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Corsica, Italian and French Riviera: Need Feedback on Routing

Corsica, Italian and French Riviera: Need Feedback on Routing

Aug 18th, 2011, 06:23 PM
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Corsica, Italian and French Riviera: Need Feedback on Routing

Hubby and I want to visit Corsica, Italian Riviera (Cinque Terra, Portofino peninsular area and more) and a bit of French Riviera and Nice a year from September. With British Air ff miles we can fly BC in and out of Nice (costs 10K more miles to fly to or from Italy). We want to minimize crowd encounters as much as possible during these first two weeks in September 2012. For this reason we propose to:

arrive Nice - fly to Ajaccio, Corsica via Air France, Air Corsica or???
spend 6-7 days in 2-3 hubs of Corsica, touring with car; one possible hub around Porto Vecchio, others???
from Bastia, Corsica take ferry to Livorno, Italy --

now its Sept 7 or 8 (hopefully fewer people, a bit cooler)

make our way to Lucca for day --how??
stay in Lerici for Cinque Terra & Portofino peninsula 2-3 days
stay in Camogli - to absorb local life, eat, relax, tour, beach 2-3 days
take train to Nice - 3 days Nice (day trip to Cap d’Antibes, Villefranche or ??)
fly back to USA

Your thoughts?
Robbietravels is offline  
Aug 19th, 2011, 12:05 AM
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You can take a train from Livorno to Lucca, but there is no train station in Lerici. If your goal is to see the villages of le Cinque Terre or hike the trails there, getting to them from Lerici is a time consuming bus-train affair, or a longish ferry ride -- and ferries may not be running if it is windy. Using a car to get to le Cinque Terre and finding a place to park it in early September isn't easy.

In the first week of September, you can't count on the hiking trails of le Cinque Terre to be much cooler, or the villages to be less crowded. If you want to hike in le Cinque Terre, you would do best to stay right in the towns to get an early start because of heat. If you don't care about hiking, and don't want to put up with tourist crowds, pick a town further up the train line. Sestri Levante is pretty, charming, and has very good food. If you'd prefer a village, consider pretty Moneglia.

The Portofino promontory is closer to Camogli than le Cinque Terre. If the goal is to hike in both le Cinque Terre and the Portofino park, then it makes sense to switch locations. If the point is to relax on the Italian Riviera and discover its indigenous charms away from the small areas that get a lot of foreign tourists, pick one central town and day trip if you feel like it. Rapallo, Sestri Levante and Chiavari are all filled with local life and fun (although the last has very few hotels). Pretty villages like Camogli, Zoagli, Moneglia are all very quiet (Camogli gets the most tourists.)

Personally, I would want to break up the long train trip from the Riviera Levante to Nice by spending a night on the Riviera Ponente (between Genova and the French border). I would spend 4 nights in Sestri Levante with a day trip to Camogli/Portofino, and then move to the "other" Italian Riviera (the original one!), and add a day to Nice. There are a number of pretty beach towns with train stations on the Riviera Ponente, but there are also some unattractive ones. I suggest that you ask on TripAdvisor, because there are people over there who know that part of the Riviera quite well.

Something else you might investigate is whether your trip would work better overall if you went to Sardegna and took a ferry or flight to Genova. From there you could base in Camogli for a couple of days, with a day trip to le Cinque Terre. Then head toward Nice, maybe with a stopover en route in some place like Finale Ligure. You'd miss seeing Lucca, but your plans right now having you doing a complicated day trip their with luggage in a usually quite warm time of year.
zeppole is offline  
Aug 19th, 2011, 12:19 AM
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I will plug Manarola, having just been there. We hiked into all the towns of the Cinques Terre, and felt we had chosen the best of the five for headquarters. A little bit quieter and smaller than the two-end towns, and a beautiful stone waterfront. Grapevines prettiest on the high trail between Manarola and Corniglia. Budget at least 2 nights in Cinques Terres so that you have a full day to hike, boat or train between a number of the towns. Have fun!
Commodore is offline  
Aug 19th, 2011, 09:36 AM
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Just the kind of input I need.
Yes, I can skip Lucca; I have seen many lovely Tuscan villages and town.
Our goal is to see beautiful scenery, enjoy the small town life, do some mild hiking and walking and relax with good food and wine. I want this to be a vacation as opposed to a trip what if we kept the car from Corsica, then dropped the car closer to the Cinque Terra? Or kept the car in a car park in CT and used it to drive the coastal villages between Genova and Nice with an overnight or two as you suggest?
I will also check on ferry to Sardinia then Genova. Is it cheaper to keep a car for an extended period of time or have two separate rental periods?
I don't mind driving winding roads or in small towns but hate driving in European cities. If having a car simplifies the logistics, I'll do it if I can avoid the cities.
Do you agree that visiting Corsica the first week in Sept will thin out the crowds on the Rivieras during the second week in Sept?
Let's keep talking.
Robbietravels is offline  
Aug 19th, 2011, 09:42 AM
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You'll have to check with your rental company to see if you can drop off your French car in Italy at an affordable rate (and take it on the ferries).

Using the car to visit coastal villages is a problem in September. They all have no place to park.

I'm sorry, but I don't know anything about Corsica's tourist season. Around here, on the RIviera Levante, a lot of older foreign tourists show up in September. Much less so on the Riviera Ponente.
zeppole is offline  
Aug 21st, 2011, 05:42 PM
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Sestri Levante looks wonderful as does the Riviera dei Fiori ... and Manarola. If we did day trips to CT, Portofino, Camogli do we drive or hop a train? Is a car useful for the Riviera Ponente?
Robbietravels is offline  
Aug 21st, 2011, 08:17 PM
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I don't know what your tolerance for being in a tourist scene is, where tourists outnumber locals by a factor of 20 to 1, but if that isn't what you are looking for, you don't want to stay in Manarola, which is one of the five le Cinque Terre towns. Also, if you are looking to swim, there are really no beaches in le Cinque Terre. (Monterosso al Mare, the least attractive of the le Cinque Terre towns, has a small pebble beach. Sestri Levante has two sand beaches.

If you want stay in Sestri Levante, you can visit le Cinque Terre by train, and from there you can also take boats between the fives towns. You can take a train to Camogli and from there take two boats to reach Portofino, or you can take a train to Santa Margherita Ligure and take a boat or a bus from there to reach Portofino (and from there take two boats to reach Camogli).

Once you are north of Genova, you are out of reach of visiting the towns south of Genova.

If you mean to spend all your time seeing coastal towns, it is very difficult to find a place to park along the coast in September, especially on weekends, and especially le Cinque Terre. Portofino has one very expensive town parking lot that fills up fast. It is extremely difficult to find parking in Camogli on weekends and Wednesdays (market day).

It is slightly easier to park on the Riviera Ponente. It is flatter (has more sand beaches) and was developed to be more car-friendly. It gets fewer September tourists. It is also a bit more interesting to have a car there because many of the hilltowns inland are undiscovered gems.

However, if you are heading to France, you would need to get rid of the car before you leave Italy or else pay a large drop off fee. You could consider renting a car in Nice, and if your rental allows you to take it on car ferries, take it to Corsica, take it back to Italy, and drive it back to Nice. But that would be a very extravagant thing to do (rental fee, ferry fees, parking fees). It would only make sense if you really wanted to use the car to explore the inner hills of Italy and France, and having a driving vacation. If want you want is coastal scenery, walks and hikes, the train is cheap and more easily goes where you want to go.

Just so you know, you basically have your choice on the Italian Riviera Levante of two kinds of towns: One has lots of streets and shops and a long beach promenades. The others are small, almost boutique villages that take 10 minutes to walk from one end to the other. The towns with hotels are Sestri Levante, Chiavari, Rapallo and Nervi. The villages are le Cinque Terre, Moneglia, Zoagli, Camogli. The yacht harbor holiday town of Santa Margherita Ligure is a larger village, but it gets quite a few cruise ship tourists. Levanto is also a larger village with a significant beach, but it gets all the overflow of tourists from le Cinque Terre.

All the towns have their charms and appeal to different people for different things, and using the train or boats, it is not hard to have breakfast in one, lunch in another, a gelato in a third and dinner in a fourth no matter where you stay on the coast.
zeppole is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2011, 11:11 AM
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Your descriptions make me realize that I should do Le Terre, Camogli and Portofino, etc as day trips from say Sestri levante or Moneglia. Would 4 day stay be long enough to enjoy the village we're in, and do the above day trips? Between Sestri Levante and Moneglia which has more local flavor, good lodgings and restaurants, fewer tourists?

Maybe we need to think out of the box to avoid heavy tourism. How is the weather on the Italian and French Riviera in mid or late May until early to mid June??? Fewer tourists than in second week in September?
Robbietravels is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2011, 02:17 PM
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To take your concerns backwards, I thin you would do best in September, because that is still summer. Before June 22 is still spring -- which is often quite nice, but can be rainy. No guarantees it won't rain on you in September, but it is more likely to be dry and warm enough for dips in the Med even if you are not big time swimmers.

The heavy tourism on the Italian Riviera is confined to le Cinque Terre and Portofino.

Sestri Levante is a lively Italian town that is beloved by Italian families especially because of its sand beaches and waterfront alive with cafes. It also has especially good food treats. It's just generally a happy place.

Moneglia is a typical Ligurian village, unknown to foreign tourists. I suspect it has a few nice restaurant choices, but at night you will be able to hear a pin drop. If you would like to let the world pass you by while you ponder deeper meanings, gazing at the sky, Moneglia is the kind of place to do it.

You need to check TripAdvisor and Venere.com for both places to see if you can find accommodations that appeal to you.

Four days is plenty on the Riviera to kick back and do some exploring on the train if you feel like it. In September, days are fairly long. You can sleep in late and still take a morning walk, have a second cup of coffee, maybe head off, 15 minutes away by train or bus, to another town for lunch -- after that, maybe another walk through that town, plus a gelato -- or another 15 minute train ride to try gelato in another town, where you do some window shopping. Somewhere around sunset, you sit down for a cocktail -- or take the 30 minute train ride back for a glass of wine on your terrace. Around 8 or so, you walk two minutes to dinner.

Interesting shopping towns for fun cheap goods and food treats are Chiavari, Rapallo and Sestri Levante. Get out a map and you can see how close these towns are.

For 4 days or more on the Riviera, invest in a copy of David Downie's Food and Wine for the Italian Riviera and Genova. It is full of lovely photos and information about the towns. And you will save a goodly amount of money if you follow his food recommendations, and eat very well.

You have a long time to think about the specifics of planning your days, and once you get here, you might decide it is just so nice not to move from wherever you are, those day trips will just have to wait.

There are sometimes nice deals on short-stay rental apartments in Moneglia if you don't see a hotel or b&b or hotel you like.
zeppole is offline  
Aug 24th, 2011, 09:58 AM
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Brilliant reply. Your description of a vacation day is just what I'm looking for. I will see which town has more interesting hotel/apt. choices. And I'll order the book you recommend.
So how do I get from some port in Corsica to Sestri Levanti? I'll check in to flights but it might be costly flying from anywhere in France to Italy?
Robbietravels is offline  
Aug 24th, 2011, 08:27 PM
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Here's my two cents worth. You said you don't like crowds, want to enjoy small town life and would like to do a little hiking, I would reallocate time planned for the french riviera and spend it on corsica.

This year we flew an open jaw from nice into bonifacio. (figari airport) We stayed there few days and then drove rental car to calvi where we stayed for a week and flew back to nice from there (on air corsica/CCM which is part of air france) I am sure you could drop a car in bastia and catch the ferry to livorno.

The scenery is absolutely stunning...beaches, mountains, hill towns. We did some great day hikes and I went on a couple spectacular bike rides. We went in may and did not encounter any other americans. Calvi has a wonderful sandy beach with (free) public parking right there, a five minute walk to town.

We spent a week in villefranche a few years ago--it's nice but imho the french riviera cannot hold a candle to corsica.

For what it's worth, I also think Lucca is kind of a neat place.
beaux is offline  
Aug 25th, 2011, 04:39 PM
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I like your idea beaux. I don't think DH really cares either way about the French Riviera and, come to think of it, I spent a week in Cannes one year, a week in Nice a few years later, and several days in Cassis another time.
So if we spent 8-9 days in Corsica, 6 days between the two Italian Riviera, a day or two in Nice (I do like the shopping there) that would work well.
We'll be using British Air miles and they don't partner with Air France so we'll fly in and out of Nice with them and take a CCM or AC flight to Bonifacio.
I was thinking that Binafacio or Porto Vecchio would be a good base for the south and somewhere around Calvi for the north? Any charming inn or small hotel recommendations welcome. Our budget would be around $200-250/nt.
Robbietravels is offline  
Aug 28th, 2011, 01:51 AM
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In Bonifacio we stayed at Hotel Solemare which was pretty nice. It appears that rates are cheaper in may, when we went, than they will be in september for you. We opted to forego the breakfast which was (for us anyway) too expensive;
there are lots of restaurants open within a 3 minute walk.

In Calvi we rented a house, which worked out to be a cheaper solution for us as we had our 2 kids with us. www.lemanureva.fr Again, this was really cheap in may and is more in september. I was very pleased with this place.

We have also stayed at the best western in calvi which was good but has gotten a little pricey since our first visit. One hotel I noticed that looked interesting in Calvi was the Abbaye. It was closer to the town than both of the places i mentioned above. good luck.
beaux is offline  
Aug 28th, 2011, 01:35 PM
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Have you looked at the possibility of taking ferries? There are 2 French ferry companies, Corsica Ferries and SNCM, that go from France to Corsica (Bastia, Ile Rousse, Calvi, Ajaccio), and an Italian one, Moby, that goes from Corsica to Genoa or Livorno. Times range from a high speed 3-hour trip to overnight. Fares vary widely, depending on when you book and how popular a time you choose. Taking a car over can cost as little as 1 euro. Cap Corse (the "thumb" that sticks up) is beautiful and wild, especially the west coast. Porto and Piana are stunning with red rock formations; staying in a room with sea view at Les Roches Rouges in Piana is for me a don't miss experience. Personally, I would skip Porto Vecchio, although there are beautiful beaches nearby.
EastBayer is offline  

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