Travel Stories


A sort of paradise with steps, the Cinque Terre is a scatter of improbably steep, impossibly beautiful villages on Italy's Ligurian coast, west of La Spezia. It's an area that can be frustrating to explore. Don't even think about bringing a car: there's no coast road, only a tortuous high route with winding lanes down to the villages - which have a strictly limited number of parking spaces. The local train, though charming, runs to a fiendishly complex timetable littered with arcane symbols indicating caveats of the 'working days except for Saturdays during school holidays' variety.

True, there is the coastal path, probably Italy's most famous walking route: the five-hour trek takes one through glorious scenery, terraced vineyards of Sciacchetrà grapes and sudden stacks of houses. The sense of adventure is diminished, though, by the fact that walkers have to pay a toll for the path in high season and to pick their way through large parties of elderly walkers brandishing garishly colored alpenstocks.

There is, however, a solution. It's the sea, and I was on it, gliding past the Cinque Terre on a sleek yacht, enjoying space and privacy as well as an incomparable view of the five rock-perched villages.