They say you find what you are looking for when you stop looking; this proved to be true for us in Italy. Giving up on finding charming, out of the way places we headed to Cinque Terre and discovered . . . the rest of the tourists. Luckily, sometimes the restrictions of Salt bring about unexpected joys: Unable to drive Salt down the roads leading into the five townships that comprise Cinque Terre (contrary to Wikipedia, Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet internet reviews, you can indeed drive into these towns, albeit with a car and not a caravan) we opted to camp just north along the coast in Levanto.
As it turns out we discovered our own little heaven. There are some tourists here, but not nearly the hordes that converge along the five Cinque Terre towns. Indeed, our one day at the northern-most town, Monterossa, was more than enough for me: Having to dodge tour guides hoisting their herding flags as they led their slow-moving groups from photo op to photo op and over-paying for under-flavored “Italian” food was more than I could bear. Thankfully, this memory was displaced by our hike home to Levanto which proved to be long, but wonderful, along the edge of the sea.
What promised to provide the largest portion of the Cinque Terre charm for us, the coastal hike connecting the five towns, was closed due to landslides and continued rainfall. One section, the Via Dell’Amore, has been closed since 2011; the other four more recently, and hopefully, temporarily. You can still drive to all the towns as well as train or ferry but having seen the one and, more importantly, having found our own coastal dream towns (yes, there are two!) we saw no need to drive, train or boat in order to enjoy what this coast has to offer. (Note that you can also still walk between the towns, just not on the coastal route; these other trails often involve sharing roads with automobiles not making for a very enjoyable outing.)
So Levanto . . . larger than Monterossa, filled with great little shops (local wine, cheese, bread, fish and non-local Armani), and topped off with a good dose of Crusties, we are in heaven. Include in the list hill walks through olive groves and a gorgeous coastal walk to the even more charming town of Bonnasola, and I believe we have discovered how the Italians enjoy Cinque Terre: From anywhere else along the Riviera.
There is one downside to this lovely spot; the bell tower goes off 24-hours a day on the quarter hour; with chimes for the hour as well as the quarter hour it is quite the bell-fest. So, even at say, 3:30 in the morning, you get three chimes in one note (Ding, Ding, Ding) indicating the hour and then two chimes in another note (Dong, Dong) indicating 2x15 minutes. Nothing keeps me awake more than laying there listening to my life chime away 15 minutes at a time. No pressure. The worst is 12:45—it barely finishes before the singular chime of 1:00; it is difficult, however, not to enjoy the classic Ding, Dong chime of 1:15—although I much prefer hearing the PM rendition. They make up for this annoyance by having the most inviting Cocktail Chime promptly at 5:00 p.m. (coming soon to a DITL Video.) Now The Noses and I all begin to salivate at 5:01.
Other than that, this is the location we thought all Aventura locations would be like. It is an easy walk from Camping Aqua Dolce into the town for groceries and each afternoon one of us will make the journey, finding something to make for dinner. As previously mentioned, hiking is in abundance as is swimming in the sea and two lovely tennis courts. SP has rented a bike on two occasions and I’m not sure who is more happy, he or River. River’s new joy is to run along beside the bike—something we started her on in Slovenia; unfortunately not as convenient here due to the increase in bicycle and pedestrian traffic. But when she can she does and when she can’t she cries as he peddles away. (He, and I for that matter, can walk away all day long and she won’t bother to lift her head [as long as Rosco is with her], but get SP on the bicycle without her and you’d think she was about to die.)
SP would like to visit one more Cinque town because he just can’t believe the amount of hype surrounding what seem to be five not un-common towns along this coast and I would like to see them from the sea, so perhaps we’ll get on that ferry after all. Until then,
PS: You may notice in the campground pictures the abundance of trees and the lack of space; we had quite a time parking Salt and may not have succeeded without the help of our neighbors. We will need their help again to get out as we cannot leave unless the camper next to us vacates his spot. Even at this “low season” time of year, the campground is filled to capacity each night—often with a great amount of daily turnover. Timing will be essential.