The Secret Charm of Cinque Terre

In Cinque Terre, I ate a ton of pesto – because that’s where it was invented! And let me start by saying how absolutely delicious it was. It had a smoother taste than any pesto I have tried in the States. I also found myself eating a lot of anchovies – because they catch them fresh multiple times daily! I’m not typically one for anchovies, my husband loves them, but my tastebuds have matured a bit over the years (thanks to my hubs) and I’ve learned that when marinated correctly, they can actually be quite tasty!

For those of you who have never heard of Cinque Terre, you should probably add it to your bucket list. Cinque Terre lies in the Mediterranean’s eastern Riviera and boasts some of Italy’s most dramatic coastline. The breathtaking stretch is named after it’s five tiny villages (Cinque Terre meaning Five Towns) – Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. From my understanding, Summer gets very crowded, so Spring and Fall are good times to go. However, the beaches are phenomenal, so I assume a Summertime getaway would be extremely fun! Much like Capri and the Positano Coast, the water holds this amazingly true blue-ish/teal color that somewhat resembles that of the Caribbean. Snorkeling and fishing are top hobbies of the locals and the seafood is always fresh.

The Cinque Terre villages are linked by the Blue Trail – a rather challenging hiking trail that takes roughly five hours to hike, passing over all five towns. In order to get from town to town, you either have to hike this trail, take a water ferry, or take the train. Due to a recent flood, majority of the hiking trail was closed off at the time we were there, so my husband and I either took advantage of the ferry or the train to explore each of the five villages. There was hiking involved during our visit, but not necessarily on the exact trail.

We boarded the fast train from Florence to Milan the morning of Easter Sunday, where we made a short pit-stop in Pisa just so my husband could take the infamous photo of him holding up the Leaning Tower. It was right on our way, so I couldn’t say no… He had been excited about it for weeks. When arriving in Pisa, we checked our luggage at the train station, sprinted 20 minutes over the river to the Leaning Tower… Where we giggled in amusement of the site, took some photos (yes – I took one too), giggled a bit more at its ridiculousness, got a double shot of espresso from a coffee cart, and sprinted back to the train station to collect our luggage and continue on our way. When arriving in Milan, we had to board a slower train that took us along the coast to Monterosso, the furthest of the five towns and where we stayed. The train ride along the coast was quite entertaining. It was beautiful. It literally felt like we were floating on top of the water for a half hour. I could’ve stayed on longer just to continue gazing at the water and all its sparkles.

When stepping off the train in Monterosso, you look right onto the ocean. It’s like you’re stepping onto the beach from the train. It’s pretty cool. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a family of dolphins jumping in the water and showing off! It was a very happy Easter for us.

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If ever visiting Cinque Terre, be aware of the shortage of hotel situations available. There are a few hostels… maybe one in each village, a couple bed and breakfasts scattered throughout each village, and only a small number of hotels, that mostly lie in Monterosso and Vernazza. Each hotel maybe having an average of 10 rooms each. Because Mike and I are planning our trip so spontaneously, we didn’t start looking for a place to stay until a day or two before our arrival. This made our options very limited, and made our Cinque Terre trip almost impossible (which would have been very sad). We were only looking at hotels and bed & breakfasts, no hostels. All hotels were completely booked and almost all bed & breakfasts were too. Completely discouraged, we stumbled upon a bed & breakfast we had read about in one of our travel books. Not the most luxurious of places, in fact, the shower situation was so weird and unfamiliar to me, I didn’t shower for an uncomfortably long time (gross detail, but had to mention the struggles of a spontaneous traveler). Good news was, it was located right on the beach in the new part of town, was very clean, and had one room left. Phew! Not to mention, it was family owned and run… And the family was so sweet and eager to please. So that was really nice!

Being dirty for a couple days didn’t bother me. I hate washing my hair, so it was a good excuse for me to get away with… with a little more understanding from my husband. Happy to have found a clean bed for the next couple nights, we began our voyage to explore the five towns. Easter Sunday was beautiful outside, so we made it a point to get as much in as we could while the sun was shining. Our first stop being Vernazza, where we read was supposed to be the most picturesque of the five towns – I respectfully disagree. I personally thought Manarola was. But Vernazza was hopping. The mix of the locals and all the tourists was all so interesting to me, and the excitement of the crowds combined with they colorful old architecture and funny looking disarrayed streets made it almost seem as though I was in a circus. A very a very cool circus. We walked around the town and along the coast to grab some photos of the unbelievably amazing cluster of coincided pastel square buildings built up the hill of a cliff right along the coast. We were so taken aback we couldn’t wait to see the other towns and all their character. We stopped for lunch at what we read was a famous American bar. Typically we would try to avoid any and all things American that are not true to the culture of where we are, but when studying up on Cinque Terre in our books and magazines, this place was a must-go. It was called the Blue Marlin and as much as I was secretly craving a cheeseburger, this place was not American at all. Offering homemade pastas, pizzas and caprese salads. We shared a local Cinque Terre bottle of wine, just produced up the hill in a vineyard right above the town! And ate a pizza and made our way to Manarola.

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Manarola’s architecturally charming pastel building situation blew me away. Mike and I stood in awe and amazement with local beers in our hands and just took it all in. We took a hundred photos, some awesome selfies and walked around the cobblestone roads, stopping in shops and bars along the way. It was really fun and I felt lucky to be there.

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We headed back to Monterosso, where we spent no time in our b&b room (for obvious reasons) and just strolled the town. Monterosso definitely had the most going on and is the largest of the five villages. I loved it. The beaches were right out of an old fashioned movie where correlating striped umbrellas lined the sands and tiki torches lit the night. Accordion players sat at every street comer serenading and the whole village smelled like fresh flowers. We had the most amazing dinner, our best meal yet aside from our first night in Florence, at a place we stumbled upon called Ciak. We were drawn to the restaurant as we were walking past because of these huge pots filled with spaghetti and seafood we saw on just about every table-top. We did a couple drive-bys to stalk the outdoor tables and see what the hype was all about… until it got uncomfortably awkward given the amount of times we had passed by the restaurant. We had to go. When we ordered, all we said was, “we want that”, pointing to every table around us. It was honestly the most delicious homemade seafood pasta and was served in such a cool way, I’d go back every night and order the same thing if I could!

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Monday was slightly gloomy, (interesting observation: just about every final day in each of the city’s we’ve visited has been rather gloomy or rainy… not the best luck in the world, but keeps things interesting!) but that didn’t stop us from exploring the final two villages we had yet to see. We started the day trekking it to Corniglia. Corniglia is the beautiful village that sits on top of a cliff (or a bluff), while the other 4 villages lie right along the coast near the water. When arriving in Corniglia, it was a bit of a steep hike to actually reach the point of the cliff where the village sat. Winded and completely out of breath, we reached an awe-inspiring high point where we looked out onto the sea and the other five villages. Because of the weather conditions, the sea was crashing some pretty dramatic waves and the sky felt closer given the clouds and our height. It was incredible. We stood there taking it all in and walked around the tiny village. Not too much to see either than the views from the point we had reached, so we made our way onto the next town, Riomaggiore.

Riomaggiore had more steep hikes where we found ourselves reaching some stunning views of the sea. It also had a pretty cool beach point where you could lay on huge rocks and watch the waves crash. We got lunch in the town, shopped around the local boutiques and eventually, when the rain had started back up, made our way back to home base – Monterosso… Where we bar hopped, chatted with fellow travelers (one awesome couple who was visiting from Geneva – who we are planning on meeting up with once we’re there!), and had another incredible dinner at a place called Miky Cantina. We read some great reviews on the restaurant and it really was a spectacular meal. At Miky Cantina , we ordered what I believe to have been my husband’s dream appetizer – it was a mix of Anchovies presented in different ways. Grilled, fried, marinated, kabob’d, you name it and we got fresh anchovies cooked that way. It was fascinating to see and try them all! We also got a pretty incredible pesto lasagna, something I had never seen on a menu before. Very rich, but very good. It was the perfect end to a fun day!

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Tuesday morning we boarded the fast train to Milan, where we transferred onto a slower train to take us to Como. From Como, we’ll run across town to catch a ferry to Bellagio – where we would spend the next couple days!

Stay tuned for tales of Lake Como/Bellagio! Until then, arrivederci!

 

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