Looking back on my past 6 years of traveling, most of my destinations were pretty exotic spots, where there was much to discover, to dive into and soak up endless experiences. My first summer trip of 2019 turned out to be Italy, the country where I spent all my childhood summer holidays from back then when I was 5 til I turned 18. The last time I saw my relatives in Italy was in 2007, exactly twelve years ago.
My first thoughts about an italian roadtrip was like “oh yeah, it’s just Italy”. Don’t get me wrong Italy has a lot to offer for all the art & history aficionados. Obviously their culinary “chef-d’ouevres” or just the simpler variation of nonna’s kitchen, belongs to the best and favorites cuisines in the whole world.
However for my own personal interests and photowise I’m tending more on the american or asian continent.
Surprisingly we had a super lovely holiday as you can witness on my travel video about Italy. I discovered the “aperitivos” with endless free food, I had the chance to discover some beautiful spots in Tuscany, enjoyed endless amounts of delicious dishes and loved spending quality time with my girlfriend and our families.
Cinque Terre (Liguria).
We started our roadtrip around 04:00 in the morning, as we were late again, as usual. But it turned out to be a good time to leave the contry on a monday morning, as we barely didn’t had any heavy traffic on the road.
It took us 11 hours to reach our first destination “Riomaggiore” which is one of the first “terra” of the Cinque Terre (trans. Five Lands). We had booked an appartement very close to the sea, so we could enjoy the cliffs and sound of the waves in the morning. There are five main spots which form Cinque Terre: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, Monterosso.
It’s hard to choose one of the “terre” as your hotel spot, if you haven’t been there before. I tried to get an idea online, but it left me clueless. We opted for Riomaggiore, as we loved the sight of the rising houses from the shore towards the mountain hills.
Actually it only takes 2 minutes by train to get from Riomaggiore to Manarola. The train leaves the station, passes a tunnel which connects both lands, and two minutes later you’re in Manarola. The longest distance between two “terre” would be around 8 minutes.
This means that it’s actually not that important where you sleep, as you can easily travel around and the trains move around til midnight.
Even though the connecting train rides don’t last long, it’s still pretty exausting to do all the cinque terre in one day. Definitely it’s easily doable, but there a lot of steps to climb and many steep hills to walk.
As we only spent 2 nights in Cinque Terre, we decided to have a relaxed arrival after almost 12 hours of driving, and do the other 4 terres left for the second day. There are two trails that will lead you to the different spots. Sadly because of construction works, the trails were closed for us. On the first day, the ferry terminals were closed as well due to the harsh waves. So we had to rely on the local train line.
Let me sumarize my favorite spots at the terre:
Riomaggiore was definitely pretty because of the rising colorful houses from the shore towards the upper hills, where you enter “Cinque Terre”. However the bars & restaurants were pretty boring.
Manarola was slightly different, but also pretty similiar to Riomaggiore. In Manarola it was easier to get into the water, or watch the locals diving from the cliffs. The best spot in our opinion was the resto-bar “Nessun Dorma” on top of the cliff. It offered wonderful sunset views and you could enjoy an Aperol-Spritz for 9 Euro followed by a free “plancha” with bread, olives, salame and prosciuto. They call it “Aperitivo” where you get free finger food between 6 and 8 pm while ordering a cocktail or a glass of wine.
Vernazza had the coolest bars close to the ocean. The several bakeries nearby offered great & cheap food as well. From the main alley you can slip through a rock-hole, walk through a cave that leads you to the sea.
Corniglia was the steepest terra and definitely made me sweat walking from the trainstation up to the top. It seemed less lively than the other 4 spots.
Monterosso was the beachy area of the 5 terre, also called Monterosso al Mare. That’s where you’d find those colorful ombrelones that protects you from the sun at the beach. There was a different vibe and it looked more lively as people were jumping into the water, went swimming and kids were laughing out loud while the waves crashed into their faces.
The food and drinks can be pretty affordable if you take the time to find cheaper bars. Hotel or hostel wise Cinque Terre can get quite costly.
Toscana: Siena & San Gimignano.
After our stay at the terre, we moved on to Tuscany. We drove almost three hours until we reached Siena, where we booked a hotel for 2 nights as well. We stayed at the “HOTEL SANTA CATERINA” which was the most charming accomodation I would have ever expected. It was also pretty affordable considering the location and its wonderful backyard that offered a view of the Tuscany countryside.
I loved the beauty of the hills and greens in Tuscany. Personaly Siena didn’t seem that much of an attractive city to me, as I’ve already been to a lot of medieval italian cities, and they kinda all look alike. At night most of the tourists had dinner at the Piazza del Campo. The whole piazza was packed up with foreigners. The bars in the little side alleys stayed empty. It definitely seemed very touristic. Even on a weekend night there wasn’t much going on. Most of the restaurants shut their doors at 23:00 (11pm), where on the other hand cities in Portugal or Spain stay up til very late during the main summer season. I missed the music coming out of the bars, people dancing in the streets, or just random people running by.
The road from Siena to its neighbour city San Gimignano was very scenic and it offered a couple of nice vista points. Even in town, especially on the village edges you could enjoy lunch with a splendid view towards the greenish hills of Tuscany. San Gimignano however was a tourist magnet. You wouldn’t spot a local among the crowds that were walking through the main alleys. The local shopkeepers were very welcoming and rather nice compared to the business people in Liguria. Watching these crowds of german, dutch and british tourists walking by just wouldn’t put me at ease in San Gimignano.
From Tuscany we moved on towards the Marche reggion. We spent a couple of days at the family’s house in Poggetto which was located in the countryside, a tiny village with less than a hundred citizen. There wasn’t even a shop in the village, nor a bar.
However everything was very genuine, as we were the only foreigner in Poggetto I guess. My girlfriend’s grandma spoiled us with her breakfast and cooking. Getting to a supermarket we had to drive to the next village. The gelaterias were also located and spread throughout the different villages. It didn’t bother me, as I was glad that all this was pretty authentic.
During our stay we went to the beaches in Ricchione and Senigallia, visited a shopping mall in Rimini and had a wonderful dinner with ocean view at “Ristorantino Prima Secca” in Fano.
The Marche region in my opinion is very underrated, as it looks very similiar to Tuscany. Travelers however tend to visit the tuscan area of Italy, which is more expensive. Marche offers you hills, nature and mountains. The beach cities like Rimini, Pesaro, Riccione are only 30-60 minutes away.
Flying a drone at Cinque Terre was prohibited (psht! don’t tell anyone). At the marche countryside it didn’t bother anyone that I sent up my drone to take some impressive footage.
I loved the village fests, that were theme-based for example: the tagliatelle fest “Sagra delle tagliatelle”. The following week they hosted a truffle fest or a meat-based fest. Lovely backyard parties in a public place where people would enjoy traditional music with local food and wine all night. Endless amounts of italian specialties are without a doubt a big part of an italian vaccation. We just couldn’t stop eating!
If I had to pick my favorite spot of the three mentioned above, it would be Poggetto, with its laid-back village vibe.
We spent ten days in Italy, and I’m glad that I gained back my interests for the italian culture. I’d still visit Portugal in a heartbeat over Italy, however I can’t argue that Italy has a lot to offer as well.