Every year I like to visit at least one area of Italy that I’ve never seen before. Last year it was Verona/Lake Garda, and this year it is Liguria.
Actually, I should make a disclaimer. I’ve been to Liguria once before: but it was nine years ago and it was only for a day trip. I whizzed in and out of the Cinque Terre in about seven or eight hours, attempting to set foot on all five “terre” during my whirlwind (For the record, I accomplished only three, missing Corniglia and Vernazza).
Last month, I was contacted by Silvia Moggia who is working with the Visit Levanto consortium to help raise awareness of this wonderful coastal town within the Cinque Terre National Park. However, unlike its five next-door neighbors made famous by Rick Steves (the “other” Rick in Italy travel…I wish he’d stop using my name) this town has maintained its original Riviera feel, relatively uncorrupted by the tourist masses.
As a travel blogger, I’m beginning to encounter this more frequently; local businesses joining forces to do the job that official tourist boards are not doing…or at least not doing very well.
Listen to today’s podcast to get the whole scoop.
Visiting Levanto Italy
OK, so you’ve probably never heard of Levanto, right? (I hadn’t.) Then why should you consider putting this destination on your itinerary for your next visit to Italy?
Because increasingly, this is becoming the smart tourists’ way of traveling in Italy. Don’t stay in the center of Rome; stay in one outlying neighborhoods or one of the Castelli Romani that’s connected to the city by a local train line. Don’t stay “in” Florence, but in one of the charming Tuscan hill towns 20 minutes beyond the city walls in Chianti. Don’t stay IN the Cinque Terre; stay in Levanto which is much less crowded, cheaper, and only 4 minutes away by train (or two and a half hours by walking—I’ll get to that in a future post).
In fact, this strategy is even more important in Cinque Terre than in Rome or Florence. Those bigger tourist cities are able to absorb the swell of crowds during peak season and they have the hotels to handle last minute arrivals. Not so in Cinque Terre. For example, 50 years ago Vernazza was a sleepy fishing village of 700 people. Now the daily tourist invasion packs the town with 5,000 sweaty bodies at midday. You literally can’t move around the piazza without touching at least 2-3 other people.
In Levanto you have room to breathe (literally). There’s a quaint historical center with real people and real shops—NOT the continuous line of cheap souvenirs that has infected the Cinque Terre. There is also a very nice “lungomare,” or seaside promenade where you can rent beach equipment, enjoy watersports, eat a seafood lunch, or enjoy a sunset drink. And it’s quiet, relaxing. Exactly what seaside towns are supposed to be.
Furthermore, you can visit the charming towns of the Cinque Terre in the morning or evening when the crowds have retreated back to Pisa, Genova, or the cruise ships in La Spezia. Then you’ll appreciate what these picturesque villages looked like before Rick (the other one, not me) created the mob scene that they are today.
My new friend and fellow travel blogger Silvia Moggia comes from quite an impressive cultural melting pot. Her father is Italian, from Vernazza, and her mother is from Argentina. After a childhood spent between small villages in Liguria and extended stays in South America, she realized her dreams and moved to Paris to complete her university studies.
She then worked in such major opera houses as the Paris Opera and the Palau de las Artes in Valencia, Spain. Then in 2011 she came back to the Cinque Terre to help her loved ones after the flood that had swept away and devastated their lives.
She now manages the small family hotel while still traveling whenever she can. She’s also very active with local tourism marketing and destination management, and she writes about travel and Liguria in her personal blog, Silvia’s Trips.
So if you do decide to visit Levanto, Cinque Terre, or anywhere in Liguria, get in touch with her—she’d love to help you appreciate her hometown area.
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Rick, you make excellent points. We stayed in La Spezia, just south of Cinque Terre, and saw and met real Italian people. We want to go back and do Milan/Turin in the future. Any recommendations? Here is our trip report in Cinque Terre – http://bigandsmalltravel.com/2015/11/27/photophiles-cinque-terre-italy-the-italian-riviera/
Ciao Stephanie, and thanks for sharing your post! I like your photos, especially the handstand! Unforunately, I don’t have much advice for your upcoming trip. I pass through Milan a couple times a year, but I never stay for more than one night. 🙁 And I haven’t been to Torino at all yet… shame on ME!
Rick: Loved the blog and podcast. I’ve learned there’s a reason some places are overrun with tourists. They can be fabulous. Cinque Terre is one (or five) of those places. I never heard of Levanto. I stayed in another great little town outside the big five. It’s called Santa Margherita. Beautiful port, a quaint walking mall and very few tourists. Actually, I agree with Silvia. The five towns are outdoor sardine cans during the day. But the towns empty at night. Get a hotel and roam the streets in the dime street lights. They’re fantastic. And one time I went to Vernazza in the winter. I had to throw pebbles at a window for an old woman to let me into her pensione across the piazza. In winter it really felt like the fishing village it was 70 years ago.
Dog-Eared Passport: http://www.johnhendersontravel.com
That’s great advice, John… EITHER go in the off-season or stay in a nearby village if you want to experience the original charm of this area. And practice your pebble pitching skills!
For some time Levanto has been on our list of cities to visit. Monterosso al Mare and Vernazza are so crowded during the high season it’s next to impossible to find a room (that wasn’t a problem when we first started visiting years ago). Because we couldn’t get a room during our last trip, we ended up staying in La Spezia (that was a pleasant surprise). We took the short train ride to Monterosso to hike the trail–again. Next time it will be Levanto–and I’ve bookmarked the Oasi Hotel website! Thanks for the interesting interview.
Very true, A LOT has changed in Cinque Terre in recent years, and mostly not for the better. So yes, that’s why it now makes sense to base yourself in a nearby town. Still just as amazing area, but it can’t really contain the tourist masses that flood in every day.
As a matter of fact I have been to Levanto. Stayed there with a foodie, cooking, touring small group tour in 2006. Levanto was home base and we saw quite a bit of it, but we did hit all five towns and cooked in several and ate and drank in all. It was a great tour with a company now sadly out of business. It was well worth putting myself in some debt to do. Our area guide lived in one of the five. She was an American married to a local. Great fun and great experience.
Have been back to Cinque Terre on a day trip from Florence in 2012. We could still see some of the awful damage from the flood.
Great! Glad you enjoyed Levanto, too! But yes, the flood was very bad. Seems to be mostly recovered now, though.