This Wednesday we made one of our craziest day trips, one that shouldn’t have worked or been possible yet ended up as a brilliant day.
I love visiting the Ligurian coast, rugged and dramatic, yet easily reached from northern Tuscany. From Bagni di Lucca we can reach gorgeous places like Lerici and the Cinque Terre in an hour and a half or so by car. By train is trickier as there are changes so I advise our guests who want go by train that they should make an early start to make the most of the day.
But neither car nor early start were possible. We were too many for the car, and couldn’t leave until all the guests had finished breakfast. Yet I felt sure our relatives would love to see it, but ‘see’ was key as being of a certain age they wouldn’t be able to walk much or cope with the steepness of the Cinque Terre villages. But this could be solved by thinking of it as a boat excursion.
Here’s what we ended up doing. We caught the 11.57 from Bagni di Lucca to Aulla. (See what I mean by crazy, who would start a day out at lunchtime!) This is a branch line from Lucca and I’d yet to take it all the way to the end of the line in Aulla, so this route appealed to me as I could finally do this. The scenery through the Garfagnana was stunning when visible, though often hidden by tunnels through the mountains. A very relaxing journey. At Aulla we changed for La Spezia, arriving in La Spezia on time at 14.09.
We could have got a boat from La Spezia but as I’d never yet been to Portovenere so was keen to start our boat trip there. As we came out of the station a large taxi pulled up empty, he could take all 6 of us and at 30 euro this seemed good value and would save us precious time of waiting for the bus as planned. So by taxi to Portovenere. Excellent trip, stunning twisty road with great views over port of La Spezia and the naval dockyard, then tantalising sea glimpses as we headed out to Portovenere.
Portovenere was beautiful. I could hardly bear to leave there, it looked a great place for just chilling out and I was so tempted to just stay there-literally stay there, I wanted to check into one of the hotels! But we did move on, by boat which was superb for seeing the church on the rock, St. Pietro when leaving Portovenere.
As an exercise in how to visit the Cinque Terre without walking very much the boat trip worked well. Here’s what we saw from the boat.
You can get off the boat at four of the five villages (not Corniglia) or just stay on for the whole trip. On this occasion we stayed on, the steepness wouldn’t have suited some of our group and the sheer numbers queuing to get on (see above in Vernazza) at each stop made us decide to keep our good seats on the top deck and admire from the sea only. We got off at the end, the final village of Monterosso al Mare, which was most suitable as it is the flattest and easiest.
The boat trip from Portovenere to Monterosso lasted an hour and 10minutes, cost 12euro one way and hugs the coast so always plenty to see. At Monterosso we were very ready to eat, but the restaurants were all closed, this being neither lunchtime or dinnertime, but finally we found this place by the beach which did light meals and we considered it just perfect as we could eat to the sound of the waves. The mixed bruschetta platter, anchovies in lemon and Ligurian vegetable tart were deemed the nicest morsels. Washed down with a nice cool beer, and followed by ice creams eaten on the way to the railway station nearby, very refreshing lemon and yoghurt wild strawberries for me.
Then came the tricky part. Getting back. A different return route, following the coast and passing the marble quarried mountains of the Alpi Apuane at Carrara. Intercity from Monterosso to Viareggio, should have been a 16 minutes change but it was on a go slow, and we arrived when the connecting train was due to leave! The kids ran on ahead and the train waited! But incredibly same happened on the next train, late into Lucca! Ran like mad, again! and just managed to get on the Bagni di Lucca train. All worked out! But very breathless! I was glad we hadn’t left it to the very latest train as at least we had a little margin for delays. Crazy Trip. But worth it!
Timetable for Cinque Terre ferries http://www.navigazionegolfodeipoeti.it/
Bus La Spezia to Portovenere http://www.atclaspezia.it/