So France was incredible and all, but then we hopped on over to Italy, and well… it stole our hearts.
Our journey from Aix-en-Provence to Levanto, Italy was a long one. It took a full day – from sun up to sun down – and four (yes, four!) separate train rides. (We don’t recommend doing this.) We “wasted” an entire day traveling, but it was so worth it. Of course we had our one and only travel hiccup this day, on our last leg of the trip:
We were all prepared to exit the train in Levanto; we were listening closely to the loudspeaker announcing the stops, as the intervals between towns were short and frequent. There were many travelers standing in the aisle of this unusually layed out train (picture small square rooms with sliding doors on one side with a narrow walking isle on the other (claustrophobia, ick). We figured these people were also going to depart. Apparently, they were simply stretching their legs and chatting because before we knew it, the train had stopped in Levanto and was taking off again! Insert: Hillary freaking out. Like verbally freaking out and panicking.
The friendly middle eastern stranger who was sitting with us in our claustrophobic room on the train tried to calm us down in his broken English. He explained that we could get off in the next town, get another train ticket, and make it back to Levanto easily. Oh bother. Luckily, the next town (Monterosso) wasn’t far down the track. We managed to buy two more train tickets from the impatient woman at the ticket window who was trying to close up for the night. There was a bit of confusion on the platform, but we got on the train that was headed in the direction of our original destination, phew. But, at this point, we were late. The host of our B&B kindly offered to pick us up at the train station. Well, shoot. For some reason our cell phones were not working in the train, so the young woman sitting next to me – who was covered in paint from head to toe, mind you – let my mom use her cell phone to make a local call to our host, Sarah.
View from one of our trains between Aix-en-Provence and Levanto
Ahhh, we made it. Sarah – even more darling than she appeared in her airbnb photo – greeted us with big hugs. We tossed our luggage into her small SUV and made the four minute drive up the hill to her house/bed and breakfast: Amandolevanto B&B.
Side Note: Cinque Terre was at the top of our destinations list when planning our trip around Europe (travel logistics and headaches aside). When we were researching lodging, we ended up choosing to stay in Levanto which is technically not one of the five villages that make up Cinque Terre (translation: “The Five Lands”). Levanto is just north of Monterosso (see map). We were very happy that we ended up staying in Levanto, as it is much less touristy than the popular villages, but still close enough to have easy access to the bucket list travel destination.
Even though it was late, Sarah gave us a thorough introduction to her B&B — it was a such as warm welcome; we felt comfortable immediately. We crashed in our bed after an exhausting day of travel and woke up to breakfast on on the patio. Sarah made us eggs to order, and served homemade pastries with homemade jam, fresh fruit and yogurt (and we had access to an espresso machine in the foyer of the B&B at all times). We enjoyed chatting with the other guests, Debbie – a single woman from somewhere in the southern U.S. – and Summer and Mike, a darling young couple from Chicago. Each morning, we would share what we all had planned for the day and talked travel in general. Plus, Sarah would offer us tips through her contagious smile. She was such a doll!
Our first full day in Italy, we decided to “take it easy” and get to know Levanto. Sarah’s B&B is not downtown, but the walk to downtown and the water is very doable (12-15 minutes). We felt very comfortable doing it at night, too, as there were plenty of street lights and sweet Sarah convinced us it was safe.
We moseyed around the shops of Levanto and ate a piece of fresh foccacia for lunch in the park before walking to Bonnasola, the town just north of Levanto. A young gentleman who my mom had chatted with one of our bus rides in Aix recommended we visit this town (where some of his family lives). Why not! The walk to Bonnasola is completely flat and goes through several, long dark tunnels through the cliffs that are solely for pedestrians and bikers.
Bonnasola felt very sleepy when we arrived; perhaps it was “siesta time”, but everything seemed closed for the middle of the afternoon. Except for the gelato shop, thank goodness! We wandered around the narrow streets and then made the leisurely walk back to Levanto. We stopped to dip our toes in the Ligurian Sea. If it had been a few degrees warmer, I would have been all in. The clear water was inviting even with overcast skies.
We made the brief “hike” back home to freshen up, but not before long, we were on our way back down through Sarah’s darling neighborhood to find dinner downtown. It was probably lack of sleep, but I wasn’t feeling 100 percent, so we stopped into a pharmacy to see if we could find a natural cold remedy. Hello handsome Italian pharmacist. I left with a box of a natural orange fizzy supplement similar to Emergen-C)… which I need to find because it was excellent.
Next stop: dinner at an authentic family-owned restaurant. I had the most delicious pesto pasta (Did you know pesto originated from Genoa in the Ligurian region? Basil pesto was everywhere!) The staff didn’t speak great English, but we had a flavorful meal and enjoyed watching the waiter filet fish to order in three minutes flat — quite a skill!
Levanto: you were lovely.
Beach in Bonnasola, Italy (north of Levanto)
View from our room – the lush Italian countryside
Amandolevanto B&B: we can’t say enough good things!
Breakfast (eggs made to order, fresh pastries & homemade jam) each morning – al fresco!
Bike shop photo for Dad
Napping by the sea
Active is the way of life
Little “cars” everywhere
Messy, melting gelato
Finding the perfect rocks to take home a souvenier