In Liguria, northwestern Italy, there are 30 superb coastline miles between Portofino and Cinque Terre, perhaps the loveliest of Italy’s thousands of miles of beach. It is here that the Apennine Mountains drop a thousand feet straight down into the turquoise Ligurian Sea. Small, colorfully painted homes cling to the rugged cliffs. Ancient olive trees dot the terraced hills framing the inlets, harbors, bobbing boats, vineyards and scrub – barely accessible even by foot.
Instead of the usual hiking tour, Tofino Expeditions, the 25-year sea-kayaking outfitter top-rated by National Geographic Adventure, is now offering a new way to explore this fabled coast – by gentle kayak over the course of 11 days. This soft manner of travelling will provide paddlers with an unusually personal introduction to Italy’s marineria culture (“life of the sea”.) And the local fishermen welcome those exploring by sea in a way they do not welcome the hikers.
A sea kayak is about 18-19 feet long and carries one or two paddlers. Adventure kayaker Grant Thompson, founder, welcomes novices, preferably those with muscles. He calls kayaking a “cadence” type of sport, like cycling or cross-country skiing, where one becomes immersed in rhythmic movement as opposed to having to exert a great deal of strength. From the water, participants will enjoy a unique view of this intensely dramatic and intricate coastline.
Beginning in Genoa, the capital of Liguria and birthplace of Columbus, time to explore the city’s labyrinthine medieval old quarter, the 17th century walls, grand cathedrals, a bustling promenade, the enormous “Lanterna” (lighthouse) and the monumental Piazza De Ferrari, the heart of the city.
As you and your small group (12 max) paddle south along the coast of Cinque Terre (“five villages”) there will be plenty of breaks to enjoy short hikes into vineyards and olive groves. Visiting the car-free fishing village of Vernazza will be a satisfying treat, sampling warm focaccia bread, sipping the vino delle Cinque Terre, and hiking in ancient Phoenician ruins.
Overnight ferry to the wild isle of Sardinia and the Maddelena Archipelago, a group of 7 big and many small islands, national park and UNESCO World Heritage site (one of three on this tour) and explore stone monuments from 1500 BC, way older than the Etruscans on mainland Italy.