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Jun 18, 2013 11:39 AM

Driving from Savona to Pisa

My son just learnt about the Leaning Tower of Pisa and I thought it would be good fun bringing him there while we spend a week in Italy near Savona. However the trip is quite long and I was hoping to ask for recommendations on where we could stop for breaks/snacks/lunch? And meals in Pisa too? Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated!
Thanks in advance!

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  1. If you are traveling from Savona to Pisa - in my opinion - one of the absolute MUSTs is visiting Le Cinque Terre. There you will find a vast amount of restaurants for breakfast/lunch/snacks that will fit any budget. You may not have time to visit all five towns, but Vernazza is a must (my heart is beating just writing this - and just so you know, I am insanely jealous). In addition to your meal, you get to visit one of the most beautiful, unique and amazing places on earth - just don't forget NOT to wear high heels :-)

    1. It is always difficult to advise about where to break for lunch without knowing what time in the morning you will be leaving Savona. (And are you reserving a ticket so your son can climb up the tower?)

      It is a 2-hour drive to Pisa, so if you left at 9am, you would be in Pisa long before any place is serving lunch.

      However, summer time traffic, especially on weekends, can slow you down considerably -- and make it impossible for you to find parking. Due to the popularity of le Cinque Terre is with tourists, I strongly advise you not to attempt to drive to one of the few village parking lots after 10am. They are likely to be completely full by then and traffic can back up for hours along the steep twisting roads that lead in and out of le Cinque Terre. If you want to go to le Cinque Terre, then drive to neighboring La Spezia and take the train to a le Cinque Terre village, or a boat.

      If your son is fairly young, and also if you are going in the hot weather, you might not enjoy a stop in the steep, shadeless staircase-ridden hills of le Cinque Terre as much as you would enjoy a stop in lovely Sestri Levante, which is loaded with restaurants and gelateria and caffes. There are 2 huge sand beaches in Sestri Levante and parking is 100 times easier (except on weekends). The beautiful dual-bays of Sestri Levante were named by Hans Christian Anderson on a visit.

      The Cantina del Polpo in Sestri Levante is a fun and delicious, inexpensive place to eat lunch, especially for octopus in many forms and testaroli (they also serve standard local cuisine, and make sure it is open for lunch the day you are going). Sestri Levante can also be a nice place to take a break and have a swim and gelato on your way back from Pisa.

      Or, for a kid-friendly dinner or snack break returning from Pisa, the focacciera La Marinella in Nervi is not too difficult to get to with a car. Just follow the signs or set your GPS for the train station in Nervi. La Marinella serves a very good focaccia col formaggio, the super cheesy, almost quesedilla-like version of focaccia (nothing like the dimply bread) and it sits right on the passeggiata Anna Garibaldi overlooking the sea, which is a great place to stretch your legs (but there's no place to swim).

      Given the difficulties of traffic and parking along the coast in summer, you might consider taking the train, which is only 40 minutes longer than driving. Again, where you want to get off the train for snacks or lunch depends on your schedule and the train schedule. But some lovely towns that are distinctly different from Savona and where you could have a swim are Camogli (grab a quick snack or lunch at Le Creperie on the lungomare), Zoagli (eat simple food at Punta Stelle), Sestri Levante, the Cinque Terre villages (sorry, I know nothing about eating there).

      1. Since it looks like a 2 hr trip each way, best to get an early start. Here's a report on a simple slowfood place, good for lunch in Pisa, walking distance (toward the town center) from the Cathedral/Baptistery/Tower.

        Like Barberinibee said, there are a lot of potential stopping places along the coast. I think this trip would be better for a weekday if you want to have smaller crowds. I myself would not want to enter the CinqueTerre in high season

        1 Reply
        1. re: jen kalb

          I agree with Jen and barberinibee that the Cinque Terre villages would be difficult. Because of the winding, narrow access road, it takes much longer to get there than you might think--it's most definitely not a "drive-by" or quick stop. The last time we visited, on a sunny July day, even my husband was cranky from the crowds and heat.

          I haven't been to Sestri Levante yet, so can't comment, but I think Camogli would be a great spot for a break in either direction. It was much more accessible, with easier parking, than 5 Terre when we had a stroll and gelato break a couple of summers ago. Do be careful when you travel--the rush to and from the seaside on weekends creates killer traffic.

        2. I agree with the others that if you are traveling by car - not a good idea to stop in Le Cinque Terre - I assumed that you were traveling by train.

          1. Thanks everyone! I really appreciate the advice. Looks like I'll hit some of the smaller town instead. Being stuck with 2 children in traffic will not be good! Will report when I return!