DAY 1 Monterosso al Mare
We begin our walking vacation this afternoon with a rendezvous in Monterosso al Mare, largest of the Cinque Terre villages. The Cinque Terre, the "Five Lands", is the name given to five special towns which lie on the Italian Riviera - Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Built into the mountains that come down to the sea, the Cinque Terre towns are small, fishing villages. Monterosso, our home for three nights, is the largest of the five villages with a 12th-century church in the Ligurian style, a lively market, and small beaches. This afternoon our warm-up walk will take us over Punta Mesco and along the cliff top trail to Levanto. We return by train to Monterosso in time for our welcome dinner.
Cinque Terre In this region of the "Five Lands" the sea, the hills, the vineyards, the old fishing villages, and the Genovese style churches add together to result in enthralling scenery. From Riomaggiore to Manrola there is the renowned Via dell'Amore (lover's pathway) cut out of the coastal rock. A unique characteristic of the area are the terraced vineyards sustained by dry walling, a perfect example of landscape architecture created by man in inaccessible surroundings. The rare and disappearing species of flora and fauna are protected throughout the Cinque Terre as far as Porto Venere in a park that is both nature and marine. Panoramic foot paths that have been cared for and clearly indicated by the C.A.I. Association, are well used by walkers and trekkers alike, and along some paths one is likely to meet up with horseriders. Corniglia, winding up the hillside and Monterosso spreading out at sea level both have notable artistic scenic references. At Monterosso are the Medioeval "Torre Aurora" (the Dawn Tower) which divides the old part of the town from the new part (Fegina), and the Van Dyke Crucifix in the San Francisco church and on the hillside the 18th century Sanctuary of Soviore. Another delightful corner is Vernazza, where the parish church once again repeats the Romanic-Genovese themes. A picturesque walk along the Cinque Terre hillside connects the Sanctuaries amid fairy tale scenery above the villages which are above the sea.
DAY 2 Cinque Terre
Today we walk from Monterosso to Riomaggiore, via Vernazza, Corniglia and Manarola. Clinging haphazardly to steep cliffs, the villages are connected to each other only by a railway and footpath along the cliffs. The land between the villages is a protected area where many types of plant and animal life flourish. The landscape here varies from rugged cliffs with a sheer drop to the sea to the palms and agave that make up only a part of the area's rich plant life. Our walks take us along ancient trade routes, and through olive groves, grape terraces and pine forests. If enchanted by one of the villages, spend the remainder of the day there and take a train back to Monterosso in time to meet the group for dinner.
DAY 3 Camogli - San Fruttuoso - Portofino
We begin the day with a transfer by local train to colorful Camogli, which means "wives' houses". It gets its name from the women who were left alone all day while their husbands were out fishing. Fishing is still very much a part of life in Camogli, as the old houses of the fishermen and the 300-year old pier that closes in the port attest. Our walking route takes us up the hillside overlooking Camogli and the coast. We continue on a lovely wooded path shaded by umbrella pines. Mid-day we reach the secluded coastal haven of San Fruttuoso which can only be reached by boat or by foot. After a visit to the 12th-century Benedictine abbey of San Fruttuoso we return to Portofino, winding our way through olive and chestnut groves. After a gelato in Portofino we return to Monterosso by train. Tonight you are on your own for dinner, allowing you to sample one of Monterosso's fine restaurants.
DAY 4 Riomaggiore - Portovenere
Today we head from Riomaggiore, the last Cinque Terre village, to Portovenere, on the Gulf of Poets. All day long our path winds in and out of pine and oak forests with remarkable views to the coast. At the day's end we descend alongside the majestic castle which dominates the ridge above town. A Roman-Byzantine town, Portovenere is another small resort town on a rocky promontory. At one end of town stands an old fortification and the medieval church of St Peter's. From here you can look back and enjoy a view of the town's colorful waterfront. Inspired by the beauty, the world's best loved poets Shelley, Byron and Petrarch lived and wrote on this gulf.
DAY 5 Lerici - Tellaro
Today we have an easy day, beginning with a boat ride from Portovenere across the Gulf of Poets to Lerici, a resort town on the water. On a rocky peak above the town stands a 13th-century castle which looks down onto the port. The view from the castle over the Gulf of Poets and nearby islands is breathtaking. We enjoy a leisurely walk from Lerici into the surrounding hills, following a path through ancient olive groves and terraced gardens. Once again we finish our walk in a tiny seaside village. Take some time to explore all the narrow alleys that lead from the village piazza to the waterfront. We never tire of the views on this beautiful coast! Mid afternoon we take the boat back to Portovenere, allowing time for an afternoon swim, or a cold drink in one of the waterfront cafes. Tonight for dinner you are free to choose from one of the many restaurants in town.
DAY 6: Tuscany
En route to our countryside hotel, we will visit the lovely city of Lucca. Our local guide will point out the highlights and treasures of this ancient city. You will several hours on your own to enjoy a leisurely lunch, shopping, or a visit to a local museum. Lucca Lucca dates back to Etruscan times, in 180 BC. it was first a Roman colony and then a Roman municipality. With the fall of the Roman Empire itself, it was considered already the capital of Tuscany by the Gauls, and afterwards proclaimed so by the Lombards. In 533 BC. Lucca withstood a long siege by the Byzantines. In the times of the Carolingi the capital was transferred from Lucca to Florence. After the first crusade, in which the people of Lucca had participated, the Commune of Lucca was set up and the city's prestige increased. In 1304 it came under the domain of Uguccione della Faggiola, and, in 1316, Castruccio Castracani degli Antelminelli, who was proclaimed General, extended the dominion of Lucca. After his death Lucca was subject to various domination's, the one by Pisa being the longest. In 1369, after having gained its liberty with the help of Charles IV, Lucca flourished in art, commerce and agriculture. It was almost always a republic governed buy the aristocracy. Elisa Bobaparte ruled the city from 1805-1813. In 1817 it became the dukedom of the Bourbons and in 1847 Lucca was rejoined once again with Tuscany and followed its destiny.
DAY 7 San Gimignano
San Gimignano, Italy's best preserved medieval city, is a fantastic landmark. Its medieval towers, some of them over 50 meters tall, loom over the surrounding hills. At one time almost every city in central Italy looked like this; more than just defensive strongholds in the incessant family feuds, these towers served as status symbols for both the families and the cities themselves, a visible measure of a town's power and prosperity, even if it also betrayed the bitterness of its internal divisions. Today's walk takes us outside the town walls into the countryside which is home to intense farming activity. The vineyards surrounding San Gimignano are well known for their white wine, Vernaccia. Roughly translated as "belonging here", it is not surprising that records show Vernaccia growing in the area since the 13th century. Our walk today takes us along ridgetops with panoramic views of this beautifully cultivated region, as well as through the vineyards with row after row of neatly tended grapevines - all punctuated by ancient villas. It will surely leave a lasting impression. The gelato in San Gimignano is also unforgettable so we'll leave time to visit our favorite ice cream shop before admiring the frescoed church. Take some time this afternoon to surround yourself by the sights, sounds and views of this lovely town. After a day of exploring this varied and enthralling land by foot, nothing is better than a simply prepared Tuscan meal complemented by the esteemed local wines.
San Gimignano The towered silhouette of San Gimignano rising from the hills of the Upper Elsa Valley, facing the land of Volterra and positioned right on one of the most important stretches of the medieval Via Francigena, is famous all over the world. A similar renown can also be claimed by its Vernaccia wine, recently awarded the D.O.C.G., the highest acknowledgement and guarantee for quality in Italian oenology. The reality of San Gimignano, with its original 14th-century town planning and architecture still almost intact, stems above all from the continuity of its history, linked as it was to the ever-changing fortunes of the Florentine Republic. It is thanks to this continuity that 15 out of the 72 towers once standing can still be admired today in a melée of antique noble houses, narrow lanes and squares. One of these, the beautiful Piazza della Cisterna (built in 1327) is undoubtedly the true heart of the town. It is encircled by the Piazza del Duomo (inside the Cathedral are works of art by Benozzo Gozzoli, Jacopo della Quercia and Taddeo di Bartolo), the Podesta's palace, the Town Hall, which houses the Civic Museum (amongst the paintings there hang Lippo Memmi's "Majesty", and works by Pinturicchio and Filippo Lippi), and the Romanesque/Gothic Church of Saint Augustine, with 17 frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli illustrating the life of the Saint. A magnificent view over the town can be enjoyed from the only surviving tower of the 14th-century pentagonal Fortress, demolished by the Medicis in 1555.
DAY 8 Arrivederci!
After breakfast this morning we will transfer to the Florence Airport for flights back to the U.S.