Tuscany Driving Adventure Day 1: Pisa To Cinque Terre

Tuscany April 16, 2011 2:04 am

Italy’s west coast was warmly welcoming today. A nice flight in over a glistening blue Mediterranean and a gentle landing at a cute little airport in Pisa. Even though it’s only our second time in Italy, I’m going to go out on a limb to say that March is surely the best time of year to visit. We exit the airport terminal and enter a cloudless blue sky day; sunshine only strong enough to let you know it’s there, and a soft spring breeze to match. Perfect.

Couple of twists at the airport. Tip: There’s a whole different part of the terminal JUST for the rental car companies. You have to exit the airport, turn right, and walk over to a shuttle bus station that takes you 100 meters round the corner to where your rental car awaits. Of course no one tells you THAT when you book.

Otherwise, rental car pickup is easy, and before long we’re off on our drive to Cinque Terre. The internet had some nasty things to say about driving to and in Cinque Terre, but having made it there, we submit them all to be unfounded. The drive is about 1.5 hours North West of Pisa on the A12, Genova-Livorno highway.

Driving into La SpeziaYou head toward Genova until you see the signs for La Spezia. You roll through La Spezia where you follow the signs to Cinque Terre. 20 minutes further up and around a mountain through some tunnels and past some spectacular & dramatic coastline scenery, you arrive at Riomaggiore, the Southernmost (and apparently most vehicle friendly) of the 5 “terre”s.

Another tip: As you drive around the cliffs into the village of Riomaggiore, you won’t ever be as high up as you are when that drive begins. Stop to take some photos at this high vantage point, because you won’t be at that altitude again until you exit and the landscape… or rather, the seascape is completely breathtaking.

Viewing the ocean from so high up, you can’t help puzzle at how there seems to be “so much water”. It’s like looking at an ocean from any other shoreline, but viewing it from high above, the water somehow looks bigger… it takes up more of your field of vision. It’s grandiose and mystical all at once.

We find our accommodation – “I Limoni” on the cliff in Riomaggiore. After ringing the bell at the gate, a tiny 50 something Italian lady with a orange brown hair and a hoarse voice shows us up some stairs and to our room. She doesn’t speak English, but somehow she’s so friendly that with almost no Italian, we find it easy to understand her – she even insisted on helping us with our bags!

Cinque Terre is impressing so far.

View from the "I Limoni" balconyOur apartment at I Limoni is surprisingly modern. Yet all the reader needs to know is that the bedroom opens up to a generous balcony that overlooks the ocean. In the day, you can open the door and let the sun caress you as you nap, read, or take in the view. And in the evening, lying in bed, we could gaze up at the moon.

Finally leaving our room we stroll down and around the hills, into the village of Riomaggiore. There’s an ancient castle perched on a cliffside, an old but recently restored church, and a single main “via” into the village and along to the water’s edge.

Finding something to eat in the Riomaggiore village is a little bit of a challenge. We came across maybe 12 restaurants, of which: 4 weren’t open at 7pm on a Wednesday evening, 1 we sat down at but left after we saw the food that was coming out, 1 that was seafood only (a no go for Elysia), and another 2 or 3 that only served what looked like drinks and entrees.

Finally we picked what looked slightly less touristy and stopped in a little chocolateria that happened to also serve Pizza, and that had a few decrepit old men inside taking keen interest in the Italian version of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” on TV.

While our pizzas were made on site, they weren’t the highlight of the day. They filled an empty stomach but that’s about it. We resign ourselves to continuing the hunt for perfect Italian Pizza as the trip continues.

View from RiomaggioreFinally the day ended with one of those uncanny instances of “travel luck”. In an effort to shortcut our walk home, I suggested an alternate route. It could have easily failed, leaving us an even greater, steeper walk home, but instead it lead to a little Cinque Terre gem…

Reaching the peak of a hill, we returned to that old castle we passed earlier. To it’s side there is a wooden cross monument, next to two benches in front of a lookout. In the backdrop of the lookout is a glowing red sunset. You’ve got a view of the sea, the mountains, and the sunset, and a chunk of the township all at once. And we reached it exactly as the sunset was at it’s most vibrant. Certainly a case of Buona Fortuna!

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