While on our cruise, we made the specific choice to stay near the port for our shore excursions. We did not want to exhaust ourselves by going on 9-10 hour excursions when we were in new ports day after day. We also had the advantage of knowing we would see many inland sites while on our Tour of Italy.
Livorno was the single exception. We chose a ten hour tour that allowed us to see Cinque Terre from the sea. If you have seen those iconic colorful villages on the mountainside overlooking the Mediterranean Sea – that may have been Cinque Terre.
Leaving the ship, we went by bus to the dock where we boarded our tour boat. It was the big one!
There were four or five groups boarding, each with their own guide. We all had headphones “tuned” to the frequency for our guide. That strategy was used many times throughout our trip.
We saw an Italian Navy ship as we were leaving the port.
Here is a map for orientation. This is the north central coast of Italy and Livorno is further south than the map shows.
Our first stop was Portovenere, just south of the Cinque Terre. We were able to get off the boat and explore.
The ruins of Castello Doria sit above the village. Another fortress existed on this site in 1139 when the Republic of Genoa gained control of the village of Portovenere. In 1161, the new castle (adjoining the old) was built. The castle was a focal point of battles between Genoa and Pisa in the 13th century.
We entered through the ancient gate, a gate that was locked in the evenings to protect the village from seafaring enemies.
After some basic instructions, we were let loose to explore.
We walked through the village towards the ancient architecture on the hill.
We saw some interesting things along the way.
The San Pietro church is on the point beyond the village. It was built between1256 and 1277 by the Genoese on top of a former pagan temple dedicated to the goddess Venus Ericina.
The inside was simple but interesting with the striped rock.
This is an old organ!
The church underwent extensive restoration between 1929-1934. This protected area displays some of the original floor.
These are views looking toward the opposite side of the point.
There is a cemetery below the walls of the Castello Doria.
Before we left Portovenere we had focaccia bread! This region of Italy, Liguria, is known for originating focaccia. They were delicious – ranking high in our culinary memories of Italy!
We rejoined our tour and boarded our boat once again.
We had a great view of San Pietro church from the sea.
Another great view as we rounded the point.
We motored the short distance north to the Cinque Terre. the collective name for the five small villages built up from the sea. The villages are Riomaggiore, Manorola, Coniglia, Vernazza and Monerosso. They formed in the 12th and 13th centuries and were collectively given the named Cinque Terre in the 1400s.
They are truly mountain villages next to the sea. People joined together to protect themselves from pirates. Young boys were targets of North African pirates in the 1540s to be used as galley slaves.
The main economy was viniculture as the microclimate is perfect for growing grapes. There were once 4700 miles of terraces used for vineyards and 2000 miles still remain.
Eight thousand people lived in the Cinque Terre area in the1920s and there are currently about 3000 inhabitants.
Cinque Terre is a UNESCO Heritage Site and a National Park and Sea Preserve.
Rail is the best way to travel to Cinque Terre. It is also the best way to go from village to village, taking about five minutes between stops. There are hiking trails but only the narrowest of roads. Motor vehicles within the villages are generally limited to scooters or motorcycles.
Although we didn’t actually set foot in any of the Cinque Terre villages, we are glad we made the decision to see them from the sea. The train would have been fun but hiking up and down all those stairs would have been exhausting!
The Disney-Pixar movie Luca was visualized in Cinque Terre. Those who have seen Luca spoke of the recognizable authenticity of the landscape.
After a short time we docked at Levanto, north of the Cinque Terre. I’m sure there were impressive things to see in Levanto, but our primary destination was food! We sat at a tiny table along the narrow path between buildings and had a lovely lunch with Italian wine.
Our next port was Tunis, Tunisia but there was a problem blowing in!