Liguria Hotel Guide & City Selector - Part 2 - Cinque Terre to Portofino

Explore Cinque Terre & Portofino and Avoid the Crowds.

An Independent Guide to Selecting Hotels and Ligurian Towns - Recommended Family Hotels, Low Cost Hotels, Seaside Hotels, Hotels with Parking, & B&B's in Each Town.

Where to Stay to see Cinque Terre, Italy? 
What is the Best Town to use as a base to see the Cinque Terre villages and/or Portofino? Choose one of the charming seaside towns just a short train or ferry ride away from both Portofino and the tiny Cinque Terre villages of Monterossa, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore. You won't need to worry about Cinque Terre parking or driving (don't!), you'll endure less crowding, spend less than on a comparable Cinque Terre hotel, and you'll meet the real Liguria. 

This is Part 2 of Our Liguria Hotel Guide and City Selector. Here are the pluses and minuses of six towns along with Martha's hotel recommendations for each. They are north of the Cinque Terre and south of the Portofino Peninsula (see our Liguria / Cinque Terre Map).  All are on the sea and all have train service on the Genoa - Pisa line for easy excursions, four have ferry service. Listed from south to north - click the name to jump down.
  • LEVANTO Small city ideal for access to the Cinque Terre but with its own charm & services. 
  • BONASSOLA Friendly small town with beach, bike path & hikes. Perfect for a relaxing base.
  • MONEGLIA  Historic village - like the Cinque Terre but without daytrippers & with a beach.
  • SESTRI LEVANTE A combo resort and city with an historic area and a super beach.
  • LAVAGNA A quintessential Italian small city with a vibrant center and fewer tourists.
  • CHIAVARI Elegant arcaded city with shops & restaurants yet good access to the region's sites

Hiking An Unknown Past - San Lorenzo Caprione

Above Lerici and the Gulf of La Spezia:  A Hike Exploring Ancient Astronomy, Early Farming, An Abandoned Church, a Forgotten Village, and a Quarry. 

Abandoned church of San Lorenzo di Caprione, Lerici, Liguria.
The abandoned church of San Lorenzo di Caprione.  On the Caprione Promontory in Lerici, Liguria.

Cobbling together an incomplete past for an entire village will be our task and our pleasure on this hike around the ruins of San Lorenzo di Caprione. We'll try to imagine some of its past from a few paper records, from the ruins of a church and houses, from stonewalled lanes and fields, and from a menhir and an ancient millstone.  The hike is on the Caprione Promontory - Lerici's peninsula - in southern Liguria, not far from Sarzana (see Getting There below).
Start: Connection to 1 (1=CAI-411)

The village of San Lorenzo is really old, but little is known of the town's beginnings or of its demise. In a discrete location hidden from the sea, we know it was the refuge for Lerici in the time of the Saracen raids of the middle ages.  It's mentioned in religious records in the 12th and 13th centuries, and in the 16th century a census listed 100 households. Life could not have been easy - although the area includes some level fields for farming and at least one water source, it's also very rocky.

The Hike.  The basic walk we describe in the forest and the macchia* takes less than an hour. It's easy and suitable for picnics and supervised children. There are many shady sections and some views but no steep parts, no services, and no water. The hike is a circle but it can be extended to almost any length thanks to the extensive trail network here. (see More Info below).

The Museum of the Olive - Imperia, Liguria

Visiting the Museum of the Olive, A Top Ligurian Attraction  

Not just for Children or Tourists or Rainy Days, This Imperia Stop is a Treat. 

Museum of the Olive displays of early private label olive oil containers
The Museum of the Olive displays many examples of early private label olive oil containers. No stereotypes here! 
In Imperia, Italy, along the Riviera dei Fiori, there’s a nifty Museo dell'Olivo dedicated to olives, and it is guaranteed to show-and-tell you things you did not know about olives –  fascinating things. The museum was created by the Carli family. Their family business -Fratelli Carli - is olive oil, and they've been doing it since the early 1900's. It all started because one year they had a real bumper crop, more than they could use, and they tried to sell it. All their neighbors, however, also had bumper crops, so one of the brothers hopped on his motor bike and started selling the oil in Piedmont, beyond the coastal mountains, and the rest is oily history. You may not know the Carli name, since they sell mostly “to the trade” to ensure that their oil will always be used fresh. For decades the family had collected olive related objects, and in 1992, the museum was born. What's more, there's also an excellent company store & lunch counter, an optional olive mill tour, and an optional tour of the office/production facility.

One Hundred Years of Happy Eating in Sarzana

La Scaletta - a Restaurant Institution in Ligurian Lunigiana  

Trattoria La Scaletta  Sarzana, Liguria
Trattoria La Scaletta  Sarzana, Liguria.
Pretty, narrow country roads of Sarzana are only minutes away from the historic center, and as you leave the last vestiges of town, you’ll find a blind corner and a stairway with an open gate. Just around that corner is the parking for the very affordable Trattoria La Scaletta. Pull in and start relaxing. According to the manager, this restaurant has been in business for over a hundred years at the same location, and when you look around the simple dining room full of people enjoying lunch, you can believe it. The ambiance is fresh, clean, and straight ahead –  each table is set with a business-like oil, vinegar, salt and pepper - with bright sheets of plastic covering the tablecloths,. The d├ęcor is interesting, a little plain, a little idiosyncratic, with oddly hung paintings and prints of landscapes, clowns, farms. In warm weather a huge side porch provides an airy alternative to indoor dining.

The Best Portovenere Restaurant not in Portovenere

A Ligurian Seafood Restaurant to Remember. 

In the little port of Le Grazie, a part of Historic Portovenere near Cinque Terre.

Antipasti misti di mare at Il Gambero Restaurant, Le Grazie, Portovenere
The Antipasti misti di mare at Il Gambero in the little port of Le Grazie, Portovenere, Liguria. 
Italy is famous for wonderful seafood, and Liguria is one of the absolute best places to find a great variety of fresh fish and shellfish.  The puzzle is finding a restaurant that adds unique flavors and textures to your lovely dinner while remaining affordable.  Thanks to the advice of our friend Julie-of-Perpetual-Travel, we recently enjoyed a real winner, and after a couple of visits, we know Il Gambero is going to be a regular on our restaurant rotation.

Il Gambero restaurant, Le Grazie, Portovenere
The Il Gambero dining room is cozy and welcoming.
Il Gambero is in a frazione of the town of Portovenere called Le Grazie – and it is truly graceful as the name implies.  The little port is well back on the peninsula from the ancient city of Porto Venere*  so that the driving and parking are not a major problem. Our Story: Portovenere Travel Guide.

Le Grazie is situated on a small harbor with a nice walk along its perimeter.  The restaurant is on the harbor road, right across from the water, and it’s rather small so reservations are a very good idea. There are two dining rooms inside, and half dozen tables outside. The staff is wonderfully friendly - you'll relax in a second.

Born in Lunigiana: The Happy Wife of Ham

Inventive Salumi Artisan Creates the Best in Italian Quality  

The Macelleria Elena & Mirco in Castelnuovo Magra
Macelleria Elena & Mirco in Castelnovo Magra near the Tuscan border. 
Only in Italy would a life-long devotion to producing pork products be considered an art.  We met an artist / salumiere who combines craftsmanship, art, experimentation, and imagination to reach the ultimate mastery of the meaty genre.  At a small salumeria in the Ligurian town of Castelnovo Magra, Mirco Bertini is at the top of his game.  He has devoted more than 20 years to developing prosciutto, pancetta, sausages, and the like, and they are ethereal bits of Mediterranean heaven.

Signor Bertini is so devoted, he needed a new word to distinguish his product from prosciutto - thus was born his amazing Prosciutta.  As Mirco puts it (loosely translated) "The Prosciutta is the happy wife of ham . It's the perfect fusion of the Ligurian tradition with that of Tuscany: it is a meat unmistakable for its delicate aroma and delicious taste.”