Liguria, with its protected, unpolluted Cinque Terre National Park, is a mere 2.45 hours away from Milan, the perfect haven from the whirl of events in Milan.
The park is an 18 kilometre oasis stretching along the Tyrrhenian coast, studded with small beaches and deep sea beds, towered over by the Apennine mountain range running parallel to the coastline, which inspired famous people like the English poets Shelley and Byron, the writer and scientist Paolo Mantegazza and the playwright Sem Benelli. There are five small villages or ‘terre’ as they are known: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore, their characteristic rough, sheer ridges dropping suddenly down into the crystalline sea, softened by terraces with olive and lemon groves, vineyards, chinotto and many other sorts of fruit trees.
Monterosso is the most populous part of the Cinque Terre, right in the middle of a small natural inlet, below the crest on which the three main regional roads converge. Vernazza rises on a small promontory jutting out the sea, reachable by a single road. Its little port has provided a safe harbour since the time of the maritime republics, and the village is regarded as one of the most beautiful in Italy. Corniglia is the only one of the Cinque Terre that does not look directly out to sea; it stands on a plain some 100 metres high, surrounded by vineyards. Corniglia is linked to Vernazza by a scenic path that runs between the summit and the sea, but getting there on foot also means negotiating the 382-step Scalinata Lardarina. Manarola lies in the gully between two rocky outcrops and has a small landing stage. Riomaggiore lies in the valley of the Rio Maggiore, the ancient Rivus Major, after which it is named. The Rio Maggiore valley is overlooked by Monte Verugola, which is the symbol of the village, and its three mountain peaks are depicted on the municipal coat of arms.
Stunning cliffs, boat trips and visits to religious shrines, are just some of the many things the Cinque Terre has to offer for visitors on foot and it provides a unique opportunity to sample the deep-routed local gastronomic traditions, inspired by the quality of the unusually aromatic and tasty local products. Basil, the iconic symbol of this strip of land and of the Mediterranean diet, is unmissable and universal. It forms the basis for the sort of cuisine that frequently features seafood dishes accompanied by dry white Cinque Terre D.O.C table wine; the area also produces Schiacchetrà, a fine fortified wine made from raisins.