Piedmont & Cinque Terre Trails
From the Langhe Hills to the Italian Riviera
Hike in two distinctive regions of Italy: Piedmont and Liguria
Enjoy private sit-down tastings of Barolo, Gavi, and Ligurian wine
See the Cinque Terre and Portofino
Feast on artisan cheese and salumi during a buffet lunch at a cheese farm in the Alte Langhe
This tour is our surf ‘n’ turf Italian style! It combines woodland and seacoast, Piedmont and Liguria, in one neat package. You’ll have a hard time deciding which is more beautiful.
First up is Piedmont, a preeminent wine zone famous for its regal Barolo and Barbaresco. The cuisine of this landlocked region testifies to its woodland character, with truffles, mushrooms, wild game, and hazelnut desserts on the menu.
In contrast, the Cinque Terre is a maritime environment, with quaint fishing villages, sea cliffs, and beaches spouting colorful umbrellas. Typical dishes are Mediterranean sea bass (branzino) with cherry tomatoes, sea lobster (aragosta) with pasta, and piquant (pesto alla Genovese), made from Liguria’s fragrant, tiny-leafed pesto. Their perfect accompaniment is the local white wine—Vermentino and Pigato, fresh as an ocean breeze.
When we’re in Piedmont, we’ll combine morning hikes with afternoon tastings. Each hike takes between 3 to 5 hours (see Trip Notes). On most days, the walk is structured so that we finish by lunch. Every day, hikers will be accompanied by a support van. In the afternoon, we’ll head by van to a winery for a private, sit-down tasting of Barolo or Gavi wine. Wineries range from historic estates like Marchesi di Barolo, where Barolo wine was “invented” in the 1800s, to boutique, family-run properties where a family member will be our host.
When we’re in Liguria, we travel by train to our trailheads and devote most of the day to our hiking excursions. The hikes themselves are 3 to 4 hours, plus we break for lunch and some sightseeing en route. On the Cinque Terre day, we’ll stop for lunch in the village of Corniglia between the most challenging section and the two easy legs (which include the Via del Amore, or Lovers Lane). On our Portofino day, we’ll either lunch in the cove of San Fruttuoso or in Portofino, where we stop for a visit. On both of these days, we’ll convene on the terrace of our hotel before dinner, where we’ll enjoy an informal wine tasting while watching dusk fall over the secluded bay.
Piedmont & Cinque Terre Trails
From the Langhe Hills to the Italian Riviera
DAY 1 – THE BIRTHPLACE OF BAROLO
After a 10 A.M. pick-up at the Tortona train station (1 hour south of Milan), we shuttle to the Langhe hills (an hour’s drive), where Piedmont’s best wines are born. Our warm-up hike goes from Monforte to Barolo to Castiglione Falletto following the Barolo Wine Trail, which cuts through prized vineyards and chestnut groves. The hike is divided into two parts, each about an hour long, with acomplementary welcome lunch in the middle. Our lunch spot is a homey family-run restaurant in the village of Barolo. They’ll bring a parade of classic piemontese appetizers and primi to the table, including uova in pasta, pate with caramelized red onions, tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms, and bonet (chocolate–amarretti pudding). We’ll hike some more after lunch (gotta burn those calories!), then return by van to the town of Barolo. Here we’ll pass by the Castle of Barolo, where we’ll hear the story of Barolo wine’s creation in the 1800s by a French-born Marchesa. Finally, we’ll tour her historic estate just 100 yards away—the Marchesi di Barolo—and have a tasting that introduces barbera, nebbiolo, and Barolo in both traditional and modernist styles. Dinner will be at a charming restaurant in the Langhe hills, where we might spot local winemakers.
L, D • Corte Gondina
DAY 2 – THE LA MORRA LOOP
Today we’ll pick up another part of the Barolo Wine Trail and do a loop hike from La Morra. We’ll walk through some of Barolo’s most famous vineyards, including Brunate and Cerequio, getting a close-up look at nebbiolo grapes (the basis for Barolo), as well as barbera and dolcetto, which make fruity wines found on every piemontese dinner table. We’ll pass by such local landmarks as the colorful Brunate Chapel (a Ceretto property) and the towering cedar planted in 1856 by ancestors of the Cordero di Montezemolo winery. After lunch back in La Morra, we’ll shuttle to the nearby commune of Verduno for our afternoon tasting. We’ll visit Fratelli Alessandria, a boutique winery situated in the family’s 18th century house; their vineyards were likely sourced by King Carlo Alberto for the wine he made at the Verduno castle. Not only does F.lli Alessandria make stellar Barolos and Barberas; they’re also one of only 12 producers in the world who make Pelaverga, a light, spicy red indigenous to this village. One of the family members will pour them all and offer a comparison between Barolo cru in Verduno and Monforte. Dinner offers more of Piedmont’s refined cuisine, such as meat-stuffed agnolotti and beef braised in Barolo.
B, D • Corte Gondina
DAY 3 – MOUNTAIN CHEESE IN THE ALTE LANGHE
Piedmont’s Alte Langhe (“high hills of the Langhe”) are renowned for their cheese. Here the elevation is too high for grapes, so hazelnut groves, pasture land, and chestnut woods dominate the rolling landscape. Today’s hike is point-to-point, crossing two valleys on the Tanaro trail; this follows the old Via del Sale, the salt road on which salt and other goods were transported inland from Liguria. After we wrap up the hike, we’ll shuttle the rest of the way to lunch at an artisan cheese farm near the town of Murazzano. Here we’ll have a tour, then sit down to a buffet of freshly made DOP cheese, salumi, and other regional treats, accompanied by the local Dolcetto di Dogliani wine. More wine follows at our afternoon tasting. We’ll shuttle to Monforte and the scenic hilltop estate of Fantino Conterno. Here we’ll taste award-winning single-vineyard Barolos, plus Barbera bottled according the cycles of the moon. For dinner, we go to Alba, capital of red-wine country in Piedmont. We’ll dine at a Slow Food–affiliate restaurant, where we might enjoy such gnocchi with melted cheese, roasted guinea fowl with rosemary, and panna cotta with fresh berries.
B, L, D • Corte Gondina
DAY 4 – GAVI DI GAVI
Today we transfer from Piedmont to the Riviera. En route, we’ll stop in the white wine district of Gavi (1-hour drive). After a cappuccino and soft amaretti cookies at Bar Matteo (a favorite haunt of Dolce Vita cofounder Claudio Bisio during his teen years), we’ll climb up to theFortress of Gavi. A truly impressive fort that kept adding layers of fortification as Genoa and Milan fought over this turf, it illustrates the cutting-edge military architecture of its day. We’ll scoot back down the hill for lunch at a trattoria frequented by local workers. Then it’s time for a tasting of Gavi di Gavi, the first white wine of Italy to gain international fame. Our winery of choice is Villa Sparina, a preeminent leader in Gavi and one of Wine Spectator’s 10 “Italian Wineries to Watch” in 2008. Villa Sparina’s 4-star hotel has a patio overlooking the vineyards, which is one of the most pleasant settings for an al fresco tasting you’ll ever find. We then continue our drive south to the Riviera town of Sestri Levante (1-1/4 hour), where we’ll settle into our second hotel, a sunny seaside spot with a balcony overlooking the Bay of Silence. Dinner is on your own at one of Sestri Levante’s many excellent fish restaurants.
B • Hotel Helvetia
DAY 5 – PORTOFINO
In the Riviera, the landscape changes entirely. The Ligurian mountains tumble straight to the sea, with colorful houses and umbrella pines clinging to the hills. Today we’ll climb those hills in a spectacular point-to-point hike, starting in the fishing village of Camogli. The first leg goes through town, ascending ancient steps that pass tiny houses and private walled gardens, arriving at the overlook of San Rocco. The next part takes us up through the woods to the rocky ridges on top of the promontory, where there are spectacular views at every turn. Then there’s a long descent to San Fruttuoso, a medieval abbey and tower of the Doria dynasty, located in a protected cove. After lunch, we’ll catch a 20-minute ferry to Portofino, a picturesque village where amorous movie stars once hid from paparazzi, where we’ll soak up the sun, browse the shops, or catch a bite to eat. Then we take another short ferry to Santa Margherita and finally a train back to Sestri, arriving in the late afternoon. Today’s wine tasting will be on our hotel balcony overlooking the scenic bay, clanging boats, and setting sun. Here we’ll have an introduction to Ligurian wine, spotlighting seafood-friendly Vermentino and its cousin Pigato. Dinner will feature the Riviera’s fresh-from-the-sea cuisine, including a tender Mediterranean bass with tomatoes and herbed roasted potatoes. .
B, D • Hotel Helvetia
DAY 6 – THE CINQUE TERRE TRAIL
The fame of the Cinque Terre (“five lands”) is well deserved, with its sweeping vistas and charming seaside villages. Now a national park, the Cinque Terre trail passes through five towns. We’ll take a trail to our trailhead and hike through four, going from Vernazza to Riomaggiore (with an optional leg from Monterosso for the heartiest hikers). The first part of the trail takes us up and down mountain steps, past wild fragrant scrub and ancient terraces carved from the rock by monks and Ligurian tribes in order to cultivate olive trees and grapes. A handful of heroic wine producers continue the work the land, wrestling limited quantities of grapes from this vertical, rocky terrain. The second part is a broader cinder and stone trail that’s gently rolling, while the third is an easy sidewalk stretch known as Via dell’ Amore, or Lovers Lane. We return by train, then again convene on our hotel balcony for an informal tasting before dinner, this time spotlighting such obscure regional reds as the herbaceous Rosesse di Dolceacqua. Our farewell dinner at a bayside restaurant offers excellent haute renditions of local cuisine.
B, D • Hotel Helvetia
DAY 7 – ARRIVEDERCI!
A shuttle to the Sestri Levante train station and assistance with your travel plans. B
Please bear in mind that this itinerary is made one year in advance, so details may change due to the winemakers’ schedule (especially during harvest), hotel availability, weather, and other unforeseen circumstances. Any substitutions will be with a property of equivalent interest and value.
Hiking Level of Difficulty
Our hikes range from 3 to 5 hours per day. The two parts of this tour involve different kinds of hiking. The first part in Piedmont is the easier. Here we’re on a combination of gravel roads, wooded paths, and the Barolo Wine Trail, which is a marked path that cuts through the vineyards. It’s wine country, so there are rolling hills, including a couple of steep but short climbs in the vineyards and some longer climbs on country roads with a gradual grade. In Piedmont, we have the support van accompanying us every day, so tired hikers can jump in and ride with the guide.
The second part is on the Riviera coast. This is more challenging, involving longer ascents and descents on the coastal mountains. On the Cinque Terre hike, we do three sections of trail, covering four out of the five towns in the “five lands” or cinque terre. (Advanced hikers can opt to do the whole trail.) One hour-long section (Vernazza to Corniglia) involves a good amount of climbing on mountain steps and dirt paths. Then on our Portofino hike, we cross a broad promontory, climbing gradually to the top, hiking along the ridge, and descending through the woods on switchback trails. There is no van support on either day, since we won’t be near any roads. We travel by train and ferry. On the Cinque Terre, hikers can easily opt out at any town by hopping on the train. But on the Portofino promontory, once we start hiking, it’s all or nothing. (There are ferry-only options for people who wish to skip the hike entirely.)
Hiking shoes with deep treads are required; walking sticks are recommended. Though challenging, we’ve found that anyone in reasonably good shape can conquer the Riviera hills—and are happy they did so!
Milan’s Malpensa or Linate. Both have convenient airport shuttle buses to Milan’s central train station, the Stazione Centrale (50 minutes from Malpensa, 30 minutes from Linate).
Plan to land in Italy a day before the tour begins; that’s necessary to be at our starting point on time. Most people spend the preceding night in Milan. For hotel suggestions, email us or consult a good hotel search engine, such as TripAdvisor.com or Venere.com. We recommend staying either near the main train station, called the Stazione Centrale (more convenient for catching the train on Day 1), or in the historic center near the Duomo (more convenient for pre-tour sightseeing). From one area to the other, it’s about a 45-minute walk, a few stops on the subway, or a 15-minute taxi ride.
Our meeting point is the train station in Tortona, a small town on the rail line from Milan to Genoa. You can spend the previous night in Milan or in Tortona. If Milan, you’ll go to Milan’s Stazione Centrale and take the 9 A.M. commuter train to Tortona. (We’ll provide precise train details in your information packet.) It takes less than an hour, and we’ll meet you at the Tortona station. If you stay in Tortona, we can recommend a hotel with a good restaurant, and we will pick you up there on Day 1. Please let us know if you’re coming from elsewhere or spending the previous night in Tortona. From Tortona, we shuttle to Alba (about 1 hour), where the tour gets underway.
On our final day, you can depart from Sestri Levante whenever you wish. Depending on time, either we or the hotel can offer you a shuttle to the train station. The train from Sestri to Milan takes between 2hr44min and 3hr20min.
Italian train schedule
Click here for the Trenitalia schedule in English. Be aware that the schedule is posted just a few months in advance, so if you’re looking for long-range dates, try something sooner, if only to get an idea of departure frequency and trip length.
If you’d like some downtime at the beach or wish to explore the coastal towns, you could extend your stay in Sestri Levante for another day or two. Genoa is certainly worth a visit and is do-able as a day-trip from Sestri. A working port and the birthplace of Christopher Colombus, it offers a world-class aquarium, a waterfront promenade (designed by architect Renzo Piano, a local son), wonderful art museums housed in 18th palaces, and a fascinating medieval section. Or you could leave the Rivieria and head south to Florence (about 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 hours by train).
This is recommended to protect you from needless loss caused by last-minute cancellations, lost luggage, and more. One source is Travelex Insurance: http://www.travelexinsurance.com, (800) 228-9792 (please use our compay code: 21-0043 LDV).
When packing, check www.weather.com. Go to “Alba, Italy” and “Sestri Levante, Italy” to get a general idea of temperatures and forecast. By late May, we should have beautiful, clear weather, with daytime temperatures averaging 75º and nighttime 65º. In early September, it’ll still be summertime. Daytime temps average 70–75º and nighttime 60º.