‘For me this is the best place in the world,” says Elena Bisio, as I puff behind her up the stony path. We crest a hill known as Salto della Lepre (hare’s leap) and I have to agree the climb is worth it: from a natural terrace 200 metres high we gaze north-west over a panorama of steep slopes falling into blue sea, with villages huddled under almost vertical walls of rock, or clinging to green hillsides.
If that sounds a little like the Unesco-listed Cinque Terre national park, it’s because that honeypot area starts less than five miles away to the south. But while the Cinque Terre are up there with Venice and Barcelona when it comes to overtourism, and hiking its scenic paths requires a €7.50 permit, we pay nothing and meet no one on our two-hour walk from Framura to Bonassola on a sunny morning.
Elena, who runs Foody, a tourist platform offering local food and wine experiences all over Italy, lives in Genoa, 40 miles up the coast, but has spent summers in Framura all her life. She is keen to show me that this patch isn’t just the equal of the “five lands” but better, with affordable places to stay, great views and walks – and local businesses delighted to welcome foreign visitors.
Arriving by train from Genoa, we soon learn that the station is the only place actually called Framura; the village is made up of five medieval frazioni, or hamlets. Anzo, Ravecca, Setta and Costa stretch up the hillside to Castagnola at 300 metres, linked by a hairpin road but also by a steep traffic-free footpath.
On this coast, where the northern Appennines meet the Ligurian Sea, there are stunning views at every turn. Our hotel, the Augusta, an uphill walk from the station, is run by unflappable Nadia and her builder husband Mario, who also knocks up excellent breads for breakfast each day. Its breakfast room, terrace and several bedrooms offer a vista of ancient walls, rocky headlands and terraced fields.
It’s a 20-minute uphill walk to Setta, where the town hall and shops are. Enrica’s deli, Le Cose Buone (good things), has a tempting terrace for drinks and homemade focaccia, but we’re heading to the source of many good Ligurian things, Emilio Queirolo’s farm and winery.
This passionate young viticoltore takes us on a tour of the vines – red, rosé and vermentino – he has planted since taking over the family business. After we’ve enjoyed yet more sea views, and peeped at a hen pheasant on her nest amid the vines, we pile into a trailer to head off for lunch, stopping every few metres to pick ingredients – onions, fat tomatoes, a tightly packed lettuce, and sun-warmed cherries and peaches.
Emilio’s Ca’ di Mare winery sells to a new business (opened in July) that clearly foresees a great future for Framura. No new permanent building is allowed this close to the national park, but Sesta Terra (from €260 a night for four) is a solar-powered “natural resort” of safari tents and chalets with upcycled furnishings, plus bar, restaurant and pool on slopes outside Framura.
Sesta Terra apart, the accommodation in these parts is more low-key – like the Augusta, with its excellent fish restaurant and pizzeria, or, for tighter budgets, the Perla del Levante hostel (dorm beds €28 including generous breakfast, perladellevanteframura.it) in Ravecca.
And then there’s the Italian favourite, the agriturismo farmstay, though round here they offer something extra. The winding road to Laghello d’Anima (apartments for four from €104) is filled with scents of pine and cherry, rosemary and acacia. These are vital ingredients for 78-year-old owner Guido Erluison and his hundreds of thousands of workers – the honey bees in his 30 hives. In a shady pergola, Guido – a dead ringer for John Betjeman – gives us a honey tasting by territory and season, from spring heather to late-season corbezzolo (strawberry tree). A stream on the property’s edge has pools deep enough for swimming – perfect on hot days when hitting the beach feels too much like hard work.
Next day we meet charming and handsome Davide and Giuseppe, the first gay couple to get civil-partnered in Liguria (in 2016); they now dispense their charm and organic wines from a vineyard agriturismo above Bonassola. Ca du Ferrà (tour and tasting from €25, two-bedroom cottages from €70 B&B) is the closest winery to the sea in the region: it’s 400 metres away – mostly vertically. The vines grow to the edge of grassy cliffs, appearing to float above the hazy blue. Their Luccicante vermentino, which we sip at a shady table with views towards the French border, is an extraordinary mouthful – a landscape in a glass, with flavours of white peach and strawberry set off by herbal notes of the Mediterranean scrub we’d hiked through earlier.
After gazing at the blue Ligurian sea all day, it’s great to get on it. Emiliano Shilke of Pevea Boats (pevea.it) runs fishing charters and Cinque Terre trips, but we opt to admire cliffs and tiny coves on his two-hour “sunset aperitivo tour” (€40pp) from the resort of Levanto to Framura. Emiliano also has a valued non-human associate – sea-loving border collie Lapo. Before tucking into chilled wine and filled focaccia, we leap off the boat to share a dip with the joyfully paddling dog.
Framura has much more to offer: a new coastal path to wild La Vallà and Arena beaches, a walking/cycling track in a restored railway tunnel (with arches on to the waves), ebike hire at the station for self-guided or guided tours, and fishy fine dining at three-year-old “wine bar and kitchen” L’Agave high above the tiny port.
The fact that the Cinque Terre are just 20 minutes away by train feels rather superfluous.
• Accommodation was provided by Hotel Augusta (doubles from €74 B&B, hotelaugusta.net); train to Framura was provided by Trenitalia; (single Genoa to Framura from €6.6o, available on the move via the Trenitalia app), book food and wine tours in Framura at foodyexperience.com
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