When I was 19, I was introduced to the Cinque Terre. After traveling to Italy several times before, something felt unique and untouched about this place. It was charming with tiny streets, dramatic beaches smashed on the Mediterranean, and the pesto… oh, baby. It was lush. Tyler and I would sit on the rocks in Vernazza with picnics at sunset and jump off the rocks of Manorola and feel like this was as good as cheap thrills can get.
Since that first time, I have to say (as many other would agree), it’s not really the same. It’s been blown up by tourism in a way that is both like winning the lottery for some locals and devastates a place of its natural charm. We visited Vernazza this summer and, literally, waddled along the main road trying to walk with so many other tourists alongside us. (To be fair, it was July and it was the day a cruise ship docked.)
A few weeks later, we were at dinner with our friends, Grant, Georgette & Nico in Florence. I asked them where they went for a day out to the beach. Without skipping a beat, Georgette & Nico (who are married) said: "Bonassola!”
They explained that it was just beyond the top town of the Cinque Terre, just beyond Levanto. They said you could drive, you could rent chairs on the beach, that it was stuffed with Italians and, of course, pesto-covered focaccia. We were sold.
A few days later, we loaded up the kids for the 2+ hour drive there. We got takeaway cappuccinos (“a porta via”) and pastries from the best little spot, Laquale, near where we stay.
We packed up the kids and a million other things (floaties, clean clothes, water bottles, snacks, sun cream, laptop for Tyler, and, seemingly, every other random other thing we have ever owned.) As we started our mountainous decent from Levanto to Bonassola, we realised how special this place was. It’s a little bay where Italians come to spend August. You can tell that the people there are families that have come back to the same little apartments and beach clubs for years. There are friendships there that are so obvious and so charming. Yet, we still felt the perfect balance of being unnoticed outsiders and friendly experiences.
You can rent a beach chair for the day for about €15 per chair. I rented chairs for 6 of us, but it was honestly, a bit of a waste of money. I think for the 7 of us, I could have only rented 3, as for the most part, we were coming and going to the water.
We grabbed pizzas from a tiny local spot that had a giant line snaking out of, which obviously meant I wanted to try it, too. We had a sandy little lunch eating pizzas and peaches from the local market what spills right out from the beach front. I met men from Burkino Faso selling gorgeous blankets and grabbed one as a souvenir from the day.
The water was clear and pretty- as you would expect the Italian Riviera to be. A dead jellyfish floated up and some kids pulled it ashore and played with it for hours. When Viola told me she had been playing with a jellyfish, I definitely didn’t believe her, but our au pair, Camino, laughed and said it was true. I wandered down to see it in person and found about ten kids squatting around it, playing with its tentacles.
As the sun started to set and the beach chairs started to gradually become empty, we packed up and wandered into town to find a place for dinner. The tables of the cafes were all filled with families and friends sipping aperitivos, eating pizzas and watching as their kids ran around the fountains by them.
And as they say, when in Rome, do as the Romans. So we sat down and ordered as our kids ran free. They climbed up on the steps, the climbed down, they made friends with the family playing by them and ended up eating the kids crackers, at their mom’s kind offering. It was nearly dream-like.
I kinda love to keep places like this a secret, because it makes me nervous to think that one day, Bonassola will be just like the Cinque Terre. Overexposed and haggard, but I kinda think that maybe if we spread out a bit, took a chance on other places and tried something that wasn’t just listed in every single tour book//blog, maybe we’d just disperse the chaos a bit better than we currently are doing. Well, that’s my hope at least. Maybe there is actually enough of great spaces for all of us to enjoy, if we don’t feel the pressure to fight for a space in the well-known ones. Because let me tell you, this was not settling for a consolation prize. This day trip to Bonassola was the jewel in the crown of our time staying in Florence.
And if you go, look for me. I’ll be the one on a beach chair- buried under kid’s floaties and empty boxes of pizzas- with a very content look on my face.
*images original to Aspiring Kennedy