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Yes, we’ve been traveling a lot of late. Over the last 40 days, our travels have taken us from Cadiz to Hamburg and from the Alps to the Apennines. We have paddled in the Atlantic and the Adriatic and taken in a few cities too: Florence, Madrid, Paris, Zürich, Poznan and more.
It has, in truth, been incredibly relaxing and perhaps there’s a lesson or two in here for Cheapos planning summer trips. We’ve not used a single plane on our spring tour of western and central Europe, sticking instead mainly to trains, with just the occasional journey by bus or boat thrown in for good measure.
Seduced by sunshine
But the secret of not merely surviving but actually enjoying such long trips has a lot to do with making the most of each overnight stay. Cast back to Palm Sunday early this month, and we experienced one of those glorious days that are just too good to be spent entirely on the move.
We left Florence shortly after midday, taking slow trains via Lucca through blossoming western Tuscany. We then tracked north up the coast, but by 3 p.m. realized that this sparkling spring Sunday was one made for lingering by the sea, so we alighted at Santa Margherita Ligure.
Santa Margherita Ligure
This is a gem of a small town, tucked into the coast of the Riviera di Levante. The previous stop on the train line up the Ligurian coast is Rapallo, which has been celebrated as the perfect Ligurian resort. Some might argue that Portofino, so very much smaller but often dreadfully overcrowded, has the edge.
While devotees of this stretch of coastline tussle over the competing merits of Rapallo and Portofino, we think the best option is Santa Margherita Ligure, which lies halfway between the two.
Exploring the area
Within 20 minutes of having alighted from the train, we had checked into the Hotel Laurin and were soaking up the Ligurian sunshine on a splendid private terrace overlooking the Mediterranean. “Life,” we thought, “doesn’t get much better than this.”
That Santa Margherita stopover was utterly memorable. We wandered around the yacht harbor, went over to Portofino by boat and returned on the local bus. We explored cliffs and coves, enjoyed a splendid dinner of local fish at Trattoria dei Pescatori and were quite sad when, just after lunch the following day, it was time to leave Santa Margherita Ligure and head north towards the Alps.
Twenty-two hours in Santa Margherita were enough to make us realize that we had stumbled upon somewhere special. We shall most certainly return.
Santa Margherita Ligure is served by direct Trenitalia InterCity trains from Genoa (35 mins), Milan (2hrs 15mins) and Pisa (2hrs). There are regular boat services linking Santa Margherita with both Rapallo and Portofino, both hops taking about 15 minutes.
Santa Margherita is also a good base for exploring the Cinque Terre coast. Local trains from Santa Margherita to the Cinque Terre villages take an hour. During the summer season there are also direct boat services from Santa Margherita Ligure to the Cinque Terre villages.
The hotel we chose at Santa Margherita, the Laurin, is a very comfortable family-run hotel on the waterfront an easy 15-minute walk from the railway station. Rooms are from €70. The Ciana family who run the Hotel Laurin are a long-established family of hoteliers. In 1897, Gaudenzio Ciana who ran a hotel in Novara moved to Santa Margherita Ligure and opened a hotel there. 115 years later, the Ciana family are still in this idyllic spot on the Ligurian coast and, as well as the Hotel Laurin, they also have a handful of other properties in and around Santa Margherita Ligure. The Hotel Laurin is marketed under the Best Western brand.