Some people will tell you that the Cinque Terre is a great day trip. I’m here to tell you the opposite. People that day trip to the Cinque Terre don’t see the best of it: the early mornings and late evenings when the crowds clear out and the true beauty of the five villages shines through. In these moments I could fall in love all over again with the Cinque Terre.
Quiet and peaceful Vernazza, at 8:30am in August
If you actually stay in the Cinque Terre you will see the best these villages have to offer and there’s the bonus of some great day trips nearby. One of these day trips is a visit to the Carrara marble quarries in nearby northern Tuscany. I’ve lived here for nearly sixteen years and I’m almost embarrassed to say that I actually only visited the Carrara marble quarries this year (*gasp*). At just an hour from the Cinque Terre, there’s really no excuse!
Carrara marble is the most prized and famous marble in the world and it is mined only in this area at the very northern tip of Tuscany (bordering Liguria, the Cinque Terre’s region). Marble has been extracted from the Apuan Alps above Carrara for over 2,000 years and was used for some of the most remarkable buildings in ancient Rome (like the Pantheon, for example). And Michelangelo’s David? Yep, he’s a big hunk (no pun intended) of Carrara marble.
So, you might be thinking, “I’m not a geologist nor a rock afficionado. What would be so interesting about visiting a marble quarry?” Well, I’m not either but I walked away from this day trip with enthusiasm and a new appreciation for marble. A picture is worth a thousand words so I’m going to let my photos do the talking.
We chose an offroad (4×4 in Land Rovers) small group tour that took us through the quarries on private land and roads. The experience was exciting and adventurous. I won’t lie, there were a few heartpounding moments as we descended hairpin turns on cliffs but the drivers were obviously experts and handled it like pros. This probably isn’t the best tour for someone who suffers from a fear of heights, but for the rest of us it’s fantastic!
This day trip gets two big thumbs up in my book. I took my oldest son (who is nearly seven) and my visiting cousin (who’s sixteen) and it appealed to all ages. I was undecided as to whether I should take my youngest son (who is nearly three) and I am so glad I decided against it. It would have been nerve-wracking chasing after him on the tops of sheer cliffs (not to mention having him as a lap child in the Land Rover would have been less than ideal). My advice would be that this tour is best for kids ages 5 and up.
My eldest son on our “marble safari”
- TAKE SUNGLASSES. Man, is it bright up there! The white marble reflects the light (just like snow) and if you’re without sunglasses you’ll be squinting the whole time. Sunblock is also a good idea, especially if you’re fair or burn easily.
- When you book, ask if the quarry workers and stone carvers will be working during your tour (and if at all possible book a tour when they will be!). When I reserved it didn’t even occur to me to ask about this but once we were there I was really happy that we got to see them at work (it elevates the tour from being static to dynamic). Plus, the little interaction we had with them was warm and genuine and left a great impression. Tip: During the warm summer months the workers only work in the mornings and in August the workers are usually off for holiday.
- The Land Rover has room for 8 passengers and 1 driver. If you’re interested in having the Land Rover to yourselves with your own driver you can request a quote for a private tour.
- Our guide was Heike (pronounced Hike-uh). She has been a guide in this area for over 30 years and she was super informative and taught us a lot about marble. I highly recommend requesting her as your guide. She’s a polyglot and speaks English, German and Italian (and maybe more, those are the languages I overheard her speaking).
Our guide Heike (on the right) and her daughter Karolina (who also drives for the tours)
I actually drove to the meeting point but if you don’t have a car, don’t despair. For a small fee (circa €10 per person) they will pick you up at the nearest train station (called Carrara-Avenza) and drop you off there after the tour. That’s a symbolic fee and totally worth it. To check train times and schedules go to the offical TrenItalia website.
We used a company called Cave di Marmo Tours (a.k.a. Tau Tour Operator). Their website is www.cavedimarmotours.com They offer two different tours, a shorter tour that lasts 1h 25m or a longer tour (which is the one we chose) that lasts 2h 30m. We were happy to have chosen the tour that lasted the extra hour as it allowed us to see an underground mine as well. Towards the end of each tour, you are taken to taste a local delicacy called Lardo di Colonnata (cured and aromatic pork lard) which comes only from this area and is famous throughout Italy.
The prices for the tours are as follows:
Shorter tour (1h 25m), called MARBLE EMOTION:
€20 for adults
€12 for kids 12 and under
Longer tour (2h 30m), called INSIDE THE MARBLE:
€40 for adults
€20 for kids 12 and under
The meeting point for both tours (which is also the drop off point after the tour if you have your own car) is a coffee bar with a marble souvenir shop so you can get your marble fix here. FYI: I noticed that those people who were going to be dropped off at the train station still had time to pop in and purchase some souvenirs at the end of the tour.
IMPORTANT TIP: If you are driving to the meeting point, do not trust Google Maps as your GPS. Google Maps sent me on a road called Via dei Marmi without forewarning me that the road is a ZTL (restricted traffic area). I realized too late that the road was exclusively for the big trucks hauling marble (and there was no possibility for me to turn around). Luckily for me there was no police officer stopping offenders that day but I’ve heard that usually there is one there (so I got really lucky and avoided a hefty fine… phew!).
If you are looking to save time, here are all the contact details for the company we used:
Cave di Marmo Tours (Tau Tour Operator)
Strada comunale per Colonnata, 1
Carrara (MS) – Tuscany – Italy
Mobile: +39 328 099 3322 / +39 328 415 6084
Tel./FAX: +39 0585 181 0037
Tours run 7 day a week but advance reservations are necessary.