Detours: Cinque Terre Day Trip

The Cinque Terre is a favorite among travel destinations. Five sweet, colorful villages tumble down the verdant, vineyard filled hills into the aquamarine sea. Each town with its own character, all linked by a series of pretty trails along the Mediterranean. Justifiably popular, these little villages are no longer hidden from tourism. Some days, particularly in the height of the season (Easter through September), cruise groups pour into the towns and jam the small streets in the middle of the day.The evenings in the villages are quiet and enjoyable when the day trippers leave, so staying there makes sense. Spending the daytime exploring the areas nearby makes a great plan. So what are the day trips nearby? Particularly since some of the easy trails between the towns are closed, what comparable hikes are possible nearby that anyone can do? I think I've found a great plan.To the north of the Cinque Terre lies Levanto, a sweet beach town that serves as a gateway to the Ligurian coast. While not as cutesy and photogenic as the Cinque Terre villages, Levanto has all of the amenities that tourists need for a great vacation. This is where I stayed when I visited last summer with my son Nicola. Spending the day here or using it as a home base is a good choice, it's relaxed, local and much less expensive.When I stay in Levanto, I often enjoy renting a bicycle. The beachfront promenade is the perfect place to lazily cruise around. From Levanto, an old train tunnel beckons, continuing north to the smaller and more scenic town of Bonassola.The flat trail connecting the towns is wide, with lanes for foot traffic and bicycles. Since the train tunnels are long, a bike is preferable, but the trail would also work well for strollers and wheelchairs, as there are some nice breaks in the tunnels with windows out on the blue sea below.Bonassola has a small beach and enjoyable town center. It is very reminiscent of a Cinque Terre village, I think of it as the 6th village...although Sei Terre isn't as catchy a name. I'm a beach girl, and I love a nice sandy spot for sunning. Outside of Monterosso, I don't find the Cinque Terre beaches very accommodating, so I tend to head to the wide stretches of Levanto or the sandy cove at Bonassola.From Bonassola, the train tunnels continue north. This next stretch is more tunnel than scenic stroll, so a bike is better than on foot, although there are plenty of pedestrians in the cool tunnels. Taking the train is also an option, with frequent connections from Levanto.At the end of about 3 kilometers, the train station of Framura is the terminus. Framura isn't a town, but rather a series of villages in the hills above the train station. There are several hikes from here that can be done, based on ability, and the TI at the train station is happy to describe them. One option is to walk up the paved road to the towns in the hills. While not as picturesque as the Cinque Terre, the views of the sea are lovely.The better option is to take the coastal trail. Opened just this year, the trail winds around the edges of the mountains and spills out on a small beach. Along the way, stunning views of the Ligurian coast and the sound of crashing waves will accompany you. Rocks on the seafront often have sunbathers lounging like lizards in hot weather (or sunbathing Seattleites in cold weather).If I were looking for an easy day near the Cinque Terre with few crowds and an easy walk or bike, this is what I'd do. Also, a side benefit, it's free! Start in Levanto, grab a sack lunch of focaccia and fruit, then rent a bike. Ride slowly through Bonassola and on to Framura train station. Park (and lock!) your bike at the station. Exit the station on the north side, passing under the tracks and follow the trail along the coast to the beach at the end (roughly 20 minutes). Swim, sunbathe, eat your lunch. Bring a bottle of wine if you like.When you're ready, head back on the bike and stop in Bonassola. Get a gelato, have a stroll through town, join the locals on a bench for people-watching or sit on the beach. Return back to Levanto and enjoy a well deserved glass of wine at an enoteca. A perfect day in a lovely place, and something that everyone can enjoy with ease.