The Italian Job – Day 4

To Levanto, and back to my happy place

With no train strikes to worry about, and no schedule to follow, the alarm was set for a little later this morning, and en-route to the train station we breakfasted in a cafe near our apartment – it is in beautiful square, with beautiful buildings, trees and gardens, but I don’t think it is the most “up-market” of neighbourhoods. This is no problem – it meant we had a breakfast of coffee, pastries and focaccia, listening to the lingo of the locals as they chatted, all for only a handful of euros.

We had decided to go beyond the Cinque Terre today to the next town along the coast – Levanto. Travel to this town was included on our Cinque Terre passes, so it made sense to explore what some call the “sixth” village of the Cinque Terre. Arriving under a beautiful “big” blue sky (the weather today has been perfect – wall to wall sunshine, not too hot if you were in the sun, but still pleasantly warm in the shade) we headed out from the train station and ambled through a very pretty town to the sea front.

I liked Levanto – its streets were wide and clean, punctuated with pretty buildings- another stripy church:

…and a quirky castle (although this is in private ownership, and you couldn’t enter it, only admire its strength and stature from outside)

We bought some focaccia sandwiches and a bottle of beer to share, sat on a sunny bench looking out to sea and ate a leisurely lunch before just continuing to sit and chill, enjoying the view, the calm and each other company.

Then we jumped back on the train for a 5 minute hop back to Monterosso were we spent most of the rest of the afternoon, including some more time for me back in the sea.

So far on our trip, we had seen four of the five of the Cinque Terre, so we thought we should complete the set, and took another 5 minute train ride to Corniglia. Here, when you get of the train you need to ascend a fairly hefty hill to the village – some hardy souls set off walking upwards. We, sensibly, waited at the station for ten minutes for the shuttle bus (free – as part of our Cinque Terre ticket) to whisk us up the steep, steep hill, passing all those walkers that had set off long before we had. We disembarked to find another pretty village, often with commanding views over the seascape, but with no access to the sea. It did seem like the sole purpose of the village was to satisfy the tourists (of which we were two of many) and so, whilst pretty and authentic, does begin to feel a little manufactured and contrived. Without the tourists, I don’t think it would survive as a community, but because of the tourists, it is losing some of its authenticity. I am a little conflicted, and I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that of the five towns, for both of us it was our least favourite. However, I do feel a little churlish writing that when I am reminded that it afforded wonderful views like this:

Then back on the train again (the trains are magnificent – quick, clean, spacious and regular) to Riomaggiore where we bought some fried vegetables to have for tea, along with even more focaccia, eaten on another street bench.

As we waited for our train back to La Spezia, I asked Becky to rank the towns. She placed Cornigia in fifth place and Monterosso first, but could make up her mind on the others. For me, my running order is:

  1. Monterosso – biggest, and able to handle the hordes of visitors
  2. Vernazza – although this may be skewed as we arrived in the calm of (relatively) early morning, before the masses
  3. Riomaggiore – good street food, and pretty buildings
  4. Manarola – I had hoped for better swimming spots from here, plus was getting overcrowded when we arrived mid to late afternoon
  5. Corniglia – great views, but in danger of becoming a bit of a (beautiful) parody

Not part of the five, but Levanto would have been number one or two for me had it been in the list, and had I included all seven towns – the 5 Cinque Terre plus Levanto and Le Spazia, for me La Spazia would have placed third, (after Monterosso and Levanto battling for first and second) but Becky vehemently disagrees with me on this. And that’s fine, we should all have our own opinion and happily agree to disagree. The “Cinque Terre” is a beautiful collection of five towns, I loved visiting them all, hiking between two, and swimming from one, but I do like a bit of space, and some of them are too small to absorb the multitude of daily visitors (and I fully acknowledge that we were part of that problem to.)

Tomorrow we say “Arrivederci” to the Italian Riviera. and head in land to Florence and wider Tuscany.