It was time to head for the ocean again having spent some weeks exploring the wonderful hilltop towns of inland Italy.
We headed for Levanto – a small beachside village on the Italian Riviera just along the coast from the famous and very popular tourist destination Cinque Terre – five charming coastal villages that are inaccessible to vehicles.
Our first glimpse of the ocean was from the road on the very high ridge behind Levanto. We slowly meandered down the steep hillside in a series of hairpin bends, through stands of pines and olive groves and past quaint little villages perched on the rugged slopes.
We found a place to park the van for the night near the station in Levanto but were shocked at the price – 36 Euros for 24 hrs!
The following day we went on a fabulous bike ride through three kilometres of abandoned railway tunnels. Every now and again the tunnels opened out to reveal a tiny sparkling cove or some rocky cliffs being pummelled by foamy waves.
Our ride ended at a sweet little village called Bonassola. There was meant to be another 2.5 kilometres of tunnels left to ride to another village called Framura. Unfortunately, there were barriers up and “No Entry” signs at the entrance to the tunnels.
In Bonassola we found a better place to park (free overnight!) just outside the tunnel from Levanto so as soon as we arrived at the van we hitched the bikes on and drove back to Bonassola.
It was so lovely being parked right near the sea – so close that we could hear the waves breaking on the shore as we lay in bed.
An aborted trip to La Spezia on the other side of the Cinque Terre villages took us on a road high up on the steep hill above the five coastal villages. The views were absolutely stunning.
We stopped off at the ancient sanctuary of Liguria Nostra Signora di Soviore which overlooks the Cinque Terre village of Monterosso.
The sanctuary which has been in existence since the thirteenth century is surrounded by vast centuries-old zen oaks.
In 1438 it was equipped as a hospital for pilgrims suffering from the Black Death.Nowadays it is a favourite place to stay for the serious hikers who ply the many hillside trails of this area. The small Church was very peaceful and charming.
Back in Levanto we enquired at the station about the railway that runs from Levanto to La Spezia and which connects each Cinque Terre village to the next. We found out that due to maintenance issues, the only section of the coastal walking trail that was open was between Monterosso and Vernazza which is said to be the hardest of the five trails between the Cinque Terre villages.
While not a long walk (4.7 kilometres) the climb was extremely steep and included around 700 stairs!
The trail took us through market gardens and small vineyards, pretty woods and over babbling brooks while at all times there were splendid views of the crystal clear ocean.
After what seemed hours of climbing (but was actually only just over one hour) we started to walk down the other side of the hill and began to catch enticing glimpses of the gorgeous village of Vernazza.
The walk was rather marred by the huge amount of tourists doing the same thing as us – a great many of them walking the track the opposite way. As the path was very narrow in places this meant numerous stops to let people pass.
Despite the crowded path, the walk was well worth the effort for the fabulous views along the entire length of the trail.
After a very welcome pasta lunch and a pleasant wander round Vernazza, we hopped on the Cinque Terre train to the next village of Riomaggiore, a delightful picture-perfect fishing village with typical brightly painted houses clinging to the hillside.
Tired of battling the hordes of tourists we left the final two villages for another day and took the train back to Levanto where we had left our bikes.
It was lovely to cycle through the peace and calm of the railway tunnels back to the very pretty but quiet haven of Bonassola where we had a lovely meal in a restaurant overlooking the ocean.