Italy's feast for the senses

My poor senses! Upon arrival into the coastal town of Levanto by train from Florence, they were a little overwhelmed by it all. The coffee, the wine, the seafood, and  the Mediterranean. What a heady cocktail they did make! Not to mention the view.

Whilst it isn’t actually part of the famous five towns that form the Cinque Terre, Levanto is perfectly positioned to be a jumping off point to make the most of the coastal walks designed by Peregrine and their local contacts.

Take a stroll
Each of the walks between the villages are unique; some are a little more taxing than others, taking up to five hours. There is a sense of balance though, as the ‘lovers walk’ between Riomaggiore and Manarola is a casual 30 minute stroll, with the glistening sea your constant companion.

The train that connects the towns is nothing short of brilliant, and can be something of a safety net for those who wish to skip a day or two’s walking, or if the weather were to turn. But I can’t imagine the sun would ever be so cruel as to not shine brilliantly every day, as it did for me.

Picking favourites
The fertile hills behind the villages make for beautiful vineyards, and the seafood I mentioned earlier is abundant, as four of the towns are on the water’s edge, but the middle village of Corniglia is perched upon the edge of a cliff, giving it a regal, lofty air.

Upon climbing to the church at the peak of the village, we were rewarded with a view of the sea and the other villages that will stay with me forever. It’s difficult (but seems to be a natural pastime for all travellers to the region) to select a favourite of the five. Monterosso has the Riviera  feel that has drawn the rich and famous for decades. Vernazza and Manarola, perhaps the most photogenic of the five villages, have the magnificent waterfronts that can’t help but lend themselves to the postcards you’ll send home.

With its imposing position, Corniglia is in a different league to the other four, while Riomaggiore, with its winding lanes, cafes and stores is the town to lose yourself in. Before I had a chance to cast my vote, I found myself in Portovenere. I must confess I hadn’t researched this coastal town nearly as much as I had the others. All I knew was the Romantic poet Lord Byron spent a great deal of time here, and he was right to.

A real highlight
Perhaps because I wasn’t expecting much, Portovenere stands out as the highlight for me. The boardwalk, restaurants and shops that sit patiently by the waterside, protected from the open water by a natural harbour create this small village that is nothing short of breath-taking. I feel now, as I felt then, privileged to have called this place home, even if it was only for 2 nights. If you ever find yourself in Portovenere, stay on an extra night or three. You will thank me.

Emptying the bucket list
The Cinque Terre had long been on my to-do list, but in previous trips to Europe, I’d never thought it possible to do justice to the five famous towns, and the surrounding area, but the self-guided Jewels of the Cinque Tertre and Portovenere trip was the perfect addition to an itinerary filled with capital cities.

This self-guided tour offered me the chance to experience this small part of the world thoroughly, getting under the skin of the destination. Add to that the promise of only having to pack and unpack twice in seven days, and I was sold! Whether your first or your tenth trip to Europe, if you’ve ever thought of visiting the Cinque Terre, but are not wanting to travel with a group, this itinerary is something to behold.

Is this a part of the world that appeals to you? Tell us why in the comments section below. And if you've got photos and stories to share, why not jump on Facebook and twitter so show the rest of the Peregrine community.

If you'd like to check out our self-guided walks through Italy, head over to the website. There's bound to be something that gets your tootsies twitching!

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