Ask Lonely Planet: Cinque Terre scores 5 out of 5 for views

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A friend and I hope to walk the Cinque Terre in Italy in September. We were wondering which direction you recommend we walk it. Also, where would you suggest we stay? I have heard staying outside the five villages is cheaper.

Alison Bing, co-author, Lonely Planet's Italy, Venice, and Tuscany & Umbria guides, writes:

No matter how you approach Cinque Terre, there's no such thing as a bad view. Liguria's five remote, rocky coves were once pirate hideaways, but the recent arrival of railway tunnels and electric lights has finally allowed landlubber visitors to see what they've been missing for the past millennium. Sea breezes carry the aroma of flowering Ligurian lemon groves up steep cliffs, where intrepid walkers discover herbs and wild asparagus sprouting along rocky footpaths.

To ease yourself into a walking pace, you may want to begin at Riomaggiore in the south, where the footpaths are well-paved, flat, and broad enough for gaggles of primary schoolers. If you're going to veer off well-beaten paths - highly recommended, to enjoy the stunning, solitary vistas of centuries past - be sure to pick up the official Parco Nazionale map of footpaths from one of the information centres located in all Cinque Terre railway stations. Hardcore hikers may want to begin their trek north of the Cinque Terre in the fishing town of Levanto, where a winding path leads over the forbidding bluff of Punta Mesco and descends past olive trees and stone-walled gardens into Monterosso al Mare, the northernmost village of Cinque Terre.

Levanto makes a handy, laid-back launching point for Cinque Terre with railway and boat stops, value-priced accommodations and tasty dining options such as La Picea (Via Concia 18). For a panoramic perch atop a coastal bluff between Levanto and the Cinque Terre town of Monterosso, Hotel Giada del Mesco is worth paying extra and booking ahead. The trailhead for a daring downhill trek past monastery ruins into Monterosso is just behind the hotel.

The next sleepy seaside town to the north of Levanto is Bonassola, with enough sun-faded grandeur and inns frescoed with trompe-l'oueil balconies to inspire legions of aspiring novelists. Everyone will warn you to limber up your legs before you head to Cinque Terre, but nothing can prepare you for the grand stretches of the imagination that lay ahead.

Pacific paradise

I am planning a trip to a Pacific island and was wondering what would be the best destination for a 6-year-old and his mother. I have been considering Rarotonga, Fiji or Vanuatu. Would one of these destinations be a better choice for a single parent on a moderate budget?

Brigitte Barta, co-ordinating author of Lonely Planet's Travel with Children, writes:

Rarotonga (the Cook Islands), Fiji and Vanuatu are all good options for a holiday between June and August.

Rarotonga is a great all-rounder of an island, with a lovely lagoon, plenty of activities and fabulous restaurants. The top attraction for children is the lagoon, which is packed with marine life and provides dazzling snorkelling and swimming. At Muri Beach, kayaks and small sailing boats can be hired, and glass-bottom boats cruise the lagoon. Although accommodation is generally more expensive on Rarotonga than Fiji, there are some bargains to be had. Kii Kii Motel has affordable self-contained cottages at Muri Beach. Many of the "kids stay/eat free" resorts on Fiji are quite expensive, even compared to Rarotonga. If you're after reasonably priced accommodation, and some variety in terms of daily activities, Vitu Levu is your best bet.

So, which is right for you? It depends on what you're after, but, all in all, Rarotonga might be your best bet.

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- NZ Herald

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