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
This morning you will meet with your fellow travelers at Pisa airport, and will then head to the centre of the city for a visit to the spectacular Piazza dei Miracoli and world-famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. After this early morning visit you will head towards Portovenere, where you will sleep for the next two nights. Portovenere (or Venus’s Port) takes its name from the temple that in pre-Christian times was dedicated to goddess Venus who was said to have been created by the waves of the sea just below the steep cliffs of the village. Today you will see one of the most charming little churches of our coastline – built in white and black local stone and merging its colors with the intense blue of the ocean. You will also immediately understand that Portovenere’s colorful houses and ancient buildings were all part of a powerful fortified village – the last defensive outpost of the Genoese’s maritime Republic against its rival Pisa. You will have time to stroll and enjoy an incredible sea landscape from “Lord Byron’s window’ – the poet’s favorite viewpoint during his stay in Portovenere. Sleep in Portovenere – walking time around 2 miles total – city and village walking.
It is a small boat ride to reach the island of Palmaria, just in front of Porto Venere. The biggest island of the region, it is a UNESCO protected area together with the Cinque Terre and Portovenere and it has been inhabited for at least 5,000 years. We will explore the island’s beautiful Mediterranean vegetation (more than 500 species) on a walk that will also afford us breathtaking views over Portovenere, the sea and a very impressive military fortification from the 1800’s. Sleep in Portovenere. Hiking time around 3 ½ hours – 900 feet elevation gain.
This morning we will say goodbye to Portovenere and start our hike to reach the 5 Terre - or “five lands” -- the name given to the area in old, local dialect. Five beautiful villages – Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso - hang over the sea here. They were built in the eleven hundreds and are UNESCO sites today. We will start climbing up the mountain behind Portovenere with a steep but rewarding hike which cuts through former olive grove terraces. We will enjoy views over the gulf and the islands of Tino, Tinetto and Palmaria and will then reach the tiny and pretty village of Campiglia, where we will be met for our drive to Monterosso. You will have time for a pleasant stroll in the old part of town, or for a relaxing swim – the beach is just in front of your hotel! Sleep in Monterosso – Hiking time around 3 hours – 1200 feet elevation gain.
Today you will enjoy an unforgettable hike out of the village of Riomaggiore. Riomaggiore is the southernmost village in the Cinque Terre, and like Monterosso, Vernazza and Manarola, it has two faces. On one side its opening to the sea made fishing essential for its survival, but most of its wealth came from the cultivation of wines and production of wine and olive oil. A system of cultivable terraces was painfully created through the centuries, working the soil and using the stones of this rocky and merciless land to build the terraces. Today the landscape is so incredible that we will think we are suspended between the sky and the sea – but in the past the fierce Ligurian inhabitants had to protect their villages against all sorts of dangers: not only the climate, but the political enemies of the Republic of Genoa and the pirates, which infested the coastline up to the 1700’s. Our hike will take us to some of the most important viewpoints of the 5 Terre – and we will get used to spot some of the former watch towers! Hiking time 3 ½ hours – with an elevation gain of 1500 feet.
Today we will start our hike uphill to Punta Mesco, the promontory which is the natural divide between the 5 Lands and the village of Levanto. We will enjoy extremely scenic views as we way our way to Levanto. While the villages of the 5 Terre have a more “recent origin” – mostly the 1100’s - this area was already inhabited in Roman times. Even before that an important road passed through Levanto as it was the only secure harbor in miles. Through the centuries the centre developed an important production of salt, wine, olive oil and red marble. And it became part of the Francigena “network” – due to it’s safe port and opening to the Western part of the Mediterranean Sea. Today the harbor is not as wide as it used to be as it progressively silted up – but it is a beloved summer vacation village – with a stable population of around 5,000 which skyrockets in the summer time to around 30,000. We will have lunch here and visit a lovely small beach for a swim in the ocean before heading to our final destination for today, the seaside village of Camogli. En route we will stop in a tiny village in the mountains – where we will sample delicious home-made food. Sleep in Camogli. Hiking time around 3 ½ hours total – elevation gain of approx. 1000 ft
Today and tomorrow we will hike in Portofino Natural Park. We will start our hike from the lovely village of Portofino. Its name comes from the Latin Portus Delphini – which means dolphin’s harbor - and was already recorded in one of the most ancient pilot books passed down (3rd century AD). Its breathtaking views and wonderful location transformed this poor fishermen’s town into a tourist destination at the end of the 1800’s. Magnificent villas were built in the wake of this boom. After WWII it became the centre of the summer’s Dolce Vita and attracted countless writers, poets, painters and movie stars. We will start hiking from the centre of the village to the beautiful San Fruttuoso Abbey – a lovely sanctuary which dates back to the ten hundreds. Formerly property of the powerful Doria family it was donated to the Italian National Trust which today manages it and has taken care of its wonderful restoration. From San Fruttuoso we will take a boat to Camogli to enjoy some more of this beautiful coast. Sleep in Camogli – Hiking time 3 ½ hours – elevation gain around 1000 ft.
Today we will hike from the tiny but beautiful church of San Rocco di Camogli – (900 ft above Camogli) – to the promontory of Punta Chiappa. It will be a pleasant hike, mostly downhill, which will end with an unforgettable lunch at a tiny seafood restaurant – reachable only by feet or by boat - near to Punta Chiappa. Weather permitting, before lunch you will have time to swim in the awesome blue water of the Ligurian sea. In the afternoon we will make our way back by boat and will have some relaxation time in Camogli, which is really worth a visit. For the adventurous: you will be able to go back by feet through a steep trail with steps – which will lead you directly back to San Rocco – it is only... about 1000 steps!!! Sleep in Camogli – Hiking time 2 hours – elevation gain about 300 ft.
We will start our hike in beautiful Sestri Levante today. This village is also nicknamed the village of the 2 seas – as its historical centre faces two different gulfs: Baia del Silenzio (bay of Silence) and Baia delle Favole (Bay of Fairy Tales - homage to writer Hans Christian Andersen who lived here for a while). Our hike will be in a Regional Protected area, through a trail sided by beautiful Aleppo Pines and Cork Oaks – a perfect combination with the awesome sea views. We will reach Punta Manara, which encloses the beautiful Tigullio Gulf with the promontory of Portofino on the other side. We will end in Sestri Levante with a great lunch of local specialties. After lunch we will have time to enjoy the lively city centre or spend some time on the beach before we hit the road to reach our final destination: Varigotti. Sleep near Varigotti – Hiking time 2 ½ hrs – elevation gain 750 ft.
This really spectacular hike will present a few of the best views of the trip. We will follow the ancient mule road which connected the villages of Varigotti and Noli before the building of the modern route. We will walk past the Saraceni beach (which in the Mediterranean area means Muslim) and the very pretty church of San Lorenzo and reach the awesome Cape Noli. We will pass very pretty Mediterranean vegetation with rosemary and arbutus plants and get to the dramatic cape viewpoint over vertical Triassic limestone cliffs. We will end our walk in Noli, which is part of the “Most Beautiful Villages in Italy” network. We will have lunch here and will have time to explore this very special Medieval town, still surrounded by its ancient walls. Sleep outside Varigotti – Hiking time 2 hrs – elevation gain about 1000 ft.
This morning we will start our hike along an old railway route which has recently been transformed into a scenic walking and cycling road. We will walk past two tunnels and a trail overlooking the sea and will then abandon it to reach the ancient village of Bussana Vecchia through old trails, staircases and mule roads. The Medieval village of Bussana (or Bussana Vecchia, the old One) was probably founded by the Romans and was inhabited until 1887, when it was hit by a violent earthquake. The damage was so severe that it was decided to rebuild a new Bussana downhill from the old one – which was then abandoned by 1894. At the end of the 1950’s artists from all over the world started to refurbish the collapsed buildings and established here a vital community based on ideals of common property and inspirational creativity. Initially there was no running water, no electricity and no sewage system. In the 1970’s things started to change, but even today art in all of its forms, is the most important word here! After a pleasant lunch in Bussana Vecchia we will reach the border with France and will stop at the important Balzi Rossi (red stones) Archaeological site and Museum. We will jump back to pre-history for a visit to some very interesting burial caves which hosted Cro-Magnon remains and much more! We will then reach our final destination, the French city of Menton. Sleep in Menton – hiking time 2 hrs ½ - elevation gain 600 ft.
We will start our hike from the picturesque village of Gorbio, where we will not miss a visit to the old elm tree in the main square. Planted in 1713, it is under its branches that the elders used to meet and deliberate about important common decisions. We will hike to beautiful Sainte Agnes enjoying some of the best views of the Menton Coast – stretching from Italian Bordighera to French Cap Martin. We will see the impressive St-Agnes’s Maginot fortification built in 1932 to protect the borders from Italian invasions, before reaching the centre of the village, which is considered to be one of the most beautiful in France. After lunch we will get back to Menton for a relaxing afternoon. Sleep in Menton – hiking time 1 hr 30 minutes approx – elevation gain about 1200 ft.
This morning our tour will end with a transfer to the airport of Nice. Please keep in mind that if you want to take advantage of the group transportation you should plan for a flight departing not before 11 am.