Casa Appenninina’s location on the border of three regions makes it perfect for exploring the main attractions of Northern Italy.
Florence, Milan, Genoa and Pisa are within easy striking distance of the accommodation, and even Venice is just 3 hours away.
There are also many other delightful places less frequented by tourists close to the accommodation. The Taro valley area has much to offer (also see Things To Do), but nearby parts of Liguria and Tuscany are also well worth visiting. The following sections offer tips on some of the best places to see. Unless mentioned otherwise, they are all no more than one hour away.
Varese Ligure and the Vara Valley
Between Albareto and the sea is lies the Vara valley, a beautiful place of hilltop villages, steep valleys and winding roads that is entirely dedicated to the production of organic food.
Varese Ligure is the main cultural and economic centre of the upper Vara Valley, and famous for its Borgo Rotondo – a unique architectural feature in which the townhouses are arranged in rings around a central fortification.
Only 26 Km away, Varese Ligure is connected to Albareto by highway SP523 – a winding mountain road over Passo Cento Croce – the Pass of a Hundred Crosses, a site of partisan anti-fascist resistance in World War Two. The pass marks a sharp divide in landscape as the forests on the Albareto side give way to steep slopes offering dramatic views of the Vara valley, and on a fine day as far as the sea.
Cinqueterre is the collective name for the five fishing villages of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore, that have deservedly become a World Heritage Site and one of the top tourists attractions of the west coast of the Italian peninsular.
Mostly inaccessible by road, the Cinqueterre are best seen by taking the train that runs through tunnels connecting the villages, but no visit would be complete without walking at least part of the stunning 18 km long seafront paths.
The section between Riomaggiore and Manorola is known as the Via De’ll Amore – the Way of Love. Only one Kilometre long it is by far the shortest section, and thus the best to try for less experienced walkers.
Walking from Manorola to Corniglia, the oldest of the villages and the only one not directly on the sea, requires more effort as the path becomes much steeper.
Vernazza has the best harbour of the villages a beautiful cove protected by a seawall, and it also has a beach that can be reached by walking through a cave south from the main street.
Monterosso Al Mare is by far the largest of the villages. Extending almost a kilometer along the beach, it has more space than the other villages, and a trendy atmosphere is more reminiscent of many upmarket Italian and French seaside towns along the Mediterranean Sea.
The visitor from Albareto has two options for visiting the Cinqueterre.
The direct route is to follow highway SP523 from Albareto all the way through Varese Ligure and Sesta Godano to the turn off to Levanto, leave the car at Levanto train station and take any one of the trains that leave every 15 minutes. However, much of the road is extremely windy, so those who are easily car sick are recommended to visit the Cinqueterre from the other direction, by taking the Parma – La Spezia Motorway (E33) and the train from La Spezia instead. This is a trip that can be done by public transport by taking the train from Borgotaro with only one change at La Spezia.
La Spezia and the Gulf of Poets
The Gulf of La Spezia is commonly known as Golfo dei Poeti (Gulf of Poets) due to its strong association with the English Romantic poets.
Lord Byron spent a lot of time in Portovenere, a small town built into the steep cliffs at the end of the peninsular. Featuring a castle and several churches of interest and stunning views in all directions, it has become a very popular destination with many chic restaurants and boutique shops.
On the other side of the Gulf lies Lerici, where Percy and Mary Shelley had a villa that is now open to tourists. Percy Bysshe Shelley infamously drowned in the Gulf of La Spezia on 8 July 1822, when he went for a swim, but this should not put you off from taking advantage of the excellent swimming that the beaches offer. The sailing and water sports facilities are some of the best on this part of the Italian coast.
La Spezia itself is a fairly large city that is dominated by a huge naval base in one of Italy’s best natural harbours. While it has some sights of its own, the main attractions of the area are in the places surrounding it – Portovenere to the west, Lerici to the south and the picturesque hill top villages to the North leading to the Cinqueterre beyond.
The one hour journey to La Spezia is an enjoyable drive through many short tunnels with fine views of the villages along the northern border of Tuscany.
La Spezia is connected to the Taro valley by a modern motorway (E33) that gently curves its way along steep slopes of the Magra valley, and the short A15 that takes you directly into the town centre. Portovenere is clearly indicated on signs in the town center, and only a 10 minute drive further. Lerici can be reached by taking the well-signposted earlier exit on the A15, or alternatively taking the A12 to Sarzana, and following the road signs from there.
The white Marble quarries of Carrara are a most striking sight, creating the illusion of snow-covered mountains from a distance. Close-up they are equally impressive – so much that they were chosen as a location for a dramatic car chase in the 2008 James Bond film, Quantum of Solace. In operation since Roman times, they were the source for marble used by Michelangelo for some of his most famous statues, and they continue to produce marble for shipping world-wide.
Carrara is located in the hills behind the city of Massa, and while it is possible to visit the area with a car, the area is a maze of narrow potholed roads, with huge marble moving trucks coming the other way, so we recommend visitors to make use of the services of a tour guide.
Nearby lies the impressive Malaspina Castle, seat of the marquises of Massa, purpose built to assert control over the mines.
Other Attractions in Tuscany
- Florence (one of Italy’s greatest cities, rich in renaissance art and architecture – just over two hours drive from the apartments)
- Lucca (for its impressive city walls and proximity to Pisa)
- Pisa (for its famous tower, under two hours from Albareto)
- Pontremoli and Zeri – Despite their direct border to Albareto these two Tuscan villages, on the other side of Mount Gottero, are anything but easy to reach due to lack of direct road links. It is possible to hike, but this is an extremely difficult and demanding trek only suitable for experienced hikers.
We hope this information provides a useful introduction to some of the places to visit nearby. If you have any questions then please contact us and we’ll do our best to provide you with the information you require.
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