Sometimes the best holidays are the ones where the details come together at the last minute. This is a case in point. Until I started avidly reading travel blogs I have to confess my ignorance about Liguria and the Cinque Terre. My attention was caught by other people’s stunning photos and reviews of this place – I didn’t see a bad one – so on our last minute Pisa trip when I suddenly realised the Cinque Terre was not so far from Pisa it went straight on the agenda.
How was this most gorgeous stretch of Italian coastline and its five wonderfully picturesque little hamlets not on my radar? Hidden in tiny coves along the craggy coast these places are delightful in themselves, but add to to that surrounding scenery packed with olive groves, vineyards and woods and you have perfection. Top that with dramatic and harsh cliffs, silvery blue seas and waves crashing on the black rocks and it is better than perfection. It was only relatively recently that they built a road to connect the five hamlets to each other (and the rest of the country).
So perfect there’s got to be a drawback right? Well there is – the whole place is packed to the rafters with tourists – definitely not a place to visit in high summer, unless you like (even bigger) crowds. We didn’t encounter any other British tourists, but there are so many German and American people here, sometimes you forget where you are. Rick Steves guidebooks seemed to be a prominent feature – is this his doing? Despite the tourists though and I know this sounds hard to believe, but the hamlets really do remain unspoilt – there are no luxury shops, 5 star hotels or gourmet restaurants. Instead it’s full of casual little places serving the most delicious local cuisine.
The highlight of visiting for us was actually getting there. We hiked part of the trail that links the hamlets – a super scenic walk through vineyards with prickly pears, palms and olives everywhere, steps and steep climbs and views to die for. Train was our main method of transport – by necessity rather than design – this is the least scenic way as it mostly involves tunnels. However rough seas meant the ferry was out of action for 2 of our 3 days and thanks to landslides some parts of the hiking trails were shut.
Son loved our time here too – the hike and the vast amount of steps to climb on an hourly (never mind daily basis) did not come without moaning and groaning, but we’re used to that and he slept exceptionally well every night! He loved the food, they have gelato here to die for and he actually did appreciate the views (now and then). We were careful to balance time on the trails with time on the beach to keep all members of the family happy. There is something to be said as well for the combination of sea and mountains on the trails – exhilarating and exciting, it means a walk with a difference which although hard going at times was not without fun for our youngest family member. He was fascinated with the foliage and sights along the way, amassed a collection of “interesting” stones and proved to have quite an indepth understanding of olive harvesting – discovered during a random conversation through an olive grove. Sometimes the beauty of a hike like this – your 10 year old will actually have a lengthy conversation about random subjects you never knew he knew about.
The scenery is heart stopping, the whole place bursts with colour and sunshine and it is almost unbelievable how much beauty is jam packed into this one little part of Italy. Tourist trap or not we absolutely loved it – one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. This is a destination I would return to again willingly.