa Margherita. Decorated stylishly with flowers, this palm-tree-lined waterfront is filled with cafes, beautiful boutiques & colorful fruit and pastry shops. Traditional "Bagni" line the beaches and the churches are filled with fascinating art collections. For those that wish to have a free day to themselves then this is the place to explore then transfer a short distance to Portofino. We always end the hike early enough to enjoy these two great towns. Dinner:
- Lodgings: same as previous night
- Dinner: Free night out. We offer plenty of options for you to explore.
The Last Two Villages
Today's itinerary takes us back into the Cinque Terre and is very flexible where we can do a full or half day of walking which allows you ample time within these last 2 villages as well as get in a good walk. We start the day by returning by train to Corniglia where we had ended our third days hike and either walk the easy 1-1/2 hours at a leisurely pace on a trail of very little elevation gain to reach the first village or for those that wish for a more enduring hike we head for the high ground far from the crowds and take in the majestic views of the coast before ascending down to each village. Either way each route is along a very lush path that commands excellent views of the sea as well as a spectacular view of incomparable Vernazza.
You’ll have more than enough time to absorb the atmosphere of Vernazza before starting on our hike to the last of the five villages, Monterosso al Mare. For those that can’t quiet get enough of Vernazza you’ll have the option of taking the train into Monterosso. Within either village there is plenty of shopping, swimming and wine tasting to be enjoyed.
- Lodgings: Same as previous night
- Dinner: Farewell dinner is at my favorite family-run seafood restaurant in Italy—sea bass baked in salt anyone?
The following is a list of train schedules for transportation to and from the tour start and end locations. Train departure times and tracks are subject to change, so verify before boarding.
From Pisa: ~1 hour
#176 Cisalpino Cinque Terre train:
Pisa Centrale--11:44-- arrival La Spezia Centrale--12:38
Trains to La Spezia from Florence: ~2.5 hrs
#3117 Firenze S. M. Novella-10:27--arr. Pisa Centrale---11:31
Change trains in Pisa for the #176 Cisalpino Cinque Terre train
Pisa Centrale--11:44--arrival La Spezia Centrale--12:38
From Genova: ~2.30 hrs. or 1.15 hr
#11345 Genova Piazza Principe--10:05--arrival La Spezia Centrale---12:37
Or faster train that arrives 35 min. early (have some lunch):
#519 Carignano Genova Piazza Principe---10:52-arr. La Spezia Centrale---12:04