Rendezvous in Pisa, which is easily reached by train from Florence or Lucca. We drive to the lower slopes of the Apuane Mountains and take a 6 km (3.5 mile) walk through magnificent chestnut woods, emerging at a tiny village literally sandwiched between glistening white marble quarries. We lunch in a tiny restaurant usually packed with Italians, who travel miles for the mouth-watering antipasti. Afternoon visit to the intriguing Museo del Marmo, an outdoor museum set at the foot of a huge quarry. We learn how marble has been extracted here since Roman times and even more astonishingly, how it is transported down the steep mountainsides all the way to the sea. Transfer to the engaging town of Pietrasanta, home to an international community of sculptors, where we settle in for three nights. Tonight we dine at an inviting ristorante where candlelit tables are set amongst stacks of wine bottles. Wander contentedly back to our luxuriously appointed hotel, situated in the center of town in a beautifully frescoed palazzo.
This morning we visit a few of the fascinating artists’ studios and foundries where world-class sculptors have their works produced in marble and bronze. Transfer to a quiet mountain village where our exciting 10 km (6 mile) walk follows the via Francigena, a pilgrim’s route in medieval times, which once stretched from Rome to Paris! Our route traces centuries of history and is graced with small chapels and an exquisite Romanesque church, as well as glorious views of the marble-crowned Apuane peaks. We stop for a leisurely picnic in the shade of a chestnut tree. After lunch, the landscape gives way to gnarled groves of olive trees, their leaves glittering silver in the afternoon light as we follow our path back to Pietrasanta. Tonight you are free to choose a dining spot, and you’ll find an impressive selection of both excellent ristoranti and casual trattorie vying for your attention.
We head to the seaside town of Lerici with its 13th century castle overlooking the Bay of Poets, a place beloved by Byron and Shelley. Our 14 km (8.5 mile) walk follows cobblestone pathways through quiet villages tucked into the hills. At midday, a delightful farmhouse lunch awaits us, with wonderful stuffed focacce and homemade ravioli. Continue along paths perfumed with fennel and wild cumin all the way down to the tiny port of Tellaro, lined with pastel-colored houses and laundry drying in the sun. Dinner tonight is in a family-style trattoria, where there is no written menu. Instead, we visit the kitchen to see firsthand what’s cooking tonight.
We hop an early train for Monterosso, the first of the "five little towns" of the Cinque Terre. This classic walk follows stone stairways along terraced hillsides to the picturesque town of Vernazza, and then on to Corniglia, perched high on a clifftop overlooking the turquoise sea. You can decide just how far you want to walk today (6-12 km, or 3-7 miles), since a train connects the villages. Take time to linger over a lunch of fragrant pasta al pesto, a Ligurian specialty, and finish off with a scrumptious lemon tart and a glass of sciacchetrà, the local dessert wine. At the end of our walk, we take a train to Santa Margherita, where we stay two nights in a stylish 4-diamond hotel in the town center. Free night for choosing a restaurant overlooking the port.
We admire the distinctive painted houses in Santa Margherita and stroll through the bustling market, brimming with colorful produce. Choose a 9-13 km (5-8 mile) walk today; both routes offer lovely views over the sea as they wind through the hills to the chic resort town of Portofino. Dinner tonight is in a friend’s welcoming restaurant, where we are invited to visit the fragrant herb garden before settling down to a dinner of Ligurian country cuisine.
Transfer to the Santa Margherita train station by 11:00 am for trains to Genoa and Milan, or Pisa, Florence and Rome. Arrivederci!