Discovering the Cinqueterre Villages on the Italian Riviera: a weekend drive down the coast

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Discover the unique charm of the Cinqueterre villages in Italy, with their multicoloured houses, unspoilt nature and amazing food, that can be visited on a weekend excursion from the Riviera.

As I mentioned when I launched the blog, I am not just covering the French Riviera but also some places that are a bit further afield which I have had the opportunity to visit in order to share my experiences. This Easter, I had the opportunity to discover in some depth the beautiful villages of the Cinqueterre in Italy and I am going to relate my experiences in this article…

From my experience in the hotel business, plenty of visitors who visit the French Riviera, especially those from other continents, tend to use the Cinqueterre as a stepping stone before heading to Florence or Rome, and these five little gems are well worth the visit. Naturally, given that I have very little local expertise of the area, this article is no substitute to a real guide book: my sources are just the French Guide du Routard Northern Italy book as well as local knowledge I gleaned whilst speaking to the very friendly inhabitants of the villages. But I hope this article and the practical tips I will provide, written from a “French Riviera” tourist’s perspective, will help you enjoy your stay in the Cinqueterre and enable some of the inhabitants of the French Riviera to discover a beautiful and very accessible part of Italy, just a  few hours down the coast!

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The Italian hinterlands: Dolceacqua and the villages of the Nervia Valley

The villages of Pigna and Castelvittorio in the beautiful Nervia valley, a short hop from the French Riviera and a great culture shock!

An effortless excursion through the Nervia valley in Italy to the villages of Dolceacqua, Rocchetta Nervina, Isolabona, Apricale, Pigna and Castelvittorio, as well as some recommended restaurants.

Just across the border into Italy, the valley of the Nervia river (more colloquially known as “Valnervia”) is located just behind the eastern sections of Ventimiglia and is one of my favourite coastal valleys of the Riviera, with a winning combination of beautiful scenery, picturesque medieval villages and great Ligurian food at reasonable prices, all within only about 40 minutes drive from Monaco or an hour from Nice!

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The Italian coastline: cycling from San Remo to Imperia

View over San Remo from Bussana

Last month I took advantage of a beautiful and sunny January weekend to head down the coast to the Italian town of San Remo to do something I hadn’t done in about 10 years: ride a bike! A friend had told me about the new cycling path along the coastline between San Remo and San Lorenzo al Mare, close to Imperia, the provincial capital, so I figured it would be a nice change from the normal hiking and would give me a bit of exercise, especially given that it’s pretty much flat all the way.

The cycling trail is a nice way of converting the old railway track that ran along the coastline from San Remo to Imperia, and that was replaced about 15 years ago by the new underground railway line currently in use. Instead of having it turned into a derelict strip full of debris and graffiti, the local government invested EU funds into turning into a very wide cycling trail, away from the traffic and affording great views of the little-known but scenic Ligurian coastline.

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Across the border into Italy… Ventimiglia and its Friday market

Ventimiglia, the Italian border town on the Riviera – hardly Rome, Florence or Venice but suitably picturesque for an “I’ve done Italy in a day” moment…

Some readers may not be aware of this, but Italy is just round the corner from the French Riviera… In fact, if you are in Menton, you can easily walk across the border! The Italian town of Ventimiglia (Vintimille in French) is located at the terminus of the coastal railway line that runs between Nice and Monaco, so you can easily have an “I’ve set foot in Italy” moment during your visit on the Riviera and add it to your countries’ list if you’ve never been to places like Rome, Florence or Venice.

Ventimiglia is pretty much like any other border town, so nothing too spectacular, but most visitors tend to travel there for its (in)famous Friday clothes and leather good market. I figured last month that I may as well give it a go one of these days to see what it is really like and if the crowded trains and traffic jams encountered every Friday were actually worth it, so I took a train early on a very warm and sunny September’s morning and gave it a go. Here’s my verdict…

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