Liguria, a charming region in north-western Italy, world-famous for its colorful Cinque Terre, glamorous Portafino, lofty mountains and stretching towards France Mediterranean coastline. As one of the sunniest places in the whole country, the Italian Riviera might seem like a perfect vacation choice all year round. But before you pack up your bags – here come the pitfalls…
An Italian Vacation: A Beautiful Nightmare in Liguria
Is it all about the dates?!
This post was supposed to start with words “I´m just back from my Easter weekend at the Italian Riviera.” However, it´s already been 3 months since that last draft [lol]. So here´s a quick update – for the Easter Weekend 2017, I made a 4 day-long trip to Liguria.
We all know traveling somewhere around these dates might be stressful: cause basically everyone gets days-off and with many cheap flight options, Europeans lately fly to another country simply for a weekend (I´m one of those people – so no judging please! lol). No wonder I´m constantly on the road over the Easter. But this trip to the Ligurian coast has made me questioning Italy as a travel destination during holidays or vacations forever.
It would be fair to say that both of my other recent trips to Italy, Tuscany and Lake Come, were quite different. So now, when I look back I realize that I was simply not ready for what was going to happen in Cinque Terre. No wonder, it took me a while to put my whole Italian Riviera experience into words. I really needed a break after this overwhelming Easter Weekend…
One thing I can tell you for sure, nothing in this world will make me visit Liguria again during any kind of European holidays. And in case it is what you´re planning, just keep this in mind – Liguria for the Easter Weekend might be not a good idea.
When friends ask me about this trip – I honestly feel confused about the answer… How could you possibly describe somewhere that wonderful, and yet I couldn´t help the feeling I was taking part in the Hunger Games. [lol] My Italian vacation could be compared to a beautiful nightmare…That´s the closest description, I guess.
And let me explain myself here: it´s not only about the number of tourists. But rather about the way all these touristic sites were organized. My last Easter holidays took me to the French Riviera and, of course, it was crowded and overpriced – and yet we haven´t had problems with moving around. Liguria was different.
Our first plan for the Italian Riviera was to stay in a small city called Millesimo and visit Genova, Portofino & Cinque Terre, and a bunch of the cities on the way from Genova to San Remo. Needless to mention: we´ve managed to see less than half of everything we´d planned. So, when I´m fully recovered after this epic failure trip [lol] – we´ll definitely need to go back to Liguria… one day…
Welcome to Portofino
To start with, I generally prefer traveling by car. You could move independently and cover more places on the road, right?! Well, in Liguria everything felt like “mission impossible”. We used the autobahn all the time (paid a fortune ) and yet access to every more or less touristic city greeted us with a huge traffic jam. I don´t even want to mention parking at this point. But here comes the peak of our Italian vacation – the glamorous Portofino.
The line of cars on the left is the endless traffic jam
Once we took an exit from the autobahn E80 to Rapallo we were stuck in a huge 10km/2h traffic jam. But that was not the funniest thing – 300 m before the arrival to Portofino´s Parking there was a police car blocking access and making everyone turn around: “everything was full”. My question is: How could a place that touristic have such bad access and almost no parking at all. And if you block access to the city, maybe, letting people know it before they´ve been waiting for 2h wouldn´t be a bad idea at all. On the picture above you could see the left row of cars -it´s the traffic jam itself. At some point I felt like we were never getting out [lol] – there was no space to turn around till the mentioned police post.
The Cinque Terre train
The must stop number two was Cinque Terre. And here I was informed about the train connecting all of the 5 cities and the complexity of parking. So we directly headed to La Spezia. The parking was full again. We waited for 1h till we could leave a car. And when I thought we were out of this driving madness and parking dilemmas, we got off the 5 Terre Express in Manarola.
A train station was full of people. It was full like metro in Hong Kong during the rush hour. Except it was outside of the train. The line to the exit didn´t seem to move. As we found out later, there was only one small tunnel connecting Manarola station and the city and it was so overcrowded that it took us 40 min to get out into the city. Conclusion: if you don´t have the agoraphobia or claustrophobia yet – this is where you might develop it.
The next 2h in Manarola I´ve spent thinking of all the possible ways we could avoid taking this train ever again. How do you escape?! Boat, taxi, helicopter?! SOS!
However, the Manarola boat service was officially closed due to the weather conditions – even though I´ve clearly seen some small boats bringing tourists to Manarola. But the local boats were not leaving – people arrived, but no one left. Here, I´ve started questioning my own logic.
In a complete day, we´ve managed to visit only 2 cities – Manarola and Vernazza. And even this felt like we were constantly climbing the world´s highest peak, Everest. We´d definitely manage to visit them all if it wasn´t for the crowds and lines.
What a viewDon´t look down…
A small paradise of Millesimo
At the same time, the most comfortable part of my Italian vacation was the place we stayed in. The greatest thing we could have possibly done is living somewhere far from the crowds in a very local rural area. I normally don´t mention the exact hotels. However, when I honestly fall in love with a certain place – I feel that I simply must share it with my readers. So far it happened only with two places of all my numerous international travels – and both were small and family owned. The first one was Yannis Retreat in Crete, and the second one I was lucky to find here, at the Ligurian Coast – B&B Rose Garden.
I don´t even know where to start: the loveliest and friendliest hosts ever, who cooked the most delicious/ home-made breakfast only for the two of us; the quiet rural scene, surrounded by green forests and mountains. Every morning I woke up to the birds singing… The location was good to visit Genoa and the part of Liguria from Genoa towards San Remo. However, if your main goal is Cinque Terre it might be a bit far away – 2h 30 min drive one way.
A cup of delicious Italian cappuccinoOnly in Italy… Parmigiano SnacksHomemade delicious pastries for breakfast
A gourmet feast
A gourmet tour is a must of all my trips, Liguria was not an exception. Even though every pizza, pasta or gelatto we tried were good – most of the restaurants at the Italian Riviera were overpriced, overcrowded and had very slow service. While let me say it again – the food was always good.
Gelatto in Genoa
It´s hard to believe, but from all the places we´ve visited, the best one was found by a complete accident. In a search of any restaurant close to our B&B, we entered the first place we saw in the city center of a small village of Millesimo – Pantarei Cucina. To my surprise, it turned out to be one of the most local and delicious places we’ve been to in Liguria. We were the only tourists there, the rest of the guests were Italians and the place was always full. Now I can claim with all certainty: the very best thing that could happen to you in Italy – is dining where the locals eat.
Pasta al Pesto Genovese
My Ligurian Favorites #ontheroad
Boccadasse, GenoaCervoThe streets of GenoaArco della Vittoria, GenoaPasseggiata Anita Garibaldi, GenoaViews from the hiking trail Manarola – CornigliaVernazza
Once in a Lifetime
By and large, Liguria is absolutely one of these “once in a lifetime” trips. As I´ve already said, now we must go back to explore the rest of the Italian Riviera. In the offseason, of course.
The truth is Liguria is charming and unique, like a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life… I guess, after all these years of traveling I simply developed a passion for more undiscovered and less touristic places. Which might be hard to find in such a popular country as Italy. But you never know, right?!
And what about you? Have you ever been to Liguria?