Following our change of schedule and a mad scramble to find a campsite near a major tourist attraction that would have last minute availability in peak season, we ended up at Camping River a much bigger campsite than we’d normally go for, and heavy on the tannoyed animation activities. They even had their own theme tune. And bizarrely, the kids disco didn’t even start til 8.45 and went on til 9.30, when the “adult time” tunes then started. We’d bagged a decent pitch with plenty of space and shade, but hadn’t realised quite how close we were to the bar – with all day pool tunes and endless announcements of aqua football and volleyball matches. For the most part we tuned it out (or got our Balearic vibe on down at the pool), but the music til midnight was a bit grating when you know you’re going to be awake in two hours for a night feed.
In fairness it was a pretty good campsite. The pool was good, there was a big kids playground and our pitch next to the playing field meant we could let Evelyn loose to run about easily, as well as having a good view of the inflatable aqua football court (and the resulting ankle-breaking incidents). And after a few weeks of lots of sightseeing and visitors, it was nice to have a more relaxed period.
We spent the first day down at the pool and playing in the paddling pool back at the pitch. The animation team had tannoyed a pizza party for the kids that evening, but it sounded like Evelyn was a bit young. The animation team were taking the kids off for a couple of hours of pizza and campfire marshmellows to give the adults a break. Noted for a few years time. They told us to come along anyway though, so we chaperoned Evelyn while she hovered nervously near the big kids, making the most of the crisp selection. She’d been asking for a dance since the kids disco in Slovenia, but nowhere else had had one, and this one was far too late for her. She was in her element though when some of the cheesy Euro tunes from the disco were put on, and we parked our dignity and danced with her in the middle of the field when the bigger kids were still ploughing through pizza.
We were never going to be able to camp close to Cinque Terre since it’s in a national park, but our last minute change meant we were staying much further out than we’d have liked. I’d wanted to go to Genoa and Portofino on this stop, but the car journeys would be just that bit too far for the kids, so instead we opted for Rapallo and headed there on market day.
Unfortunately Rapallo is pretty small, and parking is limited. It’s even more limited when the weekly market sets up on the main carpark, and every man and his dog head in to town for a browse. It might have been easier to find a space had we not done our usual trick of arriving just before lunch time. Stan had got out of bed on the wrong side that morning and started crying pretty much as soon as we left the campsite, so was a hysterical, sweaty mess by the time we crawled through the backed up, labyrinthine streets of Rapallo. Eventually we found a supermarket carpark, but they weren’t daft and didn’t allow sufficient time for you to get in to town and back. With everyone needing a bit of headspace, and having not done the shopping yet, we decided to abandon thoughts of exploring Rapallo, get the shopping done here and chalk the hours drive home and e20 in toll fees up to experience.
Once we’d all calmed down a bit and had a chance to look at the map, we decided we’d drive home along the coast road rather than back along the motorway. We were out so we may as well make the most of it.
We crawled back through Rapallo and headed out over the clifftops to the next village. After almost giving up on a parking space there, we eventually found a carpark out of town and took the chance to stretch our legs.
Zoagli is only a tiny town, and would have a nice bay, were it not for the huge concrete railway bridge towering directly above it. It may be the most direct route for the train line, but it certainly spoilt the view for this poor town. We had a quick walk along the coastal paths and grabbed a slice of pizza before heading further along the coast.
We followed the road through a few more villages until we reached what appeared to be a traffic jam. The cars didn’t move for quite some time, and Stan was screaming again, so we pulled over to explore. It appeared the traffic was waiting for a single lane tunnel to open, which it did only every 20 minutes, and we’d just missed one. We were intrigued, and having got Stan settled, in no rush to get home.
10 minutes later a huge stream of traffic came out of the tunnel and then our lights changed. We filed in to a very narrow and very dark tunnel that looked like it could have been hand carved out of the cliff. It went on for miles! The only break was when the tunnel met a cove and briefly switched to bridge, before we were plunged back in to the dimness for another few miles.
10 minutes later we burst in to the blazing daylight. It appears the 20 minute cycles are because it takes 10 mins to even get through the tunnel, so they let traffic in for 10 mins, give them 10 mins to get out of the other side and then repeat going the other way! You wouldn’t want to be getting between these villages in a rush. Evelyn LOVES a tunnel so when we realised the situation we turned to see her reaction only to find she’d fallen asleep! She napped through the whole thing and missed the lot. She did however wake up when an ice cream stop was mentioned in the next village.
Friday was a big day as we were going to Cinque Terre, the purpose of this stop. We were up early to drive to the train station to get to the villages before the coach crowds from Florence and Milan.
Evelyn was of course beside herself with going on a train, and Stan was just happy not to be getting in the car seat of doom.
We planned to visit three of the five villages. We’d read that one was more of a hub and not that scenic, and that another was only accessible by 400 steps from the train station. We’d decided to bring the buggy as there wasn’t an easy choice between that and lugging the kids around on our backs in the heat all day. Either way, we wouldn’t have tackled 400 steps down and back up!
We headed to Vernazza, the furthest from us, first. We arrived not long after 9 and the village was only just getting going, delivery vans were squeezing themselves down the “high street” and the tourist shops weren’t yet open. We admit to being underwhelmed at this point. We didn’t realise it was one of the smaller villages, it doesn’t really have the precipitous houses stacked on the hillside, and the overcast weather muted the colours of the buildings. We sat on the square by the bay watching the local old ladies doing an aquarobics session to blaring house music and then headed back to the train station in the hope that the next village had more to offer.
Luckily it did. By the time we reached Manarola the sun had come out and this village was much more what we expected. We slogged with the buggy up to the top of the village to check out the view, and wound down through the alleyways as the village started to fill up with tourists. It was much busier as we made it down to the bay, and we followed the crowds along the coast path to get “that” view back on to the village. We amused ourselves laughing at the Instagram wankers pouting, posing and outfit changing as we stopped for our picnic.
Our last stop of the day was Riomaggiore, the biggest of the villages we visited, and by this time of day really busy. This village was so steep it even had a public lift just to take you up from one road to the next! This village had an especially pretty harbour, and a beautifully mosaic decorated tunnel back to the station. It was a long, hot day visiting Cinque Terre, but I’m glad we still included it in our itinerary, though it has made me a bit sad to have missed out on the Amalfi coast.
Our last day was spent packing and hanging out by the pool before we set off for the Aosta Valley, an area we’d never even heard of until a week previous.
Where we stayed: