Cinque Terre, Italy
Hangout On The Italian Riviera, Eat Pesto Lasagna And Drink Wine!
As a teenager, I flipped through a travel guide and saw photos of colorful buildings that were built into cliffs at the water’s edge. How they did not topple over mesmerized me. It was like nothing I had ever seen and I vowed to one day make a trip to see Cinque Terre’s magnificent feat of architecture.
When I arrived by train to Cinque Terre from Pisa with my friend Joel, I soon realized I packed wrong. Lugging my immense, blue bag with a broken wheel down a flight of stairs, then along bumpy cobblestone streets, then up many stairs to get to our first apartment was a feat of mental and physical strength. Whatever you do, take a small bag that is easy to carry. Your arms will thank you and so will your travel companion (sorry Joel).
There are five small villages that make up Cinque Terre ( Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore). All are built into the rocks along the Italian Riviera. We stayed in Vernazza which is one of the middle villages. It’s a tiny village, so we felt like we were guests on a friends property, rather than being one of many on a vast land.
A GUIDE TO CINQUE TERRE
The closest airports are in Pisa and Genova. You then take a bus or train to Genoa or La Spezia where there are frequent Trenitalia trains to Cinque Terra. Do not take a car as they are not permitted in any of the towns. How pleasant is that? No noise. Or you can take the strenuous, but beautiful hike from Levanto to Monterosso (plan for three hours with a stop at a winery to drown away your back and foot pains).
The same trail that comes in from Levanto continues on to connect all five towns. The trail, Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Trail), is 11km long and takes five hours to walk. The most famous section is the Via dell’Amore (Path of Love) a 30-minute hike from Monterosso to Riomaggiore where you and your loved one can tag sweet nothings on the wall or put a lock on a fence to symbolize your eternal love. This part of the trail is always over crowded with eager tourists, where the other 4.5 hours of the hike, although very challenging at times, provides the most breathtaking scenery and views of the hills, towns, and ocean.
Cinque Terre is famous for its hillside vineyards. They are easily accessible by trail and you can either go on a self-guided or group tour. Sciacchetra, a sweet raisin wine and Cinque Terre DOC, an excellent dry white wine, are two of the most popular choices. If wine is not your drink of choice, then how about a nice cold beer. You don’t even have to go to a bar, as vending machines sell them nice and cold for 2.50 Euro. It’s also a great way to get rid of loose change!
Pesto is a key staple in Cinque Terre. You will find this deep emerald sauce strewn through focaccia, lightly drizzled over tomatoes or stirred through trofie, a short twisted noodle. I indulged at Al Castello Ristorante in Vernazza. Their lasagna is a rich concoction of velvety béchamel atop the softest noodles with pesto swirled through. Since this restaurant is perched atop the rocks with views of the Mediterranean, you can walk off the meal as you make your way down the steep steps back to the bustle of the street. Unfortunately, I did not take any photos of this meal, but I have a lovely shot of the pesto oil glistening on Joel’s pizza. Mmmmmm.
The best town to relax under an umbrella and enjoy the coolness of the Riviera is Monterosso as it is the only sand-covered beach. If being surrounded by tourists is not your thing, then you can relax on the more pebbly beach of Levanto. Splurge on renting a chair and umbrella, you are on holiday remember!
As Cinque Terre is bustling through the summer months, it is best to book accommodation in advance. If staying in Vernazza, Room Elisabetta is a great option. The rooms are quaint, clean and rustic. My room had a large tree branch hanging above the bed. As I mentioned above, be aware, as many hotels are at the top of never-ending steps, lots of luggage is not advised.