Here is the next in my “near but not in Cinque Terre” series, which is a look at several towns in the same area as the famous Cinque Terre, but are likely overlooked. The city of La Spezia is certainly the largest in this end of Liguria and an ideal home base for exploring the area.
La Spezia is a coastal town at the Eastern end of the Cinque Terre park. It is only a few minutes by train from Riomaggiore. So even if all you want to see is the famous five lands, La Spezia should still be in your sights. Simple access to the Cinque Terre park as well as under two hours to Pisa and only a bus ride to Portovenere, makes it quite central.
The city has a commercial harbor and a naval yard as well as a castle, so while not really a tourist destination, there are some things to see.
Place to Stay
Being not a tourist place makes it more affordable to stay and eat in as well as offers a much busier train station for exploring in both directions. This is the town that my parents and I stayed for our week in Liguria. While I still want to see Genoa, I am glad we stayed here. There are plenty of places to eat if you are on the Italian schedule, but even for us early eaters we found a place that served food starting at 6pm.
Museums and Castle
The history of the area goes back a long way. We are talking 2000 years long. The castle had a museum holding artifacts from places only an hour away over the hills. I’m not so much into museums, but they had sheets in all different languages to read and the castle had some grand views of the city and the valley. The harbor is obviously protected by the hills, so I understand why the early man decided to come settle this area. There are some nice gelato dealers in town, which must have helped too.
The valley is a neat place. The days we were there the clouds hung to the mountains and created some spooky effects. Being April, it rained a few times too. Even rain in Italy is romantic. During this downpour we ran from doorway to doorway looking for a cafe to sit and dry off in. At the some point a bunch of guys selling umbrellas were running around looking for customers.
The city is an Italian City through and through. The Italianate Architecture is all over town. You see it in the old part of town as well as the more modern quarter filled with fashion stores. I really enjoyed walking around in the evening here.
So if you are looking to explore Liguria, I heartily recommend staying in la Spezia. Mix with the locals more in this hub town rather than be a part of the tourist crush in the Cinque Terre.