April 24, 2015 - Santa Margherita Ligure & Cinque Terre
I was up early and sat on our verandah to watch the sail in to Santa Margherita. It was such a beautiful morning I shot a little video. I am feeling very grateful for the opportunity to see so many fabulous places. It has been a wonderful vacation - relaxing, exploring and meeting new friends.
We decided to take the Travel with Alan tour today to visit the Cinque Terre and Portofino. We met the very large group, about 100 people, and left the ship to tender in to Santa Margherita. Once onshore we were split in to 4 groups of about 25. In hindsight, I'm not really sure why we were split up as we didn't do anything with our designated guides.
I knew we would have to take a boat to get to the Cinque Terre because it is only accessible by train or boat. We all got on a large boat - it actually looked like a party boat from the Caribbean complete with pirate flag. We were only handed bottled water so there was no partying on the boat. Though, there was often a line up for the bathroom. I thought the boat ride would be about 15 minutes. Wrong. It took more than an hour. It was interesting to see all the seaside communities but I was ready to get off the boat when we finally reached Vernazza.
Cinque Terre means 5 lands. The 5 villages, the coastline and surrounding hillside make up Cinque Terre National Park and it is a UNESCO site. The 5 villages are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Monterosso, and Vernazza. We visited Vernazza and Monterosso. It is amazing to see buildings and farm terraces clinging to the side of rugged sea cliffs. Lemons, grapes and olives are the major crops. The area is colourful and picturesque. There is a hiking trail that used to be a mule trail and it links the villages and I would like to come back to hike the trail. I'm not sure if the trail is completely open now. Part of it was damaged in October 25, 2011 floods and mudslides.
Vernazza is very cute and it was busy. We didn't have very much time to explore but we were able to climb up a bit and see some of the views from the top. The stairs through the buildings are steep. It is really amazing that everything is built in to the cliffs. We saw where the walking trail connects to the next village.
We got back on the boat and went to Monterosso. First on the agenda was lunch but we had to trek up the hillside to get there. James got nudged by a vehicle check it out. I was actually surprised that the group (of 100+ people, many with mobility issues) was walking up a steep incline for lunch. We reached the 4 star Hotel Porto Roca and it was worth the trek. We ate outside and the view was stunning! The food and wine was really good - except the tiramisu for dessert. Is am not a fan of anything with coffee flavour so James ate mine. He said it was delicious. After lunch we had a bit of time to look around Monterosso. I love the striped buildings and there are lemons everywhere. I regret not having limoncello while here!
We sat outside on the boat for a bit of the hour long trip to Portofino. It is a beautiful day! Portofino is definitely an Italian riviera resort town. The colourful painting buildings and the yachts in the harbour add to the feel. It's pretty small so we were able to tour around and get a gelato before we had to get back on the boat for our return to Santa Margherita - only about a 5 minute boat ride.
This tour was ok but I really prefer smaller more intimate tour groups. I was really excited to see the Cinque Terre but there wasn't enough time on this tour - we only got a taste of the area. You need a couple days at least to hike and absorb the atmosphere.
All aboard isn't until 10.30 pm so we decided to stay in Santa Margherita for a few hours. We walked around and admired the painted buildings. By painted I mean they paint the buildings amazing colours and they also paint on fake windows and detailing on the side of the buildings. You have to look closely to determine if they are real or painted. All the colour is so refreshing. The hotels in Santa Margherita (like the 5 star Imperiale Palace Hotel) look magnificent and old.
We stopped for some pastries and James had a coffee. There are more high end stores here and it is very clean. We spotted a wine bar perched on a hill over looking the water by some sort of tower. We ordered a couple glasses of wine and it came with an odd assortment of appetizers. The view was picture perfect. Here it is.
It was now about 8.30 pm and it was starting to get chilly. James was wearing short sleeves while many of the locals were wearing thin, puffy, ski jackets. We caught a tender back to the ship, had a snack and watch the lights of Santa Margherita fade away in to the dark as we sailed toward our next (and final) port.