One of the best things about long term travel is the freedom of itinerary and not booking too far ahead in time. At the last minute we decided to hire a car in Trieste and the extent of our planning was to return it ten days later in Milan. So one night while stuck in the rain somewhere in the Dolomites, playing around on maps.me we noticed that the Cinque Terre was not too far away from our current location! We could easily combine the impressive Italian mountains with the the equally sublime coast!
So from northern Italy we drove towards the Ligurian region and the Italian Riveria, the area of land where you can find the historic city of Genoa, the ritzy town of Portofino as well as the UNESCO World Heritage five villages hugging the cliffs – the Cinque Terre.
We drove through the Reggio Emilia region, past the stunning Italian countryside and the city of Modena, renowned the world over for the delicious salad accompaniment, Balsamic Vinegar! Past vineyards and old farmhouses to our stop for the night, the village of Cervarezza and the Camp le Fonti campsite. The stormy mountain weather had tailgated us like Valentino Rossi and it poured rain that night as we endured a rough nights sleep in our little green tent.
We survived the night, but unfortunately the grey skies followed us along the autostrada to the town of La Spezia, which is the southern gateway to the Cinque Terre. Now as we hadn’t planned even coming here and we were without wifi when camping, we were informed by the tourist office that you can’t drive to the Cinque Terre (well technically you can but it’s not advised). You take the train from La Spezia or you drive to the unofficial ‘sixth town’ Levanto, and take the train from there. You can also combine hiking with train travel – which is what we wanted to do – but because of the wet weather, the council closes the delicate Sentiero Azzuro cliffside trails. Always check with the tourist office about the conditions and any closures.
Hmm, what to do? It was still pouring rain so a trip to the Cinque Terre was possible but no hiking was likely. We decided to drive up to Levanto which is only half an hour on the autostrada from La Spezia as there are more camping options there.
The skies began to clear as we made our heart pounding decent into this gorgeous seaside village, having to share the narrow road with huge tourist buses on their way out. Luckily Tom has nerves of steel!
An hour or two was spent walking the promenade along the beach, watching a wave of surfers in wetsuits enjoying the swell that the storm had brought to the protected bay. We looked at the fishing boats moored on the sand, walked around the rugged cliff terrace and then decided to keep heading north to find somewhere to camp for the night. We would come back to the Cinque Terre another trip, when the weather was dry and we could trek between villages.
That afternoon we were rewarded a beautiful sunset as we drove along the mountain ridge to the small village of Piazza, which was home to many campsites in close proximity to one another. We chose the cheapest one for the night and hungrily ate our Italian grocery store dinner of bread, Gorgonzola and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses, salami and ham and of course red wine!
The next day was magical! The weather was fine and the drive is what motoring in Italy is all about! The road from Piazza took in seaside villages with pastel confectionary coloured buildings and sweeping views over the bluest of blue seas.
We got to experience driving through the strada delle galleria, a one way cliffside tunnel that works on timed traffic signals!
We had a pit stop at Riva Trigoso for morning tea – an espresso and chocolate pastry to die for – and Tom had a dip in the warm waters of the Mediterranean. Further on along local roads that hug the coast, we found ourselves in Zoagli for lunch in the scenic square, people watching and soaking in the gorgeous Italian sunshine. A walk along the pebbly beach under the distinctive railroad arches and along the cliffs was the perfect antidote to the last few days of grey skies and rainy weather.
Our final destination for the day was the town of Bogliasco. What a delight! After setting up our tent at Genova Est campground high on the hills, we walked down the ancient stairs to the seaside for a swim and sundowners.
We treated ourselves to another bottle of wine – a bargain at €1.50 from the supermarket and a pizza from the local pizzeria for €7 and sat on a bench with breathtaking views, pinching ourselves that we were in one of the most scenic places in Italy, traveling on the shortest shoestring of a budget!
In the morning, another clear day greeted us as we drove towards Genoa, 11km north. A morning walk around the headland and breakfast in the Parchi de Nervi parklands was the perfect end to our time on the Ligurian Coast.