I am lucky for, once again, being able to hop on a plane and a bus and enjoy the largest mountain resort in North America, Whistler/Blackcomb.
I have been in Whistler a couple of years ago and I left the resort with a bad impression. Then, I did not enjoy the tracks and the third day simply did not happen because of a gondola closure due to bad weather.
This time, however, I left with an entirely opposite impression. I had three excellent days of riding and enjoyed the tracks a lot.
I rented the equipment and was given the same board I had on the first visit: a Salomon Assassin. The board is so good and reliable that I am considering it for the next time I buy a board. It’s great when board and track add to each other, making you feel good at riding. I say that because I have highs and lows in my snowboarding trips. Sometimes I leave a riding session feeling completely incompetent, sometimes I leave with a sense of accomplishment. Hard to say what are the elements to that contribute to feeling one thing or another.
The weather conditions were good. The first day, like two years ago, was mostly sunny and that is a delight on a day of riding.
The second day was cloudy but uneventful.
On the third, there was snow and fog. The snow made the tracks slower and the fog, despite lowering visibility, added a dreamy atmosphere to everything.
So, weather-wise, a mix of conditions, but everything together contributed to providing different ways of experiencing the mountain.
The mountain and the soul
Most of the people around me love the beach. The mountain is where I feel complete. I like the sea too, but nothing beats the view of the mountain chains, the snowed trees and, occasionally, the mist.
This year, I was also able to snowboard in the largest resort in South America, Cerro Catedral. The views from that mountain are different but among the most beautiful I have ever seen.
The silence of the mountain in the winter, which you can experience if you just stop the ride on an empty track, is something you will not be able to find in many other places.
For me, snowboarding is a spiritual activity, which connects me with my fears and insecurities, but, at the same time, brings me an awareness of learning and development that is enriching for the soul. The connection with the vastness of nature, expressed by the monumental size of the mountains, brings peace and energizes the spirit for a new year of work, changes and victories.
Staying in Santa Margherita, as I mentioned before, makes it easy to visit other towns in the region. Given I had a lot of days there and one or two days is enough to experience a lot of what Santa Margherita can offer, I used one of the days of my stay to visit three of the Cinqueterre towns: Manarola, Vernazza and Monterosso.
The trip from Santa Margherita to Manarola takes about 90 minutes and you need to switch trains at Sestri Levante.
Some years ago, I assembled a 1000-piece puzzle of a photo of the town. So how could I skip it?
Manarola, like Portofino, does not have much to keep you there for a long time, but being able to view the same scene I assembled in the puzzle was a fantastic experience.
When I came to Vernazza, part of the streets and part of the shore had been thrashed by the sea and was covered in debris.
A must-have experience in the place is going up Castello Doria’s tower, which gives you a 360-degree view of the town and the Mediterranean.
However, just like Manarola, Vernazza consists of a street that takes you to the town facade and the visit there does not take long.
The bad weather made the sea furious that day and watching such violent waves hitting the rocks and the shore was one of the most amazing things I have seen in my life. It was unbelievable how high the waves could hit the rocks, upon which sat walking paths I considered taking (idea shortly discarded after I saw where the waves could reach).
I could have spent the whole day watching that spectacle.
But there was more to see.
Differently from the other two towns, Monterosso felt like a place where you could stay to enjoy a couple of days of relaxation. The town has the only sand beach I saw in the entire trip, more than just one interesting street and inviting cafes and restaurants. The city is divided into two halves, one to each side of the train station. Walking from one side to another will take you somewhere between five and ten minutes.
Summing it up
The Cinqueterre is worth the visit and you can see all five towns in two days. The views of towns and sea will keep your spirit elevated. The spritz at the seaside helps a bit too.
If you are staying in Santa Margherita Ligure, you can take a public transit bus that will take you to Portofino in about 20 minutes through a scenic road bordering the Mediterranean.
You can also do the course walking, which takes around 40 minutes according to the hotel staff.
As it was raining on the day of my visit, I took the bus.
And shortly I was there, in the town around which my trip itinerary was created.
I discovered Portofino randomly by searching for interesting walking tours on YouTube. The video, recorded in a warmer season, showed a cute town, bursting with people, a nice piazza and several restaurant patios.
My visit, however, did not even come close to that vibe.
First, as I mentioned, it was raining. Also, it seems some businesses in the region close for vacations at that time of the year.
So the town seemed pretty lifeless the day I was there. Only about three or four restaurants were open, and I couldn’t find many shops that attracted my attention. Some of the stores there are meant for customers of a league to which I do not belong. Restaurant prices are also above the average in all towns I visited during this trip.
Disappointed? Yes, a bit. Partially, it was my fault to choose this time of the year for a visit. But I also believe that, even on the best of days, there would not be much there to justify more than 3 or 4 hours spent in the place.
Any silver linings?
I sat at a restaurant where I had one of the best meals of the entire trip: the Ravioli Portofino. I ordered it not only because of the name but also because the sauce was made with curry, which is not a staple of Italian cuisine. It got me curious and my curiosity paid off. The sauce was delicious and eating at a table at the seaside in Portofino is a pleasant experience, even on a rainy day.
The other upside: I walked up to the church, and from there I took a few more climbs, which led me to a five-minute uphill hike that ended in a private property sign. That does not sound like a win, I know. But, after that, I came back and took another set of stairs, which led me to this very physically demanding uphill climb that felt interesting. The trail continued on and on, and so did I. I must have followed that trail up for almost one hour, and when I reached the Mulino del Gassetta, I decided it was time to stop. It was a difficult but rewarding walk, through a paved trail between natural vegetation and a few houses here and there. On my way back, I filmed a walking tour of my own.
Summing it up
You should visit Portofino if you find yourself in the region. It is easily accessible from Santa Margherita Ligure and definitely worth a morning or afternoon of your time. Due to the weather, I ended up skipping the walk to the high point from which you can have a nice scenic view of the main town, but I believe that, on a nice day, it would have added quality to the experience.
The next stop of my trip was Santa Margherita Ligure. I had previously read that Portofino visitors should consider staying in Santa Margherita, and that is actually true. By being a larger town, Santa Margherita offers more options of lodging, restaurants and commerce in general.
Santa Margherita was everything I was looking for in this trip: beautiful, relaxing, welcoming and a great place to eat and drink. Of course, the gastronomic expectation is not difficult to fulfill once you’re in Italy.
The great thing about the town is that the walk from the hotel to the train station takes between 10 and 15 minutes, which makes day trips by train easy. I will write about my day trip to the Cinqueterre in a future post.
On the hotel subject, I stayed at the B&B Park Suisse, conveniently located close to downtown and the room’s balcony offered a stunning view of the sea and the city.
Food and drinks
The town has good restaurants and cafes. Don’t miss going for cocktails at Miami Café before you go to dinner.
You can also spend something between 30 and 60 minutes visiting Villa Durazzo, a 17th-century villa that hosted Queen Margherita when she visited the town.
The town has nice shops and you may find something for your kitchen or living room in one of them. The things I brought back were large and a bit of a challenge luggage-wise, as I only travel with cabin items, but I don’t regret the hassle.
Summing it up
It rained most of the days I have been there, but even under such conditions I still loved my days in Santa Margherita and would definitely come back for some more in the future. Next time, though, I would go during spring or fall, hoping to see more sunny days.
At the end of November and the beginning of December, I visited the north of Italy. The city that started it all? Portofino. I am a fan of watching walking tours in different parts of the world and that’s how I discovered the small town on the Italian (or Ligurian) Riviera.
I will dedicate another post to Portofino in the next few weeks.
And talking about walking tours, I even have my own YouTube channel on the subject.
I digress though. Let’s get back to the city where Christopher Columbus was born.
When I started researching travel to Portofino, I discovered that it was wiser to stay in the town of Santa Margherita Ligure (and it definitely is).
However, Santa Margherita does not feature an airport, so your best bet is flying to Genoa or Milan. As Genoa is closer to the town than Milan, that’s where I decided to fly to. The train ride from Genoa to Santa Margherita takes less than one hour and departs from Genoa Brignole (downtown) or Genoa Nervi (east).
But, once I had to fly to Genoa, I spent a few days at the beginning and the end of the trip there.
Checking travel advice from blogs and YouTube videos, the city didn’t seem to have much to offer, but my visit proved otherwise. The town is vibrant (it was hard to walk on some downtown streets on a Sunday, with so many people coming and going), and has fantastic architecture and museums.
The Genovese cuisine has components and dishes I have never come in contact with before, like the Crema Di Noci (walnut cream sauce), the farinata (chickpea pancake), and the pasta variations called troffie, pansotti and corzetti (or croxetti). Testaroli is something in-between pasta and bread, which tastes more like a pancake but is served with sauce just like pasta.
The world-famous pesto and focaccia are also two of the main specialties of the region.
I have Instagram posts with pictures of some of these dishes:
Beer and Wine
Wine is not first on my list of choices for drinks, although I occasionally drink it.
I am a fan of beers with strong flavours, like IPAs, DIPAs, Hazy IPAs, some sours, stouts and ambers.
During my first visit to Italy, more than 10 years ago, the offer of beers out of the mainstream was basically none. At the restaurants, you would only find lagers made by giant beer producers like Peroni or Moretti.
As light beer is not for me, I came to Italy prepared to drink mostly wine. And they are good. Although I did not love any of them, I found them all good.
But I had a surprise with the beers. The beer landscape seems to have changed a lot in Italy and now the mainstream beers are the exception at the restaurants. I had the chance to drink beers I have never seen before and they ranged from average to really good. The posts below will show some of those.
The city’s architecture is beautiful (like most Italian cities I visited) and walking the streets is a delight to the eyes.
Chances are you will be staying close to or at the street called XX Settembre, one of the main in the city. Some parts of the sidewalks on that street have mosaic floors and ceilings held by classical columns, giving you the feeling you are walking in an open shopping mall.
The market in the region is also worth a visit.
If you like museums, don’t miss the Musei Di Strada Nuova. It’s a set of three museums placed close to each other: Palazzo Rosso, Palazzo Bianco e Palazzo Tursi. You can visit all three in about two to three hours and see great pieces of classic art and even Paganini’s famous Cannon violin.
If you want to have a taste of the Cinqueterre without going that far, a twenty-minute bus ride can take you to Boccadasse, a charming former fishermen’s village. The visit is short, but don’t miss the opportunity to have a spritz in one of the cafes while you admire the sea and the neighbourhood’s architecture.
But this is just the beginning of this series of posts. In the next post, I will talk about Santa Margherita Ligure.