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Liguria and the Piedmont, May 2018


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We are here! The good news is that we are driving an almost new BMW (first time driving one - very nice!), the bad news is that it took 1.5 hours in the airport to get it. I had booked a compact automatic with AutoEurope but when we got to Budget they only had a huge station wagon in automatic. I declined the car. I phoned AutoEurope and there were no cars with any other companies. They told me to walk to the other counters and ask. Sixth had the BMW. So I cancelled the AutoEurope reservation and booked this one for about 50% more. AutoEurope has said they will pay us the difference but we’ll see if they do.

Two hours on autostrada, many parts very winding, many tunnels, then into the chaos of Rapallo and through to Santa Margherita Ligure (SML). We were last here 30 years ago!! The hotel is nice (Hotel Laurin). I booked the cheapest room and it has a balcony and view. We walked around a bit, then had dinner in the restaurant in the hotel. Fabulous! It was a meal like I remember from our early trips. Steve’s spaghetti with oil and garlic was incredible. My trofie al pesto was very good.

We are in Italy!

Looking across the harbour to hotel with striped church above.

Hi Pauline
When driving the BMW, it may seem like there are no other roads users, but a clever feature, a little like those noise dampening headphones, makes it appear like they aren't there. ;)
Glad you've arrived safely, and already eating well
Tuesday May 8, 2018
Sunny and warm, high of 74F

Hike: Santa Margherita Ligure (SML) to San Fruttuoso from the Sunflower Guide, but in reverse.
Route: San Fruttuoso, Base 0, Prato, Olmi, Mulino del Gasetta, Gave, SML
Miles: My FitBit says 7.1 miles, the book says 5.6 miles
Time: We took over 4 hours with lots of breaks, the books says under 3 hours.

Our first breakfast standing at the bar of a cafe! We were up and about in time to get the first ferry to San Fruttuoso (10:15) so decided to do the planned hike from SML to San Fruttuoso in reverse. Ferries are cancelled if the weather turns bad and thunderstorms were forecast for the afternoon. As it turned out, they did not materialize so we would have been okay.

The ferry ride was lovely. Beautiful views of SML as we left. There was a huge cruise ship out in the sea between SML and Portofino and as we came into Portofino we could see the shuttles taking the cruise people into shore. Portofino looks the same as it did when we were last there 30 years ago (I wish we looked the same!), but it was very crowded with the people from the ship. Our ferry docked, unloaded, then continued. We could see houses on the hills around Portofino, but as we got closer to San Fruttuoso there were no more houses.

San Fruttuoso is a small cove on the western Portofino penninsula with an historic abbey, a church and a few buildings. The only access is by boat or on foot. There are a few restaurants. We stopped for coffee in daGiovanni and picked up some foccacia for lunch (we had apples and bananas with us too). It would have been nice to do the hike in the direction intended and end having lunch there, but getting onto the ferry after lunch might not have been great. Although the ferry was not crowded, the water was smooth and I did not feel seasick.

It was a 45 minute climb up through woods to Base 0, the first point on the trail. It was hot and sunny by the time we started at 11:30, so the shade was welcome. The climb up was about 300meters, not bad. Steep in bits, steps in some places, and a bit rooty, but manageable.

From Base 0 the trail keeps at the high level, about 3/4 of the way up the hill. It was a lovely walk. Different from Path of the Gods in the Amalfi Coast - mostly in the trees with glimpses to the sea. There were beautiful smells from the mediterranean plants and the sun felt warmer than it does in England.
We passed people coming towards us and there seemed to be just as many going in our direction. Not crowded at all, but you saw people from time to time.

We got a bit lost at the 2 hour mark because reading a hike backwards doesn't always work and the trail markings took us a different way than described in the book. In the end we walked out of our way a bit but got lovely views down to Portofino. We found our way and did a long descent through woods, finally coming to the outskirts of SML and walking by farms, olive groves, grape vines, houses.

We stopped a few times to rest and have something to eat. We drank lots of waters. There were taps along the way to refill your bottles. The trail was well marked and was only confusing because we were trying to match it with the Sunflower Guide description. You follow two red dots to the Portofino trail, which is a red square, then switch to a cross to SML. There were also many hiking signs, but none of them showed SML. Instead we followed the route from the book and towards the end found signs for SML.

We were both exhausted from the hike - there was a lot of climbing and it was hot - so we hung out in the hotel room until dinner time, then went out for an amazing dinner. I had pasta with pesto, potato and green bean, Steve had sea bass. This restaurant was not as casual and more expensive, but the food was even better than last night. Restaurant: Pado, at the western end of the harbor.

We walked around town after dinner and there are even more restaurants and cafes on the other side of our hotel (turn left out the door instead of right). We should have realized that because we drove in that way, but we ended up with good restaurants both nights.

SML is a beautiful town. Walking around tonight as it was starting to get dark around 9pm, with the boats in the harbor, the still water, the lights of houses and towns on the hills, the people out walking, the restaurants full of people eating and talking, the row of tall buildings along the waterfront road, each different in their own way with colorful shutters and different heights, made me remember that Italy can be the best place on earth.

On our hotels website (Hotel Laurin): Air conditioning operating from May 15th to October 15th

It is May 8. Just when I said Italy was the best place on earth, I remember that things can drive me crazy. It is hot, our room is hot, if I open the door I get cigarette smoke from the people next door on their terrace. Okay, I am opening it.
We had a similar experience with AutoEurope a couple of years ago at the train station in Bordeaux. Tried to give us a 7 passenger van! The only other car they had was a BMW which was more than the compact car we had reserved. Don’t now remember what the local rental agency was. Contacted AutoEurope and they said take car we will reimburse the difference. They did.
Beautiful photos! Makes me want to go to Liguria! :)

If you weren't so busy with work, you could be here now! I keep comparing it to the Amalfi Coast and will put my thoughts together on this after our time here. It is beautiful, but perhaps a notch below the Amalfi Coast in beauty. But it is much more manageable with trains and autostrada and more roads. Also less expensive.
Wednesday May 9, 2018

We woke to overcast skies and very heavy rain. Weren't we lucky with our weather yesterday? The rain stopped by 10am and we saw that the local ferries were running. We had breakfast at the hotel since it was raining and then did a walk around town after it stopped. SML is a beautiful and elegant town. There are many more shops and restaurants off the main road along the sea. There is a villa and large public gardens just behind the coast road. The town extends back in the valley and up on the hillsides but is not that large (pop around 5,000 I think). It does merge with Rapello which is larger, but didn't feel too large.

We liked our hotel, Hotel Laurin. The staff were very friendly and helpful, the room was nice and not small, great shower, no noise from the street when the shutters are closed, good breakfast room, great location. The only downside was smokers out on the balconies, but what do you expect. And the no airconditioning before May 15, but we usually don't use A/C anyway and the room cooled down last night finally.

We took the Beemer out of the garage and drove on the autostrada to Levanto - about an hour south. It rained a bit on the drive and the steep hills had some fog on them. It is beautiful here. It is about a 10 minute drive from the autostrada, down the hillside and into Levanto.

Everything looked pretty much as it did when we were last here 15 years ago. On that trip we spent two weeks in the apartment in Hotel Villa Margherita. On an earlier visit for just a few nights we stayed in the hotel. This time when I contacted them to book, they put us into a new apartment, Apartment Gabry, which they have just renovated.

I used to do the website for Villa Margherita and Levanto Rentals for Federico who owns both. I did them for a few years but had to quit when SlowTrav took over my working life. Federico took over the hotel from his parents and now runs both businesses with his sister Paola.

We arrived about 12:30, checked in at the hotel and Paola took us to the apartment which is a few blocks away. It comes with parking - down a narrow ramp to the basement where we squeezed into a space. Steve will definately have to do the parking driving here! Elevator up to the apartment. It is lovely. About 800ft2, high ceilings, nice kitchen, sitting room with french doors to a narrow balcony and a large window - very bright, two bedrooms, one bathroom. The building was built in the 1970s and the family has always rented it out long term, but now they have turned it into a vacation rental.

We wore ourselves out with that hike yesterday so spent the afternoon reading and napping. We were told the apartment did not have wifi but Federico must have realized how much I like to upload photos so they had a temporary wifi thing installed for us and they are putting fiber in soon, so the internet will be great here.

After our nap we went up to Villa Margherita to visit with Federico (he was out when we checked in earlier). It was great to see him again. He knows all the hiking and biking trails here so we got some good advice for our time here.

Then we walked down to the seaside - lovely. We got our groceries from a very nice small shop just two blocks from the apartment. Dinner at home tonight. We are not used to all this eating out in restaurants!

The apartment is quiet and we get a lovely breeze being so high up. Our view is of the town and hills. We don't see the sea, but it is only two blocks away.

Tomorrow we are meeting Jim and Diana for lunch!
Some photos from yesterday - our dinner out. And from this morning in SML - view from the balcony after the rain. Our walk around town.

Photos from today in Levanto. The view from our apartment and the boardwalk and seaside.

Thanks for sharing all of the pictures. We were in Levanto, Rapallo and SML in 2008. It still looks beautiful.
Pauline, enjoying your review. Fond memories of Villa Margherita and Federico from our very first trip to Italy a number of years ago. We stayed there based on the reviews on Slow Travel. How can it be so long ago??? It seems like yesterday.
Pauline, enjoying your review. Fond memories of Villa Margherita and Federico from our very first trip to Italy a number of years ago. We stayed there based on the reviews on Slow Travel. How can it be so long ago??? It seems like yesterday.

Yes! It was 15 years ago that we were here. Federico is a bit older, Villa Margherita looks better (gardens are more lush), Levanto looks pretty much the same. We had lunch today at a place we liked from 15 years ago (La Loggia) and it was still good.
We spent the morning walking around town, orienting ourselves. We had coffee and cornetto at Barolino where we used to go on our last visit (15 years ago). I am not sure if the same man is behind the bar - it might be, or a relative. I have a photo and will ask him tomorrow. Excellent coffee!! The tourist office had one person working and a line of people waiting, so we did not wait to ask our questions. We found a good bakery got some bread for "second breakfast". We tried another cafe and the coffee was very bitter. I don't use sugar, but you would need to for that coffee.

We met @Jim Zurer and his wife Diana for lunch. As Jim says, this is the second of our annual meetings. Last year we organized our trips to overlap in Spoleto for a few days, this year we overlap in Liguria. They are staying in Lerici and we will see them again on Saturday. We had a nice lunch at La Loggia, which we remembered from our last trip. I had pasta with artichoke and tomato, Steve had swordfish, Diana had ravioli, Jim had spaghetti with clams. All was very good. We walked along the sea for a bit and then they headed off to Lerici.

We found the Conad supermarket (small) and picked up a few essentials that we could not get in the good local shop. I bought a soup mix of faro, lentils and split peas (organic - bio) that I made for dinner tonight. I added a couple of carrots and it made a very good soup. We stopped at another shop that was open in the afternoon and got porcini in oil. That will make another dinner.

Last night we were both jolted away in the middle of the night by thunder. It rained too. In the morning it was warm but overcast. By the time we met Jim and Diana the skies had cleared but while we were sitting outside having lunch, there were a few sprinkles - only for a minute - then sun.

In the later afternoon we did an easy walk on the flat trail that follows an old train line from Levanto to Bonassola (30min walk) to Framura (70min walk from Levanto). We did the easy 30 mins to Bonassola, explored the small town, had our first gelato, then walked back. Bonassola is very nice. Several restaurants and cafes, people out and about but not crowded, nice long beach. We will do this walk again and go to Framura. The train also goes to these towns. The walk is paved and divided into lanes for pedestrians and bicycles. At least half of the walk between Levanto and Bonassola is through tunnels, which are nice and cool.

It wasn't that hot today. Temps around 70F or mid 60s, depending which weather app I use. The forecast is either for sunny warm days, or rain, again depending on the app.

A few photos of the apartment we rented, Apartment Gabry from Levanto Rentals.

Big change - today we had foccacia at the cafe instead of a cornetto! I saw people eating that yesterday and thought we would like salty rather than sweet in the morning.

Walk: Levanto to Monterosso al Mare (northern most Cinque Terre town).
Time: The sign said 2 1/2 hours but it took us over 3 hours. We were going slow.
Ascent/descent: maybe 400m

After stopping for coffee in town we headed for the trail to Monterosso at the crack of noon. Many other people were starting as well. The walk was lovely, but not easy. We last did this walk 15 years ago and I remember it as being easy. Shows what 15 years can do.

We climbed out of town on small roads, then the trail turned to dirt and stone, always climbing steadily up. At one point we walked along a road but we were soon back on the trail. There were a lot of other people walking in our direction, and passing us, but not so many that it felt crowded. There were a few families with children.

When you finally reach the top after an hour, you realize there is a valley between you and the real top, so down and then up and up again. Parts were through beautiful shaded woods, other parts were nice dirt trail, but some were very rocky where you had to be careful walking. Finally we were up high with a sharp dropoff on our right to the sea. After a good two hours walking we reached Punta Mesco, the high point where you can see the whole Cinque Terre.

We had lunch up there and talked to a very entertaining German man who has done a lot of hiking in Europe. Good hiking in Poland, he says.

The day was overcast, with the sun breaking through from time to time. It was not too hot which is good for hiking. Thunderstorms were forecast for later in the afternoon but they did not happen. By the time we were back in Levanto, instead of rain, the sun came out.

The downhill to Monterosso took about an hour, maybe less, and was steep. There were some steps but they were not easy to navigate because they were frequently too high. Even me with my long legs had trouble. One older woman (by which I mean older than me) fell forward coming down the steep steps. She wasn't hurt but was shaken. We had our walking poles with us, but only one each. We could have used two. She was using a stick (not a walking stick, a stick she picked up). I think people don't always understand how difficult a walk like this can be, especially if you are no longer young. Young people were literally running by, but Steve and I took it carefully.

I was tired by the time we reached Monterosso (so was Steve). There were a lot of people in the town. We walked to the train station, could not figure out where to get tickets, our train pulled into the station, we decided to wait for the next one in 30 minutes, figured out where to get tickets (up on the platforms there are machines and a ticket office), got our tickets, did not have time to stamp them, and got on that train! Its doors closed right after we jumped on. It did not matter that we had not stamped the tickets because no one looked at them. €8 for the two of us.

Three hours to walk from Levanto to Monterosso, 3 minutes on the train back to Levanto.

A stream of people of all ages, most wearing walking backpacks, got off at Levanto and flowed into town. What a lovely way to end the walk - with all the other walkers.

Tonight we went out for pizza to Taverna Garibaldi run by Tommy Devoto who we knew from our earlier trip. He and his wife have had two sons since we were last there and have been making pizzas all that time. I had the vegetarian and Steve the marinara. Very good. The crust was wonderful.

I know I will sleep well tonight.

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If you forget to stamp the ticket, it's a good idea to write date/time on them, which should be acceptable to the guard.

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