Italy’s once beautiful Cinque Terre has been ruined by mass tourism. The buses and trains are bursting, pickpockets roam the trains, walking tracks are closed due to landslides that haven’t been repaired and the charming towns are overrun with tourists. Locals look either bored or grim, tourists look harried and gelato costs a bomb.
It’s a shame as natural beauty and clifftop towns lifted from a pasta sauce ad are great reasons to visit.
But there is hope – two stops north on the train and you’re in Bonassola. If you’ve never heard of it, that’s the appeal. Sitting prettily in a small bay and surrounded by mountains, Bonassola has long been the holiday haunt of people in the know. Milanese doctors crowd here in summer but come September it attracts foreign tourists mostly English and German hikers and Swiss retirees. In fact if Bonnasola has a problem, it could possibly do with a bit more life, based on when I was there in early October.
Bonassola is technically not the Cinque Terre (which really means anywhere in between the towns of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore). However Bonassola is only twenty minutes or so away by train from Monterosso, the most northern of the Cinque Terre villages.
It’s the best place to avoid the crowds and walk on uncrowded paths through olive groves and pine forests with marvellous Mediterranean views. Also on either end of Bonassola, they have converted the disused railway tunnel into a car-free path. Well-lit throughout, it is safe and popular with walkers, locals, cyclists. On a rainy day it turned out to be a good activity to walk through the tunnel for lunch at Levanto, a pleasant untouristy town with authentic eateries. There are walks of differing grades to the hinterland, which are dotted with agriturismos and local trattorias with inexpensive authentic food and where very little English spoken. You are in Italy after all!
When it comes to the Cinque Terre stay on the train for an extra two stops on the train and experience the charms of real Italy – it’s amore!