We have now travelled the entire length of Italy by land, with the obvious exception of our boat trip between Sicily and the mainland. This has involved some train travel, but most of it has been driving. Fortunately there is always something incredible to see along the way and having a car lets us get to the wonderful spots a lot of tourists don’t get to see. We rarely drove much longer than an hour before having something worth visiting. We have driven a lot in this last week.
On our last day in Tuscany we started with a visit to the towered city of San Gimignano, which we had been looking at in the distance from our rental villa. It is a great little town in a beautiful Tuscan hillside setting. It is also very touristy and despite being there early the tourists were starting to pour in by the bus load.
The next stop was the famous leaning tower of Pisa. The sun was shining and hoards of tourists were already there. What I found more entertaining than the complex itself was all the people lined up along the grounds in various “funny” poses with the usual lame photos of holding the tower up, pushing it over, finger-on-top, etc.. We explored the grounds and noticed it was built with differing pieces of marble that had been taken from other regions and times.
We left Pisa (and Tuscany) for our final push to Portofino. The plan was to stop in at an Auto Grill for a quick lunch of pasta and salad, unfortunately we stopped at a Fini Grill instead. There was an Auto Grill taunting us, inaccessible on the other side of the toll-highway. We ate at the equivalent of a 7-11. It was late in the afternoon and we were so hungry we subjected ourselves to eating the awful substitution for food, processed microwaved meals.
After driving through what felt like an endless number tunnels and bridges, we finally reached our destination of Portofino. What an awesome little town. No wonder it is a playground for the rich and famous and managed to find its way into the last position of the Top 100 Wonders of the World. We parted from our travelling companions as Leanne and I stayed up the hill in its famous hotel the Splendido while Doug and Carol stayed by the water in the Domina Piccolo.
Our room in the Splendido had a beautiful view and we were welcomed with a chilled bottle of Proseco and fresh fruit. I swam in the infinity pool overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea before we made our way into the heart of the town. We were visiting ahead of tourist season and there was hardly anyone there, which was a welcome change after our previous stops. The locals were trimming all the trees and preparing for a massive bonfire at the edge of the harbour. It was a quiet evening. For dinner that night we made up for our lunch, and had multiple courses with cocktails with the main being a mix of fresh locally caught seafood.
The next day we climbed up to the castle on the hill for amazing views of Portofino. We left in the afternoon and stopped in Santa Margherita Ligure on our way towards the highway. Then we surprised Carol and Doug with an impromptu visit to Cinque Terre. It was not part of the original itinerary but Carol mentioned it a half dozen times on the trip. We thought we would surprise them by taking them to it. They didn’t catch on until we were close enough that it was listed on the road signs. It is a difficult drive to reach it, but we were able to get into Monterosso. We had lunch there not far from the ongoing reconstruction being done to repair the devastation it suffered from the flood in late October, 2011.
We were able to get to all five of the villages by train and walked the Via d’Amore between Manarolo and Riomaggiore. It was an enjoyable walk in great weather and it was good to see some of the villages were not impacted, buy my favourite one was hit the worst and is still on a long road to recovery. Click here to see a before and after of the beautiful town of Vernazza. We’ve had a photo from here on our wall at home for years since our first visit to it 2005.
We left Cinque Terre late in the day and made the long drive to Milan. On the way out of Cinque Terre we went on the road less travelled as we had entered from the north and couldn’t get through the roads still being reconstructed to reach Spezia for our planned scenic drive. We took a small road through other damaged towns that are still in terrible shape from the flood.
We joked a lot about the Auto Grill on the drive to Milan. At one point seeing a futuristic looking one on the opposite side of the highway. We finally found one and had dinner there getting it out of our system and realizing it really isn’t all that good. Before reaching Milan we passed another one built as a bridge that spanned a six lane highway.