When you are in the city of Como, Italy on Lake Como don’t miss the chance to ride the funicular up to the small town of Brunate which sits 2346′ above Como. Of course, if you are in no hurry you can hike up! The funicular opened way back in 1894. The breathtaking views of the lake and the town below can’t be matched anywhere! While there walk around or hike to the Volta Lighthouse for more outstanding views.
Sitting high on the hill is the Church of Sant’ Andrea Apostolo in Piazza della Chiesa. This quaint lovely church is another nice place to stop and admire the view.
Stay tuned for more from Lake Como! Did you miss Part 1? Lago di Como
The Cinque Terre can be found between Genoa and Pisa and is an easy train ride from Milan or Florence.
The 5 towns of the Cinque Terre are a UNESCO World Heritage Site stretching for 6 miles on the Italian Riviera but are very different from their glitzy neighbors. We will explore each of the towns as we go.
Many people who plan to visit these towns also plan to hike at least part of the trail so I’ll start there. Heads up- starting April 1, 2019 a new law takes effect banning hikers from wearing flip flops or face fines. This seems like a no-brainer to me since I had on hiking boots but we saw many people who probably decided on the spur of the moment to hike part of the trail and were not prepared either with the proper footwear, water, snacks, first aid for bees, cuts, etc.
Hiking trails are available from Monterosso to Vernazza to Corniglia. Recently the path has been closed between Corniglia , Manarola and Riomaggiore due to landslides so be sure to check if they are open. You can hike in either direction.
We hopped the local train from Santa Margherita Ligure, our home base, to Monterosso al Mare and hiked to Vernazza then after lunch grabbed a ferry to Manarola. Plan your time wisely! It was insanely hot when we were there in early September and we encountered quite a few hikers. Move over and let people who are quicker pass.
Don’t overestimate how much you can accomplish in one day! The hike is strenuous, no matter your age, and exhausting!
Don’t forget to enjoy each town you do visit remembering why you went there in the first place. This section of the Italian Riviera is breathtakingly beautiful but sadly, too much tourism, like in Venice, is threatening these gorgeous places. Be considerate and don’t ruin it for the next guests. The area is fragile and needs to be preserved for us all to enjoy. Goes without saying in my book!!!!
Make sure when buying your tickets for ferries or hiking that you are paying for the right thing. We were sold hiking tickets in Monterosso but after hiking about 15 minutes up a steep hill we were told at a checkpoint that we had the wrong tickets- more money and too late to turn back!
Be prepared as things run slowly here! Our train back was well over an hour late unlike the Trenitalia trains that run all over Italy. The local trains are not as prompt where the Trenitalia trains are very prompt!!! Don’t be late! No one will wait for you! Buy your tickets in advance is great advice!!
Your choices are limited for staying in one of the 5 towns for the most part so you might consider staying nearby and making day trips to the Cinque Terre and Portofino. Some towns to consider are: Santa Margherita Ligure, La Spezia, Levanto, and Rapalo. Leave the car elsewhere.
Monterosso al Mare
This town has a beautiful stretch of beach where you can just hang out and relax and then explore the town’s architecture in both the New town and the Old town or just start your hike.
This town is so picturesque with its beautiful natural harbor and tiny narrow cobblestone streets and cute restaurants flanking the small Piazza. Linger along the breakwater built only in 1972 that surrounds the harbor. Take in the sights in Piazza Marconi and watch the boats come and go as children play in the waters.
In case you didn’t hike in from Monterosso be sure to take a few extra minutes to find the narrow stairs that mark the start of the trail that lead you up to the most quintessential view of Vernazza.
The harborfront church of Santa Margherita is unusual for its east facing entry rather than the more traditional western orientation.
This town dates mostly from the 12th and 15th centuries. The color of the buildings are regulated (known as ‘Ligurian pastel’) MAGICAL!!!
Just like many parts of Italy the hillsides around the Cinque Terre are dotted with olive and wine vineyards. Be sure to walk uphill in each town to avoid the crowds of the waterfront.
Manarola is the last town we visited as it was already late and our train ride back was about an hour and then we were delayed another hour plus. The town seems to hang in a ravine and is relatively quiet. These towns all seem to hang on the cliffs like on the Amalfi Coast and Positano. Manarola is probably the steepest of the 5 towns. Be sure when there to head uphill out of the harbor area where the crowds are less dense. The hills here are also covered with vineyards and lemon groves. For lovely views late in the day head up the trail towards the town’s cemetery.
Sadly we did not have enough time or an extra day to get to Corniglia or Riomaggiore but here is some information on both. Next trip!
Corniglia is the only town not on the coast. Wine is still the lifeblood of this town as it was in ancient times. The hike from here to Vernazza is a challenging, hilly 1.5 hour hike. Check to see if the trail is open to Manarola before setting out!
Riomaggiore offers lovely views back on the harbor from the breakwater. Have fun just strolling from the train station down to the harbor. This town is very photogenic especially just around sunset.
(sorry I couldn’t get there this trip) here is a great shot by Kevin Mercier
Where is your next trip? My wish list is so long and made even more complicated by all the towns I really want to revisit. Hard to complain! See you in our next town 🙂
If you are planning a trip to Italy I have blogs on many towns some which I have visited 2 or 3 times often employing guides so I don’t miss the local highlights that most tourists miss. Guides are well worth the extra money. If it is pricey for you, consider some less expensive meals or forget the souvenirs to compensate. You won’t be sorry. Travel Agents who specialize in Italy can help you with guides, train and travel arrangements as well as affordable accommodations in convenient locations so you don’t waste too much time checking out your location.
Santa Margherita Ligure is part of the Ligurian region on the Italian Riviera. We stayed at a wonderful hotel called the Imperiale Palace Hotel. We chose this specifically because they had both a pool and a beach area so we could unwind after two weeks of traveling around Italy and it was close to the train station and a quick walk into town.
Here and in Portofino you find the outside of buildings painted with Trompe L’oeil frescoes typical of this part of the Riviera during the Art Nouveau period. They used the painted exteriors to identify and distinguish their homes. Painting fake balconies, 3D effects, window sills, etc.
There are many lovely hotels here and in this old fashioned town there is more room to spread out than in The Cinque Terre or in Portofino. It is a great place to make your home base when staying in the area. Day trips to Portofino, Genoa, The Cinque Terre and Milan are easy day trips from Santa Margherita Ligure. You can catch a boat to Portofino or the Cinque Terre from the Pier right in town and buses run daily down to Portofino as it is a very short trip.
We arrived via an easy, convenient train ride from Florence. The old town center is so charming with shops, bars and restaurants lining the streets while its glitzy neighbor, Portofino is filled with yachts and movie stars. Santa Margherita Ligure has a beautiful harbor and beaches with room to enjoy it all since the crowds typically head to Portofino and The Cinque Terre.
The Cinque Terre is any easy train ride from Santa Margherita Ligure so you can go for the day. This area is well known for its 5 quaint towns. You can swim, shop, eat or hike your way from town to town. The scenery will take your breath away. Sadly, these towns are very crowded with tourists just like us. Be considerate and don’t ruin this beautiful place for the next group to come. We headed down to Monterosso and hiked to Vernazza (be prepared and dress appropriately and bring water and snacks) then a ferry to Manarola and the train back to Santa Margherita Ligure in time to hit the pool for a quick swim and cocktail!
Be sure to spend time wandering around in Santa Margherita!! Loved it!
There are farmers markets to enjoy near the Basilica in Piazza Caprera. Fresh fruits and veggies but the flowers were calling my name!!
There are statues of both Christopher Columbus and King Victor Emmanuel II in town commemorating the town’s history.
We walked into town to the Basilica of Santa Margherita. Be sure to go inside!! The Italian Baroque interior is ornate and the altar features a statue of Our Lady of the Rose since 1756. The inlaid marble floors and glass chandeliers are remarkable to say the least!
Chiesa di Santa Margherita d’Antiochia
After the Basilica we walked up to Villa Durazzo with its Italian and English Gardens and Chiesa Di San Giacomo Di Corte – wow- gorgeous! They were decorating for a wedding. It’s well worth the walk up the stairs!! Also the views of the entire harbor are striking. This Baroque church dates back to 974.
As you wander you will find other gems: some were closed when we stopped by in our wanderings.
This was the last stop in our two week adventure this time and a nice place to slow down and revel in living in Italy, even if just for a few weeks!! We will return!!
Have you been? I’d love to hear your favorite places.
Well Portofino is probably the most photographed fishing village on the Italian Riviera! Whatever you have in mind, relaxing is in store since there is not much to actually DO here! Be prepared to just stroll around the boutiques, the harbor and walk up to Castello Brown maybe and of course, don’t forget people watch!
The yachts that grace this picturesque harbor are luxurious to say the least but it is also full of small fishing boats. Don’t forget this was always a fishing village!
It is worth the short hike up to Chiesa di San Giorgio and Castello Brown. The views from both spots will not disappoint you!
Chiesa di San Giorgio has had a commanding presence over Portofino and the Ligurian Sea since it was constructed in 1154 or perhaps even earlier. This Romanesque church was sadly bombed during WWII and then reconstructed in 1950.
Castello Brown was well suited as a defensive site and was used as such since the 15th century. There are 2 methods to ascent to the Castle. You can walk up the steep staircase or take the winding path up. We walked up the stairs and down the path which opens up the best panoramic views of this town.
Don’t miss a chance to walk around this picture perfect town! The brightly colored buildings just beckon you in. Sit and sip in the Piazzetta or at a seaside bar in the U-shaped harbor or grab some gelato, always a favorite.
Don’t miss the Chiesa di San Martino in town with its beautiful bronze doors is just up the hill off the Piazza. Note the mosaic on the landing made from rocks gathered on the shore.
Portofino is a very convenient day trip from Genoa, Milan, the Cinque Terre or the towns just above it of Santa Margherita Ligure and Rapallo. We made Santa Margherita Ligure our home base to travel the Riviera heading to The Cinque Terre, Portofino and exploring the wonderful town of Santa Margherita Ligure.
If you are looking for luxury; look no further in Portofino than the Belmond Hotel Splendido. This is a luxury hotel built in the 1920’s and sits on a hill overlooking the sea and its lovely gardens.