La dolce vita-Roadtrip
Oh well, who would have thought a summer during times of corona could end up to be so magical? While the first half of 2020 seemed to be determined to ruin every chance at sunkissed cheeks and strolls along the beach, the warmer months of the year decided to take it easier on us and offer escape from masks and social distancing on foreign shores. And what else could have been the way to travel than within the safety of your own car – all covid- and maximum-luggage-weight-free. Yes, I admit: options for potential destinations were a tiny bit limited, but driving down south still offered lots of different places to be discovered. One such must-see (and, frankly, a massively breathtaking one!) is the Ligurian coast of Italy. Only an eight hours drive away from home lies a small paradise that definitely deserves its title as UNESCO World Heritage Site: Cinque Terre.
Five quaint towns, all snuggled up between the rocky coastline of the province of La Spezia, with views taken straight from your favourite postcard risking to steal your heart away. Cinque Terre, a small, pastel painted world nicknamed the Italian Riviera is the place to be for anyone in love with picturesque landscapes and architecture in miniature style. The towns of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare are definitely a highlight on any roadtrip to the Italian Riviera, but the route there is every bit as nice. So first things first: once you’ve managed your way through Swiss terrain, the first stop on your itinerary should absolutely be Lago di Como. The pretty lake is the best place to start any journey by car, as it is close to the border and yet Italian enough to plunge you right into the famous ‘la dolce vita’.
My secret tip: don’t stay in Como itself, head up to Brunate which lies just a few kilometers above the main city and offers peaceful views over the shimmering water. If you like it small and cozy the Bed&Breakfast Balcone sul Lago is the one accommodation you need not miss.
The boutique-style home is managed by Ricardo and his wife who will surprise you with breathtaking balconies, loads of attention to detail and most importantly: amazing food! Be prepared for the cutest of breakfast buffets all filled with homemade antipasti, freshly baked cake and typical Italian mozzarella caprese.
Speaking of food: how about enjoying a tasty sunset dinner at Albergo Bella Vista? After that, take the funicular down to the city center and relish the evening mood with a delicious gelato from Rossetti’s. The second day of your trip will start with a drive to the capital of Tuscany: Florence. Here, just follow the crowds and they will lead you to all the different squares and churches, heading from Piazza della Signoria, over Ponte Vecchio on Arno River, right up to the picturesque Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral. Stop by at La Ménagère for a non-traditional bagel or get in line (literally) for a taste of Florence’s best focaccia at All’antico Vinaio. If you’ve got some time to spare head up to Piazzale Michelangelo and enjoy the panoramic views over the whole city.
For a first glimpse, one day is quite fine to discover the main attractions of Tuscany’s main city, but for real: Florence is worth a trip on its own! Our route, however, continues to the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. A two-hour visit is plenty to see the main square and take some cliché pictures in front of the quirky landmark that attracts visitors from all over the globe. Pro tip: go and buy yourself an ice cream cone and have a look at Instagram – you can thank me later;).
After being super touristy, it’s time to head towards the main reason for roadtripping through Italy: good food and splendid architecture. The place to stay is Rapallo, a small port town right next to metropolitan Genova and good starting point for day-trips to Cinque Terre. Rapallo itself is nice for shopping, especially on Thursdays when the esplanade is filled with stalls of the local market. Take the ferry to famous and fancy Portofino, head out to the streets of Santa Margherita Ligure or simply treat yourself with a good Italian pizza – or ‘pinsa’, a variation of the national dish – at Pizzeria Nettuno. If you’re into pastries (and believe me, Italians are not known for good breakfast) then Caffe Pasticceria Canepa is an absolute must. And once you’ve had your fill of food, it’s time to prepare your cameras for the real deal.
Cinque Terre, as the name would suggest, consists of five scenic towns: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Start with the latter, taking the train from Rapallo via Sestri Levante, and get yourself the special ticket that lets you go from one town to the next one, and all the way back. Riomaggiore is probably the most picturesque village with its colourful houses that are planted right into the wild nature of the coast and up the green hills of Liguria. Take the glass elevator up to the Church of San Giovanni Battista and go for a walk through the cobbled streets which will lead you to the best photo spots above the roofs of Riomaggiore. From there, you can either hike to Manarola or take the train, which will fastforward you to the next beautiful landmark. The second village on the list is just as picture-perfect as the first one and let’s you take a walk up the cliffs and right to amazing views of the Manarolan bay, where you can have a swim or do some cliff-diving.
From there, move on to Corniglia, but beware: you’ll have to climb a lot of stairs to actually get to the town. While much smaller than its predecessors, Corniglia has a certain hippie vibe that makes it a very special place to visit. Time your Cinque Terre trip in a way that you can have lunch here because Terra Rossa restaurant and winebar is a hidden gem you won’t want to miss. Eliana and Sabrina’s small garden is hidden just around the corner of the village’s entrance and offers a large variety of homemade focaccia and probably the best tiramisù you’ll ever eat! But keep some space for ice cream – no visit to Corniglia without trying the local gelato di miele, aka. honey ice cream. All full and happy, it’s time to do some shopping and make a reservation for dinner at La Torre in Vernazza.
The fourth town on the list is quite busy with locals and tourists and definitely worth some more photos. If you’re feeling like dipping your toes in the sea, first head to Monterosso for a quick stop at the beach. But don’t forget to come back for a beautiful sunset and tasty Spaghetti Mari right next to the old tower above Vernazza. Now, you just have to check the timetables for the return trains to Rapallo before letting a beautiful day come to an end. This is also where the last part of your Italy roadtrip begins: by leading you straight to another lake, namely Lago Maggiore. Again a spot right at the Swiss border, this place is full of idyllic towns that invite you to spend lazy afternoons dozing in the sun and admiring the lakeside views.
Probably the prettiest village of them all, Cannobio is a good pick for anyone that likes to discover gorgeous nature hideaways, all while also enjoying the buzz of a touristy promenade. A true gem to spend the night(s) is Villa dei Pini in Traffiume, a little Bed&Breakfast up the hillside of the lake. By foot you can reach the center in about one hour, but first head to the Orrido di Sant’Anna, a quaint clearing on the Cannobino River offering views on a waterfall, small pebble beaches and the famous Church of Sant’Anna. If you want to have a fancy but traditional last supper à la Italienne, try your luck at booking a table at the restaurant Grotto Sant’Anna right next to the church. Otherwise, just grab some pasta along the esplanade – as we all know, there is no bad place to eat in Italy. To get back home just hit up Marco with his red three wheeler, the famous Piaggio Ape Calessino, who will drive you straight to your Bed&Breakfast’s front door.
As the end of your roadtrip approaches, keep one last day for kayaking on the lake, sunbathing next to the river or just strolling through the old town of Cannobio, all while reminiscing about the freshly made memories and planning your next trip to the country where ‘la bella vita’ is not only a catchy phrase to attract tourists, but really a lifestyle. Ciao!