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Trip Report Santa Margherita Ligure, Cinque Terre, Portofino: hotel, restaurants, activities we liked there

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Santa Margherita Ligure, three nights in May, 2006

We left Venice by train and arrived in Santa Margherita Ligure at 8:10 p.m. The taxi was 12 EUR (including baggage costs), and took less than ten minutes to arrive at our hotel, the Albergo Nuova Riviera. The hotel management prefers people check in by 6:00 p.m., but they graciously agreed to our later arrival because I’d called in advance from Venice to discuss our train schedule options and to request the late check-in. To arrive earlier would have meant more train connections, so we were happy to take just two trains: one train from Venice to Milan, then another from Milan to Santa Margherita.

We really enjoyed the Nuova Riviera, via Belvedere 10, www.nuovariviera.com. The little B&B hotel is located on a slight hill, on a quiet narrow road, in a nice semi-residential neighborhood, only 200 meters from the harbor and the center of town. They call it a “liberty villa with garden”, and you feel at home there.

The owner met us at the front gate, to assist with our bags from the taxi up to our room on the third floor. There is a beautiful staircase at the Nuova Riviera, but no elevator. Breakfast is included (very simple pre-packaged rolls, but nice cappuccino, also simple juice). Our room was very reasonable, 98.50 EUR for a double/twin with breakfast. (It would have been slightly less expensive if I hadn't gone through venere.com)

Actually, our room had three twin beds, and was quite large with a big wardrobe, a desk, a roll-top desk, and two upholstered chairs. The room had a unique rounded wall, with large windows, and also a ceiling fan. The bathrooms are relatively new, with nicely tiled shower stalls. It was sparkling clean and very charming.

The owner and his manager live there, I think, so they are there to say Hello and Goodbye whenever you are coming and going. It's a very personal touch, so you feel like you're staying in a private residence really. They are very helpful in answering questions, providing maps and directions.

Despite the late hour of our arrival, we were interested in dinner, so we walked down to the town. Santa Margherita feels very safe, and we were comfortable there walking at all hours to and from the hotel. We easily found a few interesting restaurants, and chose the Ristorante “A Lampara”, via Maragliano 33. It is a small and cute place, with some locals still there chatting. It was fine for our light, late-night meal.

The next morning was slightly overcast, and since we were planning on going to the Cinque Terre, I asked the manager at breakfast if he knew the weather forecast. He said it could clear, or it could rain; then he very kindly found the forecast on his computer and printed it out for me. Another example that service at the Nuova Riviera is very personal and friendly. In fact, my daughter had chosen to sleep in and skip breakfast that morning, but the manager insisted on preparing a tray for me to take to her in our room.

We decided to risk the weather and head to Cinque Terre, which was a good decision as it turned into a beautiful blue-sky day after all. We took the train to Vernazza, and had a simple picnic of yoghurt and fruit at the waterfront. Before leaving, I picked up a card from a hotel there, which looks nice, the Gianni Franzi, Piazza Marconi 1, www.giannifranzi.it.

We headed up the trail to Corniglia, expecting it to take about 1.5 hours, which was correct. It is a breath-taking walk, in more ways than one. The views are amazing, and the uphill stair stepping takes your breath away, too! Actually, in retrospect, I wish we’d taken the train all the way down to the southernmost town, Riomaggioire, then walked up to Manarolo, and on to Corniglia. Those two walks would probably be less strenuous than the one we selected, which is all uphill and all stairs. However, there were plenty of spots to stop in the shade and view the unbelievably clear water below, and the gorgeous coastline.

Once we arrived in Corniglia, we took a break in a pretty little piazza. We found a little market to purchase a bread, cheese, tomato and wine snack, while we decided how to spend the rest of our visit in Cinque Terre. I chose to take the train to the next town, Manarolo, while my daughter opted for the hike, since it was the one walk she hadn’t been able to do yet.

We decided to meet at the train station in Manarolo, and I set out to walk to the Corniglia train station. Again in retrospect, I should have just taken the hike, because it is a long walk down to the train station, on another seemingly endless stairway. I probably walked as far to the train station as the hike to Manarolo would have been. (I’ve since discovered there’s a free shuttle from the town of Corniglia to its train station.)

We easily met in Manarolo, which is quite small. I found a nice little gelato shop there, and we again had the pleasant task of deciding how to proceed with our day’s itinerary. After a short break, we caught the ferry boat back to Vernazza, in order to see the beautiful coastline from the sea. From Vernazza, we hopped back on the train to Santa Margherita Ligure.

It was a great day at Cinque Terre, and we were lucky to have the amazing weather. The air temperature was probably in the low 70s, with a slight cool breeze off the water.

Back in Santa Margherita, we headed to our cozy little hotel to rest awhile, then walked back into town for dinner. We found the Trattoria Baicin, via Algeria 5, and enjoyed a nice dinner for about 35.50 EUR, including a half-liter of house wine. We were pretty tired, but on the way back to Nuova Riviera, we stopped in an internet pub to finish some e-mail correspondence.

The next morning dawned sunny, which was perfect for our plan to visit Portofino. It’s a short, and slightly scary, bus ride on very narrow and windy roads. I watched as the bus barely cleared some very nice-looking sports cars on the road’s many curves.

Portofino is smaller than I expected, and much more expensive. It seems to be an upscale harbor, with one especially huge and glamorous navy-blue-and-white yacht sitting there, the “Princess K”. The K had beautiful lounge areas visible, and two uniformed (somewhat snotty) young men guarding the way onboard.

From the little harbor, we walked up the hill to a church, which has a spectacular vista of the sea and the coastline below. There is also a villa-type museum up there, but we opted not to go inside on the beautiful day. There were benches to sit and enjoy the view, and take photos.

Walking back down to the harbor, we wandered up and down the couple of little streets and looked at the numerous art and little gift shops. I was looking for a watercolor of the Portofino harbor to take home, and luckily found a cute little framed one that would be easy enough to hand-carry on the planes home.

We returned to the harbor to find lunch. There are several restaurants and cafes that ring the harbor, all with pleasant outdoor seating. We walked around and looked at menus, but we were surprised at how much we had to pay for a simple caprese salad and omelettes, especially with the extra charge to sit at a table by the water. The lunch menus and pricing there were about the same as dinners we’d found elsewhere. But, we certainly enjoyed sitting there drinking our wine, under an umbrella in the sun, watching the boats and the people.

The afternoon was so pleasant, we decided to take a ferry boat further up the coast to the next stop, which was a teeny and ancient monastery at Fruttuosa. The ferry made a short 30-minute stop there, so we could see the little place. There were actually monks chanting in the monastery, which was a lucky happenstance.

The ferry took us back to Portofino for a quick stop, and we continued on the ferry back to Santa Margherita. It was a very nice boat, and lots of fun to sit and watch the coastline glide by. Again on land in Santa Margherita, we found a little café for coffee and gelato, sitting at a little park harborside.

Santa Margherita was the perfect town for our stay, as it seemed much less crowded and touristy than our day-trip destinations of Portofino and Cinque Terre. We walked up and down along the harbor a bit, looked at the nice shops in town, then walked the short way to the hotel before dinner.

We’d heard other guests mention they had eaten twice at a restaurant in town, and we decided to try it for our last meal in Santa Margherita. It’s called Ristorante da Emilio, Piazza Martiri della Liberta 20. It had especially attractive outdoor seating, and the prices were also relatively inexpensive. Our meal included salad, cheese, veal, pasta, one-half liter of house wine, and cappuccino for 51.70 EUR.

The next morning we took our time over breakfast and packing, to check out around 11:00, and take a taxi to the train station. Next stop: Nice, France.

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