The Italian region of Liguria is home to stunning sea views, tiny harbors, fresh fish, and the world’s best pesto. To the southeast lie the five towns of the Cinque Terre. To the northwest, the Italian Riviera. How can one small slice of Italy be so blessed?
In between the Cinque Terre and the Italian Riviera sits the small town of Levanto, which made a perfect landing spot for a recent short vacation with my daughter and two of my grandkids.
Levanto is the first town north of Monterosso al Mare (the northern-most of the Cinque Terre towns). It has the great advantage of being much less hectic than towns in the heavily touristed Cinque Terre. Levanto is easily reached by train, either a local from La Spezia or the faster intercity train from Pisa or Viareggio. For local transportation, the Cinque Terre Express links Levanto to the four coastal towns of the Cinque Terre and - even better - there are regularly scheduled ferry boats between Levanto and the Cinque Terre villages. Levanto has a laid-back, friendly, casual beach vibe - perfect for a family vacation.
We chose the charming B&B A Durmi for our three-night stay. This is a small, family-run B&B with comfy rooms and small apartments opening onto pretty courtyards, perfect for al fresco breakfasts or afternoon drinks. Elisa and Chiara take wonderful care of their guests, providing helpful information about Levanto, restaurant suggestions, timetables for boats and trains to the Cinque Terre, and even beach towels and umbrellas. Our two-bedroom, two-bath apartment was perfect for two adults and two kids, and having a kitchen for some meals and snacks was a plus. A big thanks goes to my friend Susan for suggesting A Durmi - it’s a winner!
We ate well in Levanto, too.
Think anchovies and pesto (both are local specialties), fish, and lemons (limone gelato!).
We enjoyed simple and tasty meals at the tiny family-run Macaja (fried anchovies, a pasta with pesto and one with anchovies, good salads), delicious pizza at Taverna Garibaldi, and one upscale (but still reasonably priced) meal at Ristorante Antico Borgo (ravioli filled with fish, a pesto ravioli with potato and green beans, a wonderful grilled lamb). Che buono!
But, as good as the food was, the real star of the trip was the sea. Day passes for the tourist boats let us hop on and hop off at the Cinque Terre towns (cost 30 euro per adult, 15 for children age 10 and under).
In a single day we explored Vernazza, Manarola, and Monterosso al Mare. Were they crowded? Well, yes. The Cinque Terre is always crowded in summer. But in early June the crowds were less than they will be at the height of summer and the tiny villages were still enjoyable. My grandkids (ages 10 and 13) loved the harbors, coastal guard towers, narrow streets, small fishing boats, sea-themed gift shops, and - most of all - the boats that ferried us between towns, the bumpy waves, and the occasional splash from the wake of a passing boat. For a couple of landlocked New Mexico kids, this was a real adventure!
Levanto (unlike many of the Cinque Terre villages) also has nice stretches of beach. There are several private beaches (where you pay to use beach chairs, umbrellas, and cabanas) as well as two public beaches (free, bring your own umbrellas and towels).
And there was so much more to enjoy in Levanto - an easy, short hike up to the castle, a daily market, an old town with medieval loggia and streets, a seaside promenade, and hiking trails.
Our three days in Levanto were a real treat - and a great way to show a different side of Italy to my grandkids. I will definitely return, and I hope next visit to explore northward to the towns of Rapallo, Portofino, and Santa Margherita along the Italian Riviera. -post by Joanne