Along the Mediterranean Sea, where the French Alps yield to the Italian Apennines, there is a rugged coastline that is at once majestic and mystical, ancient and renowned, known as the Italian Riviera. Here one finds Portofino and the centuries-old Cinque Terre, the Five Lands. On our outing we will explore this region of natural beauty, millennia-old culture, mountains, beaches, and historic towns. Extending from Pisa, Italy in the south to Menton, France in the west, the area is known locally as the Ligurian Riviera, after the Italian province in which it resides.
We will visit some of the famous attractions, such as the Leaning Tower in Pisa, but will concentrate our attention on less familiar hiking trails with wide-angle vistas of mountains, the Mediterranean Sea, farms, vineyards, olive orchards, and scenic villages. Our local guide, raised in the area, will show us trails most visitors never see. After our hikes, we will dine on authentic local cuisine in family-owned restaurants before we settle into our lodging in small, charming hotels.
Fly from the US to Pisa
Our adventure begins when our group meets this morning at the front entrance of the Pisa rail station. From there we head to the center of the city to visit the spectacular Piazza del Miracoli and world-famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. (If you wish to enter and climb the tower, please arrive a day early, as there is not time to do so on our tour day.) We then head toward Porto Venere and our hotel. We will stay there for the next two nights.
Our day begins with a short boat ride to the largest island of the region, Palmaria. Together with Cinque Terre and Porto Venere, Palmaria is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has been inhabited for at least 5,000 years. We will explore the island’s vegetation (more than 500 species) and enjoy breathtaking views over Porto Venere and a very impressive 19th century military fortification. Before dinner we will tour the town with its charming little church, colorful houses, and ancient buildings (all part of a powerful fortress that defended Genoa against its rival, Pisa). There will be time to stroll and enjoy an incredible seascape from “Lord Bryon’s window,
This morning our hikes in Cinque Terre begin in the village of Campiglia and with our first views of the five beautiful villages that hang over the sea: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. Dating from the 12th century, they are all part of the UNESCO World Heritage site today. We hike through many old farms viewing the various grape varieties grown in this area. We finish our hike down the trail to a meet our bus and travel to our hotel in Monterosso. You will have time for a pleasant stroll in the old town or a relaxing swim in the sea. Hiking time: around 4 hours, with 800 feet of elevation gain.
Today we hike to two more villages. We start with either a train or boat ride to Vernazza where our hike begins. First, we hike to Corniglia where we have lunch and a short tour. Continuing on toward Manarola, we pass more vineyards and olive tree groves. Both trails are quite steep, but the views are stunning. From Manarola we return by train to Monterosso. Hiking time: around 5 hours, with 1,900 feet of elevation gain.
Our day begins with a steep uphill hike from our hotel to Punta Mesco, the promontory that is the natural divide between the Five Lands and the village of Levanto. (Hiking time: around 3.5 hours total, with about 1,000 feet of elevation gain.) We will have lunch in Levanto. From Levanto we depart for a 1.5-hour bus drive to our hotel along winding mountain roads. Our final destination for today is the seaside village of Camogli, where we will stay the next three nights
A bus ride takes us to the seaside village of Santa Margarita. We hike through the village, which was once a poor fishing village and is now a tourist destination. On our hike we will pass many old abandoned villas with great views of the coast. We continue hiking down to Portofino and if time permits we might stop in San Fruttuosso. From San Fruttuosso we return by boat to Camogli. Hiking time: 3.5 hours, with 1,000 feet of elevation gain. Dinner is on your own tonight.
Starting from the beautiful church of San Rocco di Camogli, 900 feet above Camogli, we have a pleasant, mostly downhill hike to the promontory of Punta Chiappa, which ends with a short boat ride back to Camogli. As a special treat, we will take the bus to Genoa for a historic walking tour of this fabulous city of World Heritage sites. After that we return for our last night in Camogli. Hiking time: 2 hours, with 900 feet of elevation loss.
A 30-minute bus ride takes us to beautiful Sestri Levante, a village between the Baia del Silenzio (Bay of Silence) and Baia delle Favole (Bay of Fairy Tales). We will hike through a protected area on a trail through beautiful Aleppo pines and cork oak trees, a perfect combination with the expansive sea views. We will reach Punta Manara for more great views. After the hike we will have time to enjoy the lively city center or spend some time on the beach before we head for Noli and our hotel for the next two nights. Hiking time: 2.5 hours, with 750 feet of elevation gain. We will have a 1.5-hour bus ride to our Noli hotel after the hike.
Today we take a local bus 10 minutes to the town of Varigotti and begin our hike in this small village. The hike starts up a steep hill and then is mostly downhill to Noli, which is considered the “Most Beautiful Village in Italy.
A bus ride of 1.5 hours takes us to our trailhead. Our hike this morning takes us to the ancient village of Bussana Vecchia. This medieval village was probably founded by the Romans and inhabited until 1887, when a violent earthquake struck. In the late 1950s, artists from all over the world established a vital community based on ideals of common property and inspirational creativity. After a pleasant lunch in Bussana Vecchia, we drive 30 minutes toward the French border, stopping at a botanic garden for a refreshing break. After another 30-minute bus ride, we will reach our hotel in the French city of Menton. Hiking time: 2.5 hours, with 600 feet of elevation gain.
After a morning bus ride past Monaco, we reach our trailhead near Eze. We will hike about two hours, with 1,000 feet of elevation gain. Excellent views of the many galleries and the French Riviera are the reward. After that we will drive to a beautiful park, high above the town of Eze. After a picnic lunch we will drive back to Menton for a relaxing afternoon and the last night of our outing.
After breakfast, our tour ends with fond farewells and a transfer to the airport in Nice, France.