Cinque Terre, Italy, with kids
I have to admit that my kids did not enjoy the 3.5 km (uphill) hike between Monterossa and Vernazza. They weren’t swayed by incredible views, or traipsing past vineyards or the general romanticism of walking a path travelled for hundreds of years by residents and travellers to the Cinque Terre region of Italy.
Cinque Terre is a series of five towns linked only by paths and boats, in the Ligurian part of Italy. There are no roads linking the quaint towns that are all perched precariously on the edges of cliffs looking over the Mediterranean.
There are many hiking trails of varying difficulty levels through the hills. Unfortunately, when we were there, the easiest ones were closed for renovations after a terrible mudslide in the fall. There is also a train that links the towns, a train that my kids were definitely whining about not taking after about an hour into the hike.
Cinque Terre looks like it is straight out of a movie set, the colourful buildings teetering above the ocean. Its beauty is breathtaking, which makes it increasingly popular. Unfortunately, this means the area is swarming with tourists, all of whom want to hike during the day and enjoy Italian hospitality at night. The five towns are small and can barely hold all the visitors in the summer.
Our excellent travel agent Katrina Cheung tracked down the Park Hotel Argento, which is located in Levanto, just outside the first town of Cinque Terre. Levanto might as well be the sixth town, as it is so close to the big five, and offers a great selection of restaurants, a pedestrian area, beach and the best gelato in the area.
Built in 2009, the four-star hotel offers spacious, comfortable rooms and a restaurant. The hotel will also shuttle you down the hill to town without charge. One of the greatest benefits of the hotel is that the lovely staff will help you plan your day in the area. They know every train, boat and walking path and can help tailor your Cinque Terre experience to your desires. They suggested we walk from Vernazza to Monterossa instead of the other way, because that way the sun would be at our backs — very sage advice, we found out as we sweltered on the mountain.
Another of the hotel staff’s suggestions was to bike to the next town. This ride became the hit of our trip. We rented bikes in town and biked approximately five kilometres through old train tunnels to Bonassola, a beautiful town on the beach (in the opposite direction of Cinque Terre). We lazed around on the rocky beach, ate gelato and focaccia and watched wealthy Europeans at their private beach club. The bikes cost us a few dollars per day. There are three bike shops in town, all of which had bikes that fit our family of five.
The hiking and biking took us out of our comfort zone and, as a bonus, also made sure the kids were starving enough to try new things. While it is easy to think that eating in Italy would be easy for pizza and pasta kids, there are always new dishes to discover.
All the kids wanted to do was swim in the hotel pool and meet kids from other countries using their Franglais. Like all hotel pools, ours became a UN for kids who spent hours playing in the water.
One of the specialties of the Ligurian area is pesto. And while one of my kids had tolerated pesto before our trip, while we were away all three of them learned to love it. One of our most memorable meals was at Ciak in Monterossa where my son had a ladle-full of pesto on top of pasta, while my husband and I ate an enormously satisfying seafood pasta.
The focaccias in the area are also much thinner, like super-thin pizza dough with pesto and a creamy cheese sandwiched in the middle.
After every meal there was gelato, and usually another swim. We often hiked back up the hill to the hotel, sometimes whining about our sore legs (me included). But we were always filled with funny stories, good food and lots of Italian sunshine.
The funny thing about travelling with kids: Even though they whined through that one hike, whenever the subject of our European vacation comes up my daughter’s first response is: “We walked between cities. It was awful!” But she always says it with a big smile.
-- Emma Waverman, MSN Travel
Travel Planner | Society Member
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