2019 European Vacation: Day Five in Levanto and Cinque Terre, Italy

It was hard to leave France, if I’m honest. We had just found our stride with the neighborhood and language, and we felt like we could stay for days longer with no problem. It was only the pull and appeal of Cinque Terre that made it okay to pack up and drive east.

Before we go any further, you need to know that Italian gas stations are phenomenal.

In addition to their clean and tidy bathrooms, Italian gas stations are part specialty shop, part delicatessen. Some of the boys’ favorite foods they ate in Italy were enjoyed in a gas station. Go figure.

Our AirBNB was in Levanto, a cozy seaside town on a hill in the province of La Spezia. On the drive to Levanto, tucked away in the mountainside, we saw little communities of stacked, colorful buildings.

They were little hints of what was to come later that afternoon in Riomaggiore and Manarola, the two (out of five) villages we visited that make up Cinque Terre.

In keeping with the steep terrain, our apartment in Levanto was situated on a hill and gave us an incredible view of the water.

We settled in quickly and headed to the train station. Originally, I thought walking through all five towns of Cinque Terre was doable over two days, and I still think that’s a plausible plan. However, we were already tired from the previous four days that we decided to stick with the two towns we wanted to see the most and forgo the other three. In the end it was a smart move because Riomaggiore and Manarola were swarming with tourists, and we’d heard from family members who just visited the area that the other towns were even more touristy.

Still, I wanted to see these towns with my own eyes, especially since I’d already seen them in pictures AND in a puzzle.

When we spent Christmas in Wisconsin in 2017, my family and I spend a week putting together a puzzle of the Italian coastline that Chuck and I bought from Target. We chose this puzzle for Jacob, who loves all things Italy, and it looked beautiful when it was completed.

Truth be told, I wasn’t altogether convinced this was a real place.

In December 2017, Cinque Terre, specifically Manarola, didn’t mean anything to me, but as we researched this trip and put Cinque Terre on our itinerary, I realized we’d be walking right into that puzzle.

We went to Riomaggiore first and realized that everything we heard about Cinque Terre was true – small streets, stairs everywhere, a maze of walkways. The weather was perfect, so everything sparkled.

It wasn’t long after arriving that both boys wished they’d brought their swim trunks.

We kept walking up since we had the stamina to do so!

We made a pitstop for rosΓ©, as one does in Italy.

And then my boys posed for a photo by choice, not coercion:

Love, love, love!

If I lived in Riomaggiore:

Welcome to my plants.
The Wine House, Riomaggiore

The back wall of The Wine House in Riomaggiore was an actual wall of rock. It was the literal mountainside!

We hopped the train to Manarola because that’s where I wanted to be at sunset for the best lighting, where the low sun would cast a soft glow on the building fronts.

Italian cat!

I pulled up a picture of the puzzle on my phone so we could identify WHERE in the puzzle we were standing.

We grabbed dinner near the water and rested our legs. Then it was time to walk to the other side for that evening photo with the perfect lighting. Jeremy and I headed to one side, Chuck and Jackson to the other.

This was our view:

Manarola, Cinque Terre

That’s Chuck and Jackson in the green and blue shirts.

Once the sun was tucked behind the mountainside we headed for the train station and rode back to Levanto.

Good night from Manarola

In the morning, we headed back to Milan. Little did we know that we’d run into Sting that evening.

So we went to Europe.

At some point during winter, Chuck and I started talking about where to take the boys on a summer vacation. We like to travel as soon as we’re done with school, which ends at the onset of Mother’s Day (a lovely gift I give myself). Also, traveling before Memorial Day weekend tends to save a little money and definitely cuts down on the crowds.

Our original thought was to take the boys to California since they’ve never been. Rent a car, drive the coast, venture into L.A. so Jackson can marvel at the Hollywood sign… It sounded like a good idea.

But then we started seeing unbelievable fares out of Chicago, which is where we planned to fly out of since we were going there for Jacob’s graduation. When a fare to London showed up at $398, we decided to jump on it. We’d fly roundtrip from Chicago to London and see what could happen in between.

Leaving Chicago

By mid-March, we’d made loose plans. We knew we didn’t want to stay in the UK since Chuck and I just did that in October, and we knew Easy Jet could take us almost anywhere in Europe for cheap. When a fare to Milan popped up for $67, we decided Italy was as good a country as any.

Milan, Italy

Then we started researching where we could drive to from Milan. The Mediterranean Sea was a four-hour drive from Milan. We thought, let’s go there! Why not! Let’s go to France! Is Spain too far away? Where else could we go?

Antibes, France

At the same time, Chuck and I had discovered “Drive to Survive”, a Netflix docu-series on Formula 1. On a whim, we googled races. Most of them happen in Europe, so maybe there was a race when we were already scheduled to be there.

Sure enough, the Monaco Grand Prix was scheduled for the exact week we planned to be in the French Riviera. We researched logistics and bought tickets for the first two practices. Unreal.

We had seats directly across from pit lane.

Our trip started to take shape by the end of March, but it was on the road to Nashville for the Mumford & Sons concert when Chuck and I wondered when the Cannes Film Festival was – because wouldn’t that be funny if the Cannes Film Festival was during the same time as our vacation to southern France!

Sure enough, it was.

After France, we went back to Italy and explored two towns that make up Cinque Terre’s five towns. Stunning, stunning.

We finished the trip with an afternoon in London and caught a flight back to Chicago the next day. We wore ourselves out, but every second was worth it. Yes, we are already talking about where to go next.

Outside Buckingham Palace. Yes, the Queen was in residence. No, she didn’t wave to us from the balcony.

I took an obscene amount of photos (of course I did!), so it will take a week or longer to sort through them and upload posts that fully describe the trip. Since this blog serves as a scrapbook for our family, I will include all the highlights. I did the same thing with our Iceland trip in 2017 and our UK trip in 2018, and I still enjoy going back to read those posts.

Stay tuned!