Not being foolish enough to drive along the coast to visit Cinque Terre, we stayed in La Spezia, where the accommodation was cheaper and there was easy and safe parking. Our accommodation, Affittacamere Case Dane, was perfectly situated above the train station in nearly the centre of town. It was also very well insulated and may have been one of the quieter places we have stayed. La Spezia is very much a working port as well as being a base for tourists. We spent our first afternoon wandering the main street and along the dock before finding the restaurant of the trip (this is highly debated but we did love it). Chicken n Chicken is their name, and if you will imagine the deliciousness of KFC (Australian branch, obviously not the English) mixed with your favourite Indian take away that is similar to what they produce. It is a chain and worth a visit if, like me, you appreciate the delicacies of fast food.
We were up bright and early the next day, excited to begin our Cinque Terre adventure. As we hoped to explore multiple towns we purchased the ‘Cinque Terre Card’ which included unlimited train journeys for the day as well as being a pass for the hiking trails (although in November you don’t need to pay for the hikes). We first ventured to Monterosso, the furthest of the five towns from La Spezia. The day was clear and crisp with a few clouds floating about. The exit from the station looks straight out onto the water, a beautiful and dangerous distraction as you step out onto a road at the same time. Wishing to sit and enjoy the morning we had a quick stop at a small cafe before heading on.
We were a little early in the day for anything to be open or happening in Monterosso (I did make us leave at the crack of dawn, probably unnecessary in the off season) so we decided to make the most of the lovely weather and stroll to the next town along.
The stroll started with a steep climb, it also had a steep climb in the middle, and would you believe, a steep decent at the end. Luckily the view was somewhat spectacular and provided opportunities for me to have a ‘photo stop.’ Now this is a term I use when I really need to rest due to extreme fatigue but don’t want to alert Liam to the shockingly poor state of my physical fitness. We have many, many photos from this trail.
Liam may have cottoned on to my deception, and valiently offered to carry the camera and do the photo work. It did speed the trip up.
The views constantly reward your effort along the trail, and it isn’t actually that difficult if you take your time. We weren’t equipped for the walk but the weather was very gentle, in the warmer months you would need to be far more prepared for the two hour hike with hats, sunblock, water, walking shoes etc. We all know thats not really how Liam and I do things, one day we might learn. A surprise along the trail is a homeless cat shelter. Some caring folk have built houses and placed blankets and toys around and under an overhang of the rock for cats to call home. A sign along the path welcomes visitors to feed the ‘unloved’ cats in the mornings so they may feel loved again.
After about an hour and a half of walking we began our decent. This was somewhat dangerous as I was always looking at the colourful former fishing town of Vernazza, rather than the gravelly path. But who wouldn’t be distracted?! Another half an hour and we had made it (safely) into the village. As you can imagine the main industry now is tourism, but there are enough fishing boats scattered about with netting and buoys that indicate not everyone has given up on the towns traditional beginnings. At a small cost we climbed the tower and got a good view over the town. A quick wander about and we decided we wanted to do the whole path connecting the towns that very day, we’d already ticked off the longest one, how hard could it be?
Actually, at the moment it is impossible. We successfully made it to Corniglia, found some tasty sustenance and then discovered that the last two trails have been closed due to landslides. Heavily disappointed we had to wait nearly an hour for the next train to take us to Manarola, which we could see from the station. Corniglia may be my favourite of the five towns, it is perched on top a hill and has many hidden shops, restaurants and cafes in its tiny alleyways.
We made it to Manarola, our fourth town of the day, near sunset. We pushed our tired legs as quickly as they could go to make it to the point overlooking the town. We were lucky enough to have the sun come out once again and enjoyed watching the light fade over the town and the ocean before heading back into La Spezia. And what type of food is best for two weary and hungry explorers?! Chicken n Chicken!
Our next day exploring Cinque Terre was much more relaxed, we visited the elusive Riomaggiore in the morning, enjoyed lunch and hot chocolate at the same cafe by the water in Monterosso and read our books in the sun by the sea, a perfect end to our time in Italy.
The only indication we had crossed the border into France was the end of an Italian toll (a casual 38 euros!) and the start of a French one. The journey into Nice was interesting, people were once again obeying traffic laws but the road layout to get to the centre of town was dastardly. After three attempts we finally managed to get into the hotel parking space and leave the car for a couple more days. We headed out on the required exploring the city wander and after about an hour Liam had decided we will be living here for a six to twelve month block sometime in the future. We like Nice, very much. It’s very clean, the streets are wide and there are many parks and public spaces for people to meet, relax and enjoy the city.
The next day we ventured into Vieille Ville (the old town), some of the shopping centres and a monastery located much further out of town than we thought. It was very peaceful in the beautiful gardens there but possibly not worth the hour and a half of walking it took. If you would like to visit Jardin du Monastere de Cimiez take the bus.
For our last evening in Nice we ventured to a lookout spot over the city and enjoyed watching the sun set before having the best couscous we could ever have dreamt of. Le Bedouin was situated just around the corner from our hotel and for 20 Euro we had far too much food for two people. Lamb, sausage, meatballs, couscous, mint tea and a couple of special desserts left us waddling back to the hotel. An absolute treat for us that kicked Chicken n Chicken well out of the top five best meals.
From beautiful Nice we didn’t have far to travel as our next destination was Marseille. The city certainly doesn’t have the same shine as Nice but what it did have were 50% of its men, young and old, wearing full Olympique de Marseille tracksuits. By far the most football crazy city we’ve visited. Once Liam had purchased his own shirt we stumbled across the christmas markets and enjoyed looking at the large variety of items for sale. We were taking a stroll along the docks and looking up at the very intriguing, and very distant basilica when one of those dinky little tourist trains pulled up alongside us. Now there were a few things we said we would never do on this trip, and that may have been one of them. Yet we were cold, a little tired but most of all very lazy. Thus the offer of a ride around the city, seeing all the sites in a quick and efficient manner appealed greatly. We made it to the beautiful and exquisitely positioned Notre-dame de la Garde and had an excellent view over the infamous Chateau d’If (where Alexandre Dumas set a main plot for his wonderful tale of the Count of Monte Cristo in 1846). This was very exciting for me, as it’s one of my favourite stories and in good weather it’s possible to sail out and take a tour of the island and the gaol. Unfortunately we would not be able to do it this trip, as the wind was making itself into quite the inconvenience. Another time!
To finish up our time on the French Riviera we went to a French football match and watched Marseille v Monaco, a local rivalry. Security had been ramped up in light of recent events so it took a while to get in but once we did we were rewarded with an incredible atmosphere. There was a great deal of solidarity on display with Paris, everyone in the stadium was completely silent for a minute to commemorate the victims and the French national anthem was sung with incredible gusto.
In our previous matches we had been fairly deprived of goals, witnessing scorelines of 0-0, 0-2 & 1-0… This was not an issue on this night as we were treated to a thrilling 3-3 draw with Marseille scoring a dramatic equaliser in the final minutes. It was great fun and a positive note to end our time on the coast, we even had accommodation near the stadium so we didn’t have to hike for an hour and a half to get home like in Milan which was a big bonus!
The next morning we headed up into the countryside for some fresh mountain air and to explore a different side of beautiful France.
Thanks for reading!!
JT & LF