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Monday, May 18, 2015

Walking along the Cinque Terre Path from Rio Maggiore to Monterosso in Italy

The wonderful sight of Vernazza approaching from the path.



After having published the post: CINQUE TERRE - LOOKING FOR SOME AMAZING TREKKING IN ITALY? CINQUE TERRE IS YOUR PLACE! about this wonderful walk in the North region of Liguria in Italy, I received a lot of queries about the walk. What is the best path in Cinque Terre? Is the Via dell'Amore safe enough? How long takes from Vernazza to Monterosso?

I decided to write for you a detailed description of the walk divided through the five villages of Cinque Terre divided in 5 (Cinque in Italian) sections.

Ideally you should do a section per day, although as you can read below some sections are easier and shorter than others.

Attention: do not underestimate the walks, some parts are exposed and dangerous. Also remember that sun can set very quickly and it is absolutely dangerous to walk along the cliffs after dark. Finally remember that also the five Cinqueterre villages have train stations and frequent connections to other villages. Do read the post on general information on Cinqueterre before to plan your visit.

1. FROM RIOMAGGIORE TO MANAROLA, WALKING ALONG THE VIA DELL'AMORE

Via dell'Amore means Path of Love. This is the easiest segment of the walk, the shortest, the flattest and probably the one more famous of the Cinque terre walks. Different from all the other sections of the Cinque Terre Way, the Via dell'Amore path is wide and paved and it is extremely spectacular. It is also (partly) illuminated at night and you will enjoy at its best at sunset ...or sunrise.

It is little more than a stroll and people of all ages can easily enjoy the walk.

Via dell'Amore runs from Rio Maggiore to Manarola. Rio Maggiore is the Eastern of the five villages. Rio Maggiore and Manarola are two of the most amazing villages of Cinque Terre and they are definetly worth a visit. If you have only one day to spend in Cinque Terre this is definitely your walk.

Via dell'Amore can probably take just half an hour to walk for a trained walker, but given the beauty of the panoramas along the cliffs and the romanticism of the walk, I should hope that your walk will take much longer.

Take also time to enjoy the visit at Rio Maggiore and Manarola, both offer good accommodation, restaurants and bars.

Corniglia, holding on the side of the cliffs is the only one without direct access to the sea directly from the village




2. FROM MANAROLA TO CORNIGLIA

If Manarola is probably the most amazing village of the Cinque Terre for the unique way the houses are literally holding on the side of a rock, Corniglia is probably the village that it is sometime overlooked by tourist. The reason is probably that Corniglia, although stands above the sea, doesn't have direct access to the water and this make the fishermen village less attractive.
I think instead Corniglia is the most picturesque, less tourist and more "real" village, so please take time to walk to Corniglia.

The path it is certainly more challenging than the Via dell'Amore and certain parts of the walk require to be careful. The walk can be done in 1,5 hours, but I think on an average three hours is more realistic, and four if you include a pause halfway to rest and enjoy the landscape.


3. CORNIGLIA TO VERNAZZA

Vernazza is absolutely a must. Probably the town tat will remain more in your mind because of its sheltered harbour and the view you can enjoy from the path coming towards Vernazza. It is extremely touristy and can be quite expensive, if possible avoid to get accommodation there, unless you enjoy to stay in the heart of Cinque Terre.

A fit walker can probably walk the section from Corniglia to Vernazza in 1,5 hours but again 3 hours is  more reasonable time to enjoy the views. Also consider that this section is more challenging and in some parts more exposed with a number of stairs.

The beautiful Ligurian Sea along the Cinqueterre path



4. VERNAZZA to MONTEROSSO 

This is the last section of the Cinque Terre walk and in a way Monterosso waits at the end for some deserved rest. Monterosso, differently from the other Cinque Terre villages, is spread along a reasonably wide beach, with umbrella, bigger and more fashionable hotels, restaurants and more shops. definitely the place to stay if you want to spend sometime at the sea or you want to make some shopping.

This section is the most difficult, longer and tiring of the whole lot. Although a reasonably fitted walker can certainly make it, you would need to be careful, particularly if walking with children, as some parts are very exposed and there is very little protection. also consider that depending on the season the sun can go away quite quickly and walking with little light is extremely dangerous!!

Consider 3 hours at least to walk from Vernazza to Monterosso


Rio Maggiore at night, a wonderful place to rest after a day walking.



5. MONTEROSSO TO LEVANTO 

Is the path finishing in Monterosso?
Absolutely not, although the Cinque Terre finish at Monterosso the path continues all the way to Levanto. This part of the walk is extremely spectacular going around The Punta del Mesco, but the section is tiring and difficult, at least 4 to 5 hours should be considered.
Remember also that this section is not so popular and touristy and not many people walk there.
It would be better if you walk in small groups rather than alone.

Levanto is rather a sea town than a village. Like the Cinque Terre has a train station so that you can catch a train and go back to Cinque Terre easily. Also Levanto has a beautiful promenade and plenty shops making a perfect destination  in the Cinque Terre area.

Consider at least 5 hours.


6. EVERYWHERE ELSE I SHOULD SEE IN THE AREA?

Do not miss Porto Venere. An absolutely must loved by Byron and other poets, Porto Venere is absolutely stunning: read a dedicated post to Porto Venere.

Also remember you are one hour away from Pisa and around two and a half from Florence (read the dedicated posts)

Also read more on Cinqueterre here.




 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Walks in Portugal - Madeira: land of wine, cliffs, sun and... walks!

Small beach in Funchal, Madeira, just next to the Castle
 
Landing in Madeira is an experience in itself.

The plane seems to crash in the sea, when, at the last moment, turns in the direction of Madeira and land on the airport runaway that has been built on the cliffs, like a large balcony on the sea.

Cabo Girao, one of the most spectacular cliffs in Madeira
Because of the strong winds from the Ocean, these are the standards procedures to land on Madeira, the Portuguese island a thousand kilometres away from Portugal and Europe.

Madeira is a volcanic island a thousand kilometres away from Portugal and Europe. It is covered by thick sub tropical vegetation.

Madeira in Portuguese means appropriately “wood”, because of the large quantity and variety of trees on the island.

The island is not just a holiday sea resort; it is a wonderful and relatively undiscovered place for exhilarating mountain trekking and viewpoints.

Here some great ideas for your holidays in Madeira!

The best walk starts at Ribeiro Frio just above Funchal, the main city on the island, also called “Little Lisbon” because of the elegance and the grandeur of its buildings and its steep cobbled streets.

Ribero Frio is half way to the Pico das Torres, the volcanic mountain 1851 m high.

It is just a pretty village on the side of the mountain, named after the cold stream passing near the few houses and restaurants.

A fantastic path signposted to Portela starts from Ribeiro Frio with breathtaking views and steep drops. The walk follows one of the many unique Madeira’s features: the llevadas.

Walking in Madeira, along the circular path along the volcanos ridges.

Llevadas are a complex net of canals running along the side of the mountains and the old craters of the now inactive volcanoes of Madeira. The canals were built by the first settlers on the island as an ingenious irrigation system to carry the water to the vineyards and the bananas plantations in the valleys below and they are now become panoramic paths.

Walking along the llevadas is like walking along a very narrow balcony suspended at the side of the mountain.

Below the llevadas the old volcanic craters open up with steep drops.

The views are breathtaking.

This 12 km walk signposted to Portela is in my opinion the best of the many llevadas walks on the island.

The walk offers fantastic views on the balcoes, the terraced hillsides near to the many little villages of the island where the grape is cultivated.

A village in particular is set in a wonderfully beautiful spot, surrounded by the jagged mountains and a chestnut wood.

The village is Curral das Freiras, literally translated “The Nuns’ Refuge”, because here the nuns of Santa Clara took refuge when pirates attacked Funchal. The nuns have left but it remains a pretty village of less than 3000 souls, with a little church and the graveyard overlooking the large volcanic crater below.

Market in Funchal
A panoramic point named Eira do Serrado, perched 800 meters above Curral das Freiras, offers the best views.  

But walking along the llevadas is not easy.

The canals are not always well kept and sometimes you have to walk in the water where the side of the canal has crumbled.

The llevadas pass also through long dark tunnels where, even with a good torch, it is not so easy to walk at times.

It is a very adventurous trek.

Because the soil is always wet it can be sleepy and, because the volcanic craters are quite bare, there are not trees and you are always exposed to the sun.

If you are brave enough and you cope with highs, you will certainly be rewarded. You will have a completely different feeling of the island after having seen it from so high.
 
The llevadas are not the only wonderful feature of Madeira. Go up to the cliffs above the pretty fishermen village of Camara de Lobos to experience the thrill of the, so locally advertised, second highest sea cliff in Europe.

In true Cabo Girao is the fifth highest cliff in Europe, but for a difference of only few meters with the other four. Looking down from Cabo Girao is an hair raising experience! There is a wonderful view half a kilometre below you! Yes, the vertical cliffs are running down for 580 m (1,900 ft) to hit perpendicularly the flat terraced fields below. It is a terrific view point!
 
Famous houses of Santana - Madeira


If you then go back to Funchal and you want to relax for a while, you can discover another unexpected feature of Madeira. The wonderful Mercado do Lavradores. I have never seen in my life a market so rich of exotic flowers, fruits and fishes. It is a carnival of colours! Inside the covered market, fruit sellers will offer you tropical fruits from the island and from South America. Because of Madeira’s strategic position halfway between Europe and the Americas the island is in fact an important centre for the international fruit’s import/export. This is the reason why sellers will offer you to taste for free slices of mangos, passion fruits, bananas, cupacus, papayas, soursups, guavas and custard fruits.
 
But the stalls I love best are the ones of the fishmongers in the basement. The variety of fishes is amazing. One in particularly you should see: the preta nera, a particular type of scabbard fish. Black, long with a hundred of sharp teeth and huge eyes, sometimes you can still see it alive at the market, it is a wonderful fish. Taste it in one of the many little restaurants in Funchal’s old quarter. The traditional recipe is Preita nera with banana. It is a wonderful bitter-sweet dish, mostly served as a snack at lunchtime.
 
I can’t avoid mentioning the Madeira’s typical triangular houses of Santana to finish the visit. If you go to the village of Santana you can see the little wood houses with thatched roofs, shaped like a capital A. They are pretty, with their bright colours and the nice gardens around, but they become too touristy to be appreciated.

Fisherman Village in Madeira
 
In my opinion if you have time left you should instead take the ferry from Funchal harbour and visit Porto Santo. Porto Santo is a flat island for the moment unspoiled, apart for few hotels. It is locally advertised as the island visited by Christopher Columbus, but it should be advertised because the island possess something that Madeira lacks: a marvellous sandy beach running uncontaminated for more than six miles. The sand is of a wonderful golden colour and the blue of the sea is amazing.
 
You can get to Porto Santo in an hour and a half. The boat trip will allow enjoying great views of Madeira and of Funchal. Seen from a distance you will be able to better appreciate the island’s
mountains literally emerging from the ocean.

Back in Funchal a taste of the famous Madeira Wine is something that can’t be missed. But remember: don’t stop at the first glass and try all the four types of Madeira. The Sercial and the Verdelho can be drunk as an aperitif. The Bual and the Malmsey are best served with dessert or as an after dinner digestive. This will be a fantastic way to end an adventurous day at the llevadas!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

TRAVELLING TO PIENZA AND MONTEPULCIANO - Where is the Real Tuscan Landscape?

The typical Tuscan landscape around Siena


TV, Cinema, Magazines, Books always identify Tuscany with soft blonde hills, cypresses at the horizon and isolated houses and villages dotting the fields.

These landscapes are quintessentially Tuscan, but not in every part of Tuscany you will be able to see these landscapes.

Tuscany is a big region extending from the sea on the West to the Apennines in the East.

So if you want to see the most iconic landscapes in Tuscany you need to know where to go!

This is what this post is about, answering the question: Where is the real Tuscan landscape?

Some tips for you to discover the "Real Tuscan Landscape":

Fly to Pisa or Florence where the two main airports in Tuscany are situated.

Although Pisa and Florence areas are also very beautiful the landscape you see in the photos in this post doesn't belong to those areas.

My advise, if you have time, is to allow some time to visit Pisa (read here about Pisa) and Florence (read here about Florence) and then move to the Real Tuscan Landscape.

From Pisa or Florence travel to Siena, both towns are well connected by bus or train.

Siena is certainly worth a visit and it is a perfect base and a wonderful city to discover (read here more about Siena).

 
Siena is the starting point of the "Real Tuscan Landscape".

After having visited Siena move South towards Montalcino driving or walking or cycling along the Via Cassia.

The Via Cassia is an old Roman road and now a fast road towards the South and eventually Rome.

This section of the Cassia is not too busy (for the Italian standard) and connects many little and picturesque villages along its way and the famous historic towns I listed below.

As an alternative to driving, having much more time at your disposal, the Via Cassia is a good road to walk and cycle, being enough villages to stop along the way for rest and food and certainly lot to see.

Along the way it is certainly worth to stop and visit Montalcino famous for its red wine production and for a beautiful Medioeval town.

A beautiful medieval town with lots of small cobbled streets that will certainly make a very good base for your explorations in the area. Nice restaurants and a lot of small bars will offer you the best attractions in the evening.

Montepulciano


From Montalcino keep going towards Pienza, an absolute masterpiece of Renaissance architecture with an amazing history to tell.

Pienza is a unique place to visit (and it is probably worth a post in itself). What makes Pienza special is that this Renaissance towns hasn't been built through the time but it represents the realization of  the project of just one mind who planned the whole town under the Reinassance canons. It is perfect: it is the masterpiece of Renaissance City Planning.

From Wikipedia: "Pienza was rebuilt from a village called Corsignano, which was the birthplace (1405) of Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini (Italian: Enea Silvio Piccolomini), a Renaissance humanist born into an exiled Sienese family, who later became Pope Pius II. Once he became Pope, Piccolomini had the entire village rebuilt as an ideal Renaissance town. Intended as a retreat from Rome, it represents the first application of humanist urban planning concepts, creating an impetus for planning that was adopted in other Italian towns and cities and eventually spread to other European centers.

The rebuilding was done by Florentine architect Bernardo Gambarelli (known as Bernardo Rossellino) who may have worked with the humanist and architect Leon Battista Alberti, though there are no documents to prove it for sure. Alberti was in the employ of the Papal Curia at the time and served as an advisor to Pius. Construction started about 1459. Pope Pius II consecrated the Duomo on August 29, 1462, during his long summer visit. He included a detailed description of the structures in his Commentaries, written during the last two years of his life".



Pienza - arriving cycling along the Cassia Way  

 
From Pienza you are not too further away to Montepulciano, another Tuscan town famous for its red wine and for its history that certainly deserve a stop and a visit.

You can drive this section of the Via Cassia in one day, if you just want to admire these wonderful panoramas without stopping in any of the town mentioned.

...finally the main square of Montepulciano enjoying a glass of local red wine.

more of Montepulciano square



 
If you are going to drive along the Via Cassia and stop to visit the towns as suggested consider at least a week including the visit to Siena.

If you are cycling or walking, it is much more difficult to estimate how much time as you need as it depends a lot for your grade of fitness, but I will suggest at least 15 days for the full tour cycling and three weeks trekking.

Piazza del Campo - Siena
 

Read our post about Siena to read useful info about how to get to Siena.

Read our page Visit Italy for more info and posts about Italy.