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Traveling down the Italian Riviera like an Italian

Like A Local is excited to introduce Louise from GoExplorah.com as this months guest post writer. I was so excited that she was interested in posting about the Italian Riviera because it is on my bucket list!! After reading her post, I cannot wait for Cody & I to check this one off our list in a couple of years.  Be sure to check out her blog, it is full of amazing photos and posts of all kinds of neat adventures! Thank you so much Louise for being a guest on Like A Local Travler!! – Lauren

Hello there! My name is Louise, and I am a travel fanatic. Since 2010, I have made it my purpose to travel as often as possible, exploring new and rather off-the-beaten-path destinations. Traveling has opened my eyes to how fantastic it is try something new, and that’s why I try to use my travels as a means to challenge myself through active, adrenaline-heart-pumping adventures, like climbing Kilimanjaro, canyoneering and Tarzan-swinging in Costa Rica, camping out in the Serengeti with wildlife as your neighbor, cenote-diving and whale shark swimming in Mexico, or crawling through massive, unexplored caves in Borneo. And that’s the essence of traveling to me: exploring something new in ways that will give you memories for a lifetime. All of these experiences, I’m starting to gather on my travel blog called Go Explorah  so I can keep that travel itch a bit dormant when I’m not out and about.

Today, I’m giving you insights in to one of my all-time favorite destinations in Europe; Italy. Everybody probably dreams about going to Italy, but few really get the chance to immerse themselves into true Italian culture – and in this blog piece, I’m going to give you some stories, insights and tips on how you can get an authentic experience of the beautiful Italian Riviera that will make you feel like a local ‘Italian’!

We spent an entire summer vacation exploring the beautiful coastal side of Italy up by the Italian Riviera, exploring one small city at a time. Normally, we always travel with a specific itinerary planned out, but in Italy, we decided to skip the planning and just see where the trip would take us – with trains serving as our only transportation method, AirBnB as our hotel, and TripAdvisor as our only guide. This resulted in some of the most wonderful and local experiences, I’ve ever had, where we really got the chance to experience true, Italian culture.

Portofino, Santa Margherita & Rapallo – three pearls in a row

Though our trip started out in Genova, we quickly knew that the first “must-do” area of our Italian adventure was the famous Portofino and Santa Margherita area. This area is probably the equivalent of France’s Cannes, with its chilled and coastal-vibe, where every person flocks down to the waterside to soak up the sun while sipping on some savory, cold white wine. Not to mention the many luxury yachts that are anchored in the harbor, one more impressive than the other! 

We stayed in a cosy little Italian city near Santa Margherita called Rapallo, where we rented a room in a retired Italian man’s apartment up on the hillside through AirBnB. His name was Vitterio, and he was such a wonderful man and our first encounter with true Italian hospitality and passion. He made us breakfast and freshly brewed espresso every morning, drove to us into Santa Margherita for our diving, chatted for hours about his family vineyard up in Northern Italy and learned us everything we needed to know about Italian grapes. We never really tried using AirBnB on longer vacations, but our stay with Vitterio was such a fantastic experience, and he really embodied the perfect AirBnB host.

We had 4 days in Rapallo, where two of them were spent on diving at the Portofino area and the other days were spent on exploring the beautiful coastal scenery. Though we never really thought of Italy as a “dive destination”, it was surprisingly good! The visibility was a bit poorer (compared to e.g. Asia), but we saw some really nice things, like this beautiful nudibranch! I love seeing nudibranchs, because they’re so colorful. So if you like to dive, I would recommend doing a couple of dives here!

We chose to walk from Santa Margherita to Portofino, as we learned that there was a trail along the coast. It was such a beautiful walk, and the scenery with the rocky formations, mixed with lush green and then the roaring ocean really took our breath away! Though it was quite hot when we walked, we took a few pit stops to take some photos before arriving in Portofino. We chose to take a local bus back to Santa Margherita, as the hikes takes app. 1-1,5 hour.

Though Santa Margherita and Portofino have many great small boardwalk cafés and restaurants, we really liked to stay for dinner in Rapallo, because it felt less touristy, and there were so many small places, where you could go in an grab a glass of wine accompanied by some delicious Italian appetizers (and they’re free too! What more can you ask for!).

We truly loved Rapallo, Santa Margherita and Portofino, so we were sad to leave – but there were still so many other wonderful places, we wanted to explore. Next stop was catching the train to an even smaller (and less well known) city called Sestri Levante!

Sestri Levante – a hidden gem

I don’t really know how I came to know about Sestri Levante, but I think I stumbled upon the name on Instagram, and then we thought, “hey, it’s on the way – let’s try it!”. It was a short train ride from Rapallo, and when we arrived, we quickly felt that we arrived in a genuine, authentic Italian city! The city centre consisted of small, narrow streets with cosy shops, wine bars and restaurants, and down by the harbor, you could see a long stretch of sand and palm trees. Right across our room, we could glance out at the beautiful Italian city and its architecture.

There weren’t many tourists, so we felt like we had found a hidden gem. One night, our AirBnB host told us that the city had an annual “sardine festival”, which was a pretty big thing in Sestri Levante. Here, you could get free grilled sardines and cold beer while sitting at long tables with the locals. Though I was a bit sceptic about the sardines, I chose to go with it – and it was actually quite good! Seeking out local events is a really good way to be part of the “locals”, so I recommend that you go check out if anything is happening in the local Italian area (they are constantly doing something, those Italians!).

You can do a lot of things in Sestri Levante, but I would recommend just walking around in the city, maybe jump on a bike excursion, and just enjoy the cosy city and its wonderful scenery. From our room, we could glance out at the sea, while catching some amazing sunsets. Sestri Levante, you did good!

After some days in Sestri Levante, we were on our way to our final destination on the Italian Riviera – the famous Cinque Terre!

Cinque Terre – a must-go destination

Along the coastal line in the south of the Riviera, you’ll find one of Italy’s most beautiful destinations; the Cinque Terre. The name means “the five lands”, and it consists of five small villages along the coastline, one more beautiful and colorful than the other. You can hike to most of these villages along the coastline, but beware – it’s a long, steep walk! We chose to walk to three of the villages, and it was worth every drop of sweat!

We stationed ourselves in the village “Monterosso”, as we heard that they had some great beaches and many local restaurants. It was such a quaint village, so I would recommend staying here! We enjoyed one day just roaming around the village, eating some yummy Italian seafood, before embarking on our Cinque Terre hike the day after.

We started walking in the early morning, before the sun would be too hot. And that was a good decision, because at 10AM, the sun was beaming, and we were sweating like if we were in a sauna! The hike itself consisted of many steps up and down along a coastal trail, but we got some amazing views and came across several vantage points. The hike was an experience in itself, so you must really go for it if you’re ever in Cinque Terre!

We hiked to the villages Vernazza, Corniglia and Manarola, and it’s definitely Vernazza that you see on many pictures of Cinque Terre! So beautiful and colorful – unfortunately, the sun was so strong, so the colors don’t pop as much an in real life, but I hope you get an impression of the amazing view! We walked around in the village, and grabbed some delicious Italian sandwiches. Their bread is to die for…

After having trekked three villages, we chose to grab the train back to Monterosso. Here, we celebrated our conquest with some carb-filled (and sooo tasty) carbonara and cold beer. Cinque Terre, you’re definitely worth the visit!

That was our trip down the Italian Riviera! I will definitely be back one day, because it had so many great things to explore. If you would like to check out some of my other experiences across the globe, go to my Go Explorah blog. Thank you for reading my story and I hope you get the chance to go here some day!

Local tips for the Italian Riviera:

  • Leave your car, and go for the train
  • Try out homesteads, like booking through AirBnB Click the link for a $40 credit)- it’s an amazing opportunity to really experience Italian culture – and the Italian hospitality is out of this world! Need help picking a place, check out this post
  • Forget eating any other cuisine than Italian! First, they don’t really make that much international food, but if they do, it’s not that good. And to many Italians, it’s actually an insult if you don’t order Italian food – why would you want to eat anything else??
  • Look up if there’s any local activity going on in the area – the Italians have so many festive activities, and it’s such a good way to immerse yourself in Italian culture, and have fun with the Italians.

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