Depending on where you live, travelling around Europe is pretty easy. In fact, really easy! Now I’m a proud dog mum of Baxter, I don’t like going away for too long, so more recently I have been researching places to visit that aren’t too far away. However, it’s not just distance that’s important, it’s flights too, I always look at how to maximise my time in any area, and that is how I found myself back on the Ligurian Coast.
Liguria is in the north-west of Italy, the largest town is Genoa. I have been a few times, and last year I was lucky enough to explore Genoa with the tourist board, so I knew I would love coming back!
I spent just 2 nights here, staying at the beautiful Il Leccio Luxury Resort 5 minutes from Santa Margherita. But was this enough time?
I’m not sure about the rest of Europe, but from the UK there are pretty regular flights to Genoa, so I booked myself an Easyjet flight from London Luton Airport, departing at 6:05am on Tuesday 24th September. 6:05am.. that meant a very early rise on Tuesday morning, 3:15am to be exact. I only live 25 minutes from the airport but I always get paranoid I will be held up and miss my flight, so I ended up arriving just after 4am.
Our flight was less than half full, I’m guessing this is because of the early morning time and people weren’t as willing to drag themselves out of bed before the sun had even started to make an appearance. I believe there are also flights from Stansted and Gatwick Airports, later in the day.
I booked a super early flight on purpose, it meant we landed around 9:15am (Italian time), we booked hand luggage only, we didn’t have to wait in a queue to get through passport control, and we had picked up our hire car all within 30 minutes. Ah yes, a hire car. Italy is well connected by train, however, in order to save time I decided to hire a car. This is partially because Genoa Airport does not have a train stop, I didn’t fancy wasting time getting a taxi into the city to then get a train. It was also because the hotel we were staying at was 10 minutes from Santa Margherita and again, I just didn’t fancy getting a taxi. Our car hire ended up costing £26, we paid €36 for insurance when we got there. This turned out being cheaper than getting return taxis and trains anyway, also it meant we had more flexibility.
We drove straight to Il Leccio Resort, this meant driving around the city of Genoa and along the autostrade (motorway), before turning off and driving along the coastal road, which was beautiful! There are tolls on the autostrade, it cost us €1.60 one way.
We arrived at Il Leccio Luxury Resort at around 11am. This beautiful hotel is perched on a hill overlooking the glitzy town of Santa Margherita, the gateway to Portofino! Because of its location it meant driving up a steep hill on a narrow road, around 7 hairpin bends. This didn’t bother me, although I burnt the clutch out once or twice. The road is VERY quiet so we never met a car along the way.
Il Leccio is a boutique hotel offering a quiet alternative to staying in Santa Margherita or Portofino. It is easily accessible and a great base for exploring this part of the coast. We were pretty much in the middle of Genoa and Cinque Terre. Both Santa Margherita and Portofino are well known for their high prices, Il Leccio starts at around £280 a night including breakfast, so whilst it isn’t the cheapest place, it is less daunting than spending £500 a night in Portofino itself.
My sister and I were met on arrival, quickly checked in and shown to our room which had the most beautiful view over the coastline, it had its own balcony. If we had more time it would have been a nice place to sit and chill for an afternoon!
Our first stop of the day was Portofino. It took around 15 minutes to drive in Santa Margherita and join the narrow coast road to Portofino, we parked midway between the two towns (free parking!). We then walked the rest of the way into Portofino, you can either walk alongside the sea on the road, or you can walk around the cliff edge, both are lovely!
Portofino is a well-known destination among the ultra-rich, the harbour is full of yachts, celebrities visit every summer, and there are some beautiful hotels. However, it is opening up to the more regular members of society (like me!). You don’t need to have millions of pounds to enjoy this place.
The town is built around a small harbour of colourful buildings housing designer shops, seafood restaurants, gelato shops and souvenir shops. If you are on a time limit, you can explore the whole town fairly easily in the morning or afternoon. If you have time I would recommend having a drink on the terrace of the Belmond Splendido Hotel, this place is iconic and you can sit back and watch the boats coming in and out of the harbour. Just be warned, it is a bit of a climb!
Tip: For the best view of the harbour head up to Castello Brown, for just €5 you can head into the villa and out onto the terrace where you can enjoy a view you will never forget.
We left Portofino around 16:30 so had enough time to drive to Camogli (around 25 mins) and enjoy golden hour here. Camogli is less known than other towns and villages along Liguria’s beautiful coastline, this is great as you are much more likely to bump into a local than a tourist, here you can enjoy a real authentic Italian experience.
We parked up near the train station and walked down to the seafront, the amenities are similar to Portofino but less glitzy, not that this is a bad thing! There are some lovely beachfront restaurants and bars, gelato shops and is home to not one, but two bays.
Tip: If you are having a weekend break in Genoa itself, Camogli is so easy to reach by train in less than an hour, make sure you enjoy a sunset meal here!
You have probably heard of Cinque Terre, it’s not surprising, for these villages are some of the most beautiful I have ever been to. The negative? Unlike 5 years ago, everyone knows about this place, and often it feels like half the world’s tourists. This place is now so popular, authorities are wanting to cut annual visitor numbers by 1 million! However, as long as you are prepared for crowds you can still enjoy it quite easily!
I would set aside a whole day to see the villages, in fact, you could probably do with a couple of days! But I have visited before and I wasn’t hugely bothered about visiting Monterosso so we ended up skipping this one, and also Corniglia.
Cinque Terre is a national park comprised of 5 colourful fishing villages. Monterosso is the largest and the place where you will find the majority of accommodation, it is also the one village that allows vehicles. It also has a small pebble beach which is lovely to relax at on a sunny day. Each of the 5 villages are commutable via a regular train service, there are just a few minutes between them, however, if you have the energy, you can hike between them!
Vernazza is my favourite of the villages, to me, it has the most character and the nicest viewpoint. You may well have seen this place on Instagram, including the gravelly lookout adorned by many in nice dresses. I would just like to point out that this has now been fenced off, and to access it from the village you must go past a ‘checkpoint’, it is free to go past if you have a Cinque Terre national park pass (we bought one with our train ticket), if you don’t have one, it is €7 to go past. You also must be wearing suitable footwear! They do check… If you are an idiot like me you can climb through part of the fence, walk along a narrow wall (with a drop on one side) and get to the viewpoint. I wouldn’t recommend this though unless you want to risk falling down a rocky cliff face, I accidentally flashed my pants to a bunch of French and German tourists, my nip popped out and I lost my ponytail. You can see the view just as well from behind the safety barrier (I am aware I am being a hypocrite on this one but it would be stupid of me to encourage the scramble).
Tip: For a different perspective of the village, walk up into the village and past the train station, there is a pathway on the right signposted to Corniglia. After a short climb, you will find a stunning view.
Manarola is probably the most photographed of all the villages and it is my second favourite after Vernazza. The way the pink houses cascade down the cliff face is incredible. Make your way down to the waterfront where you will see locals diving into the sea!
Tip: Walk up to Nessun Dorma, a restaurant overlooking the whole village. Not only can you treat yourself to a frozen pina colada, but the food is really well priced too. At popular times you may have to wait for a seat, but it is worth it.
Riomaggiore is my sister’s favourite village, it is brighter than all the rest. I do think this is the prettiest one when viewed from the sea! The waterfront is my favourite, this is where I got my ice cream! The village dates back to the 13th century and produces its own wine. The main street, Via Colombo, is where you can find restaurants and small souvenir shops.
Tip: Take a ferry into Riomaggiore and drink in the view.
Using the train
To get the train into Cinque Terre from Santa Margherita is simple, there are direct trains (you need to take the train south towards La Spezia) and they stop in each of the villages. To get to the first village (Monterosso) you are looking at a journey of just under an hour and a half, it goes quickly though, the views are gorgeous! Train tickets cost us €4.60 each way which is a bargain compared to the UK train system, however, we would suggest getting Cinque Terre park passes which cost around €16. This means you will have the option of walking the trails and not having to pay when you are there.
Train staff are really helpful, not all trains to La Spezia will stop at the villages so please check when you are buying your ticket. Sometimes you need to go direct to La Spezia and change where you can go back north into the villages, this doesn’t take too long. Travelling home the trains back to Genoa (our direction) were only every hour so it is worth keeping a timetable on you so you aren’t hanging around, my sister and I missed the train by around 2 minutes as we hadn’t checked. You don’t need to go all the way to Genoa, Santa Margherita is a few stops before.
Tip: Make sure you check each station when you arrive, there were no announcements whilst we were on the train and we almost forgot to get off the train. I tend to get google maps up on my phone (if you live in Europe your data should be included in Italy) and see where I am. The trains stop at each station for a few minutes so you have time to get off even when you don’t realise at first that it is your stop.
So, after a fleeting couple of days in my favourite country ever, it was time to go home. There were a few flight options back that day, however, it was easiest for my sister and I to go back to Luton. Our flight was at 10:05, so not quite as early as flying out. This suited us as Ellie wanted to get back to pick her daughter up from school and I wanted to get back to pick Baxter up. I prefer earlier flights when coming home as I always think the day is wasted, you tend to hang around waiting to leave for your flight as you become paranoid if you do too much you will be held up and miss it… that’s if you’re me anyway!
We left our hotel at around 7:15am, my worry was we would hit rush hour traffic. Due to the bridge collapse in Genoa a few years ago, more traffic is now diverted through the city. However, we didn’t have an issue with traffic at all other than a 5-minute hold up because someone broke down. We took a couple of wrong turns but made it to the airport by 8:30am (originally it was going to be 8:10am, but like I said, we aren’t the best navigators…).
Part of the agreement with the car rental company is that we had to fill up the petrol tank, conveniently there is a petrol station right by the entrance to the car rental car park so I popped in and filled up. It cost me €19, I thought this was pretty good considering the number of hills we went up!
Security at the airport was pretty busy and I did have a few panics in the queue. We didn’t have time to sit down at breakfast but we did make our flight! We were back at Luton and out of the airport within 2 and a half hours, pretty good if you ask me. We saved a bunch of time (and money) by using hand luggage only.
All in all, we loved our trip! Would I go back to Liguria again? Of course I would, it’s my favourite region. However, I have done Cinque Terre 3 times now and I think that’s it for me, I don’t want to ruin it for myself, so now I will have a look at some other places to visit!