The Dolomites, Cinque Terre & Tuscany; We are a family of 5 with children 15, 13, and 9... We spent the first portion of our 5-week trip in Venice, Plitvice, Croatia and Bled, Slovenia. This is a report on the middle portion of the trip - Three nights in the Dolomites, one night in the Cinque Terre, and a week in Tuscany. Following this part of our trip we have five nights in Massa Lubrense, outside of Sorrento, a week in Rome, and three nights in Paris. If you would like more detailed information, along with some choice photos, you can PM me for our blog address. We try to have a new entry every day, though wifi has been a challenge....
The Dolomites; We booked an apartment in the small town of Ortisei/St. Ulrich, close to the heart of the Dolomite region. As with most of the villages in the Dolomites, everything is geared toward skiing and winter tourism. The summer has tourists as well, but you can tell that things are not at full speed, even in the height of summer. The skiing infrastructure is used to get people to & from high hiking trails, which is convenient. But that same infrastructure is also everywhere you look along the trails. From lifts to huts to service roads to high alpine cafes, no matter how far you walk, you are never really away from civilization. Nature has been fully conquered here. That said, the vistas are stunning and there are numerous great hikes to choose from. We spent most of one day on the Alpe Di Siusi, which we could access from a lift right in town. Then we spent part of another day on the Bindelweg Trail accessed from two lifts out of the village of Canazei. Both days were rewarding, but tiring. The Bindelweg Trail had fantastic views on some of the highest Dolomite peaks. If you are looking for a quaint village experience with ordinary people going about their lives, don't stay in Ortisei/St. Ulrich or frankly, any of the similar villages along the Val Gardena. While they are certainly pleasant to cast your eye upon, a closer look reveals that virtually every structure is either a business or an apartment building meant for ski bums to rent. We didn't get to Rick Steves' suggested Castelrotto. Perhaps that had more charm despite being a bit removed from the center of the mountains.
The Cinque Terre; Our time in the Cinque Terre was limited to about five hours one afternoon and another five hours the following morning. Our only goal was to see each of the five little villages and do some walking in between. Riomaggiore, Manarola and Corniglia were all mostly undamaged by the flooding last October. Of the three, Riomaggiore has the most to see, Manorola is the cutest, and Corniglia is the most "authentic" feeling (due in part, I'm guessing, to the fact that many tourists bypass it and it's 383 steps up and down from the train station). The Via Dell Amore pathway from Rio' to Manarola is a cinch -almost flat and paved. It is littered with graffiti and junk tied to every semi-permanent fixture, however. The seaside path between Manarola and Corniglia is closed due to the trail being washed out and there is no indication at all that work is being done. Being Italy, it might stay closed for years. We did take the main trail between Corniglia and Vernazza, however. To call that a seaside trail is a deception. It is nowhere near the water and is narrow and full of rubble. The posted 90-minute time frame is accurate unless you are an agile hiker, and then you might be able to do it in an hour. Fortunately, Vernazza has come a long way in it's recovery from the floods (I would say almost 80% of what can be seen by tourists is back to functional condition) and lots of people were there enjoying their time and contributing to the economy. The same can be said for Monterroso. Crowds were not an issue during our time there. My only regret is that we did not have the time to poke around any of the dozen or so little villages that are just up the hill from the Cinque Terre and may have offered a quieter, more authentic feel.
Tuscany; Our nights in Tuscany were spent in a rental apartment that is part of a classic hilltop Tuscan farmhouse complex-turned holiday getaway, just south of Siena. The setting and views are simply to die for. Unfortunately, since everything we dreamed of seeing in Tuscany can be seen from our front door (or from the patio around the pool), we felt a definite lack of motivation to get out and see many of the classic Tuscan villages too numerous to mention here. We did force ourselves to get out and see a number of them, but we always found ourselves (hot and sweaty) longing to just get back to our apartment. We also did day trips to both Florence and Siena. Parking the car at the Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence, and by the fortress/stadium in Siena worked very well. No need to fret about ZTL's. Having been fortunate enough on past trips to see a number of quaint villages in other locations, the Tuscan village experience was pleasant, but not awe-inspiring. If a person were on a shorter trip, 2-4 days in Tuscany would be adequate to get a feel for what it looks and feels like. Having a week to spend here in our apartment has turned into something more like a vacation from our vacation. For those not using hotels for lodging, be warned; Wifi internet is a giant pain in the butt to find. Internet cafes are vanishing fast and there are no open wifi signals floating around at all. You might ask before you choose a restaurant, if they offer wifi. But I have never before had this consistent level of difficulty getting connected. Driving in Tuscany is a bit of a chore. Road signage seems almost designed to confuse. Speed limits are ridiculously low on two-lane roads, leaving you to decide whether to follow them and avoid getting a photo-ticket in the mail, or drive 20km/h faster like everyone else is and avoid being a hazard on the road.
Thanks, Randy, for a concise, realistic report of your trip. Although I haven't been to the Dolomites, your remarks jibe with what I have read and concluded. It sounds like your time in Tuscany perfectly fulfilled your plans for the region. It's a shame we don't get all the time we would like on these journeys. An early morning and late evening would have enhanced your Cinque Terre visit.
"Nature has been fully conquered here." See my report on Val di Rabbi, when I get around to writing it. There's no ski lifts, and once you hike above the villages, nature is most certainly still in charge.