Things to Do in Piedmont & Liguria
The scenic stretch of sandy beach that runs along the Monterosso coast makes this popular Cinque Terre village one of the area’s most-visited summertime destinations. Divided into old and new towns, this pedestrian-friendly, cars-optional spot tends to overflow with tourists once the season heats up. Easy access to crystal clear waters mean it’s the perfect place to cool down.
In addition to relaxing on the quiet shores of Monterosso, travelers can check out historic castle ruins tucked into the idyllic hillside or experience iconic religious frescos in the church of St. John the Baptist. But it’s the vast collection of work from artists like Van Dyck and Luca Cambiasco that make the convent of Monterosso al Mare an essential stop on any visit to this famous village.
Portovenere, on the Italian Rivera and located in close proximity to the famous Cinque Terre, is known for its picturesque harbor. Known mostly to the Italians, that is. Many tourists sadly skip over this seaside village, favoring the brightly colored houses of the Cinque Terre instead.
Far less crowded Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare, Portovenere has its own colorful houses that line the harbor. Here you’ll also find the picturesque black and white striped church of San Pietro, which sits dramatically on a rocky promontory, narrow Medieval lanes that snake up to the hilltop 12th-century Doria Castle, and the rocky alcove known as Byron’s Cave, where the poet Lord Byron himself used to swim. There are also many shops selling local wares – wine, ceramics and olive oil – making for plenty to do in Portovenere.
Historic vineyards and epic views set the 100-meter-high village of Corniglia apart from other towns in the Cinque Terre. Unlike Vernazza, Riomaggiore, Monterosso al Mare and Manarola, Corniglia’s borders don’t actually touch the sea. Instead, travelers must climb a steep set of brick stairs, referred to as the Lardarina by locals, to reach the picturesque village. While a small road makes the village accessible via car or local bus, visitors agree climbing the 33-flight Lardarina is an essential Corniglia experience. The town’s famous terrace provides incredible panoramic views, including a single spot where all villages in Cinque Terre can be seen at one time.
This protected area in the heart of La Spezia was designated Italy’s first national park in 1999. Since then its 4,300 acres, which include the five towns that make up Cinque Terre, have been attracting globetrotters from around the world. A network of scenic hiking trails linking cliff-side villages to one another are among the park’s main attractions, but the protected marine area and quiet fishing communities help to draw some 3.5 million travelers a month to these hills. An impressive array of Mediterranean flowers, trees and plant life dot Cinque Terre trails and visitors are likely to spot a handful of animals unique to the region on a hike through this popular destination.
Manarola is the second smallest—and also the oldest—of the five towns that make of Cinque Terre. Its name derives from a Latin word meaning large wheel, which pays homage to a giant mill at the center of town.
Travelers to Manarola will find the same rolling hillsides and picturesque hiking trails that Cinque Terre is known for, as well as the Sciacchetra wine the region made famous. What sets this vista apart is the colorful homes tucked into ocean cliffs that bring pops of yellow, blue and red to the landscape, which have inspired artists for decades. Visitors can check out some of the oil paintings and watercolors at the local gallery before heading up the hill for incredible views and a visit to the Church of St. Lorenzo.
More Things to Do in Piedmont & Liguria
Docking at La Spezia, a Mediterranean port in northern Italy, gives you access to three of the country’s top destinations: Pisa, Florence and the must-see chain of five cliff-side villages known as Cinque Terre. A wine-tasting tour through the Chianti countryside also makes a great shore excursion. But if you don’t plan to venture out, the town of La Spezia, backed by mountains and home to several museums and a castle, has plenty to offer for a day in port.
La Spezia port requires tendering, meaning you’ll be taken from the ship to land via a smaller boat. Once you’re dropped off on the floating pier, walk to the Public Gardens (Giardini Pubblici), across from the base of the pier, and you’ll be in the city.
La Spezia’s top sights can be seen on foot. From the Public Gardens, head to San Giorgio Castle (Castello di San Giorgio), a half mile west of the port. Dating back to the late 1200s, the castle is best known for its watchtower built by Niccolò Fieschi.
The town of Barolo in Piedmont is very small – less than 1,000 residents – but since it produces one of the most sought-after wines on any Italian wine list, it attracts quite a bit of attention.
Barolo is roughly 30 miles southeast of Turin, not far from Alba. The tiny town is easy to explore on foot – although some of it is quite hilly, it's small enough that you can take your time. The countryside around Barolo is covered in vineyards, most of which are responsible for growing the nebbiolo grapes used to make the town's namesake wine.
Wine lovers will likely want to explore the area's vineyards, but don't overlook the town itself. There are a number of wine shops right in Barolo, and many winemakers have storefronts there, too, where you can taste (and buy) their wines.
The town of La Morra in Piedmont is in the same wine-producing area as Barolo, although it's far less well known. La Morra is about 30 miles southeast of Turin, and even borders Barolo and Alba. Like those towns, La Morra has long been heralded for the nebbiolo grapes that cover the hillsides and get turned into expensive wines.
It's a larger town than Barolo, with more than 2,500 residents, so there's more of an historic center to explore. There are also paths that wind out of the center and through the vineyards surrounding the town.
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