My absolute favorite moment from our trip to Levanto in Italy’s famed Cinque Terre National Park was the moment we entered into the train tunnel. I wish I was there right now. Taking that first cool, damp breath, looking up at the exposed brickwork, listening to the sea to my left while a refreshing breeze comes over me from the darkness beyond.
We almost didn’t do the Ciclopedonale Maremonti, Levanto’s BRAND NEW Cycle and Walk path, because we weren’t sure it was going to be much of an experience and time can quickly escape you when you visit Levanto and the Cinque Terre. With so many spots to see and so many places to explore it is hard to know if a bicycle path will be worth half a day of your vacation.
But it is. and I’m so glad we went and that I can share this with you. This is one of those tourist experiences you would gladly do daily.
The Ciclopedonale Maremonti – Levento’s Bicylce and Pedestrian Tunnel
Abandoned for nearly 40 years, this section of an old train tunnel was originally used to connect Levanto to Bonassola and Framura, two smaller localities in the Bay of Levanto. In fact, speaking with the owners of Tina and Mario’s Bike Shop there are memories of waiting for the train each morning to go to work and school by the locals who are nearing retirement.
Directly beside the sea, hugging the mountain’s edge in a way that I’m still unable to fully appreciate, the tunnel was just narrow enough for one train at a time and unable to keep up with the demand for more trains and better routes.
After the completion of the new train tunnels along the coastline this old, yet beautiful section, made with antique brick archways was abandoned ….for over 40 year! Not only that but when ideas started circulating about the possibility of converting the tunnels into a bicycle path there was hesitation from Framura and Bonassola that their tourists would leave for Levanto. But as time has proven, it is quite the opposite, with many tourists from Levanto and locals alike taking to their bikes daily to explore the undisturbed Coastline, with a stop in Bonassola for lunch or Framura for a drink and canoe rental.
In 2011, after nearly 5 years of restoration and hundreds of thousands of euros invested by the three cities, the “MareMonti” path was opened to the public and has become one of the top attractions for tourists and locals alike.
Writing this post I just got a chill with the memory of my first moment going in. Who hasn’t dreamed of walking through a train tunnel? Now think about a train tunnel that has little openings along one of the most suggestive coastlines in the World. Not only that but it is filled with inlets and coves that were only ever accessible by boat or to seagulls prior to 2011, which thanks to the stairs that were built during the restoration can be easily accessed by all.
Well….maybe not by people with young kids! my advice if you are taking your bike from Levanto into the Maremonti – cycle/walk tunnel for the day and you intend on sun bathing, would be to stop at Bonassola. The wide bay offers plenty of public and free beach space, and there are plenty of options for lunch and dinner. At 2 km from Levanto, it only took us 10 minutes or so to reach Bonassola with its comfortable promenade and invitingly large beaches.
We didn’t plan on stopping in Bonassola and I was very curious to make it to the end of the tunnel, so after a brief pause to admire Bonassola we kept pedaling along for the next 10 km to Framura.
Framura’s old centre is considered one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. When you arrive at the base of the mountain on your bike you can see just a hint of the city from sea level. To access the village you can park your bike and then take the stairs to the historic centre. I was told it was a 5 – 10 minute stair climb, and after nearly 40 minutes of pedaling neither me nor my husband really felt like carrying our three year old up stairs for 10 minutes, so we opted to explore the small port instead.
By the time we arrived it was lunch time and thankfully there is a small cafe tucked under the train track arches. You’ll see a set of stairs leading down to the port and then another set up to the cafe. I cannot say for sure if this little bar is open year round but I’m glad it was in August and it hit the spot for these hungry travelers. After lunch we explored the port and I couldn’t believe how many people were out sunbathing on the rocks, hanging out in the sun and killing a lazy Sunday afternoon.
What to Wear
You would be SURPRISED at the temperature drop in the train tunnels. It is very cool and the faster you ride the chillier it is. We passed a lot of people who were walking through in their bathing suits and bikinis and they looked cold. Although it was scorching hot outside, the tunnels, which are always in darkness and very well insulated by the mountain can quickly leave you feeling damp and cold, which was actually a very nice sensation!
I dressed my son in a thick short sleeved polo shirt in double cotton and had a hoodie and scarf (obviously we’re in Italy) for him in my knapsack. I wore a simple t-shirt and was mostly ok, but there were a few times I wished I was at least wearing a scarf. In the summer you should be ok with a t-shirt but I don’t recommend walking or riding through in just a bathing suit, especially if it is wet. In the spring and fall I would wear I heavy sweater or coat or bring appropriate clothes to layer with. No one enjoys themselves when they are cold, so although I realize carrying another “thing” is tedious I suggest you go prepared to have the best experience possible. To see the details on what I wore and my tips on how not to dress like a tourist visit this post.
Tina and Mario’s Bike Rental
Their prices haven’t changed in years with a half day costing 6 euros or the full day for 10. If you’re going to stay for a full week their weekly rental is only 40 euro and prices include helmets, locks and child seats!
This “mom and pop” shop, is actually still run by the same family that started it three generations ago. A typical beach “convenience” store that you’ll often find along Italy’s coast they sell all sorts of beach toys, suntan lotion and inflatable boats. They are also the first to offer bikes for rent in the city of Levanto and the grandmother in this family risked everything when she opened this small space to take out a loan to buy her very first bikes!
Now, they offer plenty of options and being only 149 cm (4’11”) most adult bikes are too big for me, so I was so pleased that they had a “teenager” bike that was perfect for me!
You can find them at 3 Corso Roma, just along one of Levanto’s main streets. From there the owner will show you where to go to enter into the converted train tunnel bike and pedestrian path which is only about a 1 minute ride away from the store.
Before heading in, take a moment to enjoy Levanto’s port and the boardwalk, a few well spent minutes of soaking it all in can last a lifetime.
And that’s it.
Please do this if you are ever in Levanto. It was a breathtaking experience that can be done by bike or foot and easily enjoyed by the whole family. If you plan on spending the day in the sun or having a picnic lunch, just make sure you have everything you need.
An inexpensive fun day and it was a great way to burn a few calories after enjoying all of the local specialties Levanto has to offer! In my next post about Levanto I’ll bring you on an authentic food tour of the city, discovering a few of the yummy things Liguria has contributed to the culinary world….namely PESTO!
For Bike Rentals:
Tina & Mario’s Shop owned by Francesco Lapucci
|Monday||8:30 am – 12:30 pm, 3:30 – 7:30 pm|
|Tuesday||8:30 am – 12:30 pm, 3:30 – 7:30 pm|
|Wednesday||8:30 am – 12:30 pm, 3:30 – 7:30 pm|
|Thursday||8:30 am – 12:30 pm, 3:30 – 7:30 pm|
|Friday||8:30 am – 12:30 pm, 3:30 – 7:30 pm|
|Saturday||8:30 am – 12:30 pm, 3:30 – 7:30 pm|
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