The Ligurian coast, also known as the Italian Riviera, is breathtakingly beautiful and most tourists flock to the Cinque Terre, 5 colorful fishing villages nestled along the coastline and accessible to one another by hiking trails. However, there are plenty of other amazing coastal towns in this area, many of which are a bit more accessible, less expensive, and overall much more appealing to family travel. Levanto is the next town to the west of the Cinque Terre city of Monterosso al Mare, and we decided to do a rather spontaneous overnight trip there from our home near Pisa. We had nothing on our agenda for the trip other than to see the beach and eat some seafood! Having no agenda or boxes to check made for a very relaxing stay and the whole family really enjoyed themselves, kids and adults alike. We can’t wait to go back to the Ligurian coast, but it will be a struggle to explore someplace new when we’d honestly happily return to Levanto over and over again.
Who: Me, my husband and our kids (3.5 years and almost 6)
When: Last weekend of March, 2018. The weather this spring has been very mild and sunny, and since we decided the day before to make this trip, we knew the weather was going to be agreeable. Unfortunately the ferry to the Cinque Terre was starting up the next week, so not great timing for a boat ride.
How: We drove our car from Pisa about 1.5 hours to the area. The drive was mostly all on the autostrada except for the small road from the exit into town. It’s very curvy but offers many amazing views. Luckily our kids fell asleep so we didn’t have to worry about car-sickness for them, but be prepared if you have people prone to car-sickness with you.
Where we stayed: We stayed in city center in a small but lovely Hotel Villa Gentile, located just a block from the beach. Our rate included free breakfast and offered a trip room set up with a double bed and a twin, where we put our two girls foot-to-foot thanks to an extra pillow and blanket available. There was a little sitting area outside our room, so had we wanted to put the kids earlier we would’ve had an area to sit and relax. However, we we were all exhausted and even me and my husband went to bed at 9:30 for perhaps the first time in our adult lives. This hotel was so cute, comfortable, clean, and the staff was very kind. We were blown away by how comfortable our stay was for such a good price.
Where we went/what we did: We arrived in Levanto on Friday afternoon around 3:00. We checked into the hotel, parked the car, and brought our little beach bag down to the beach. It was still March so the water is far too cold to swim, but our kids had a great time putting their feet in the water, building sand castles, and finding sea glass. We washed off at a spout nearby and strolled to get some gelato. We returned the beach bag back to the hotel and headed out for a stroll before dinner. We found a lovely playground and let the children play for a while before walking toward the church bell tower. We loved walking around the tiny streets and found a trail along the old city wall that brought us up to an old castle. There were some amazing views from up here and the kids loved exploring. Our kids are not used to hiking so we’d never attempt the hike to Monterosso al Mare with them, though we saw the trail route. This small exploration satisfied our urge to walk around and explore and the timing was perfect for sunset.
We went to dinner that night (we got our seafood!) and then back to the hotel to sleep. The next morning my husband went running to nearby Bonassola via the pedestrian trail which was converted from an old rail line. He said the kids would think it was cool so we decided to walk this trail instead of taking the train to Monterosso al Mare. It was a 5k round trip walk but the trail was flat so it would be stroller friendly for those with younger kids. We also could have gone by bike, as there is also a dedicated bike trail. There is no car traffic so as long as your kids stay out of the bike lane, it was extremely safe and fun to do. There is a series of lighted tunnels that keep their interest and every time the tunnel ends there’s another breathtaking view of the ocean. We stopped in Bonassola for gelato for the kids and spritzes and a small snack for mom and dad, then grabbed some focaccia and drinks to eat on the beach on the way back. We picnicked at a small rocky beach accessible only by the pedestrian trail. We had hoped to stick around town longer, but the kids were exhausted from the hike and getting cranky, so we decided to head back home around 3:00, which meant we had pretty much a perfect 24 hours in Levanto.
Where we ate: Friday night our mission was to find great seafood and Osteria Tumelin delivered. We went right at opening in the lower season, so we didn’t need a reservation but I highly recommend it for Saturdays or any night in the busier months. In the summer I’d love to eat out on the patio area, since our kids are always happier outside. It is a bit of an upscale place, but the staff was very welcoming of our kids and even brought them to see a fish tank. Saturday we had breakfast at the hotel (a huge spread!) and then relaxed at Caffe della Rose in Bonassola. This was in a pedestrian area so the kids could safely play around a fountain while we sat nearby at the cafe.
Use my referral link at Booking.com to get a discount https://www.booking.com/s/34_6/e4d106ea
Osteria Tumelin http://www.tumelin.it/
Hotel Villa Gentile http://www.hotelvillagentile.com/
Levanto Bike Path info https://www.cinqueterre.eu.com/en/bike-path-levanto-bonassola
Lessons learned and helpful tips: We drove and parked in public parking areas of Levanto, but from what I heard from locals we spoke to, the area gets very busy in the summer and parking is likely very difficult. A train and ferry (from April through September) also stop in Levanto.
The trail we took continues through Bonassola to the next town of Framura. Bonassola was lovely and likely Framura is as well, so consider these small towns as options to stay in as well.
In the summer the beaches will be very crowded, with both tourists and Italians. If you want the quiet experience we had, don’t expect that to happen in the high season, though I can imagine the busier vibe can also be very fun. We hope to venture to other Ligurian seaside towns this summer.