WINE, FOOD AND FUN IN THE ITALIAN RIVIERA
Tuesday’s post on putting together a meat and cheese board conjured pleasant memories of seaside snacking in Cinque Terre! Italian for “five lands”, the villages of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore are as different from each other as they are from anything else in the world. Last summer, Peter and I spent a few sun soaked days in Manarola, and by the end of our stay, we never wanted to leave.
- Stay in one of the villages
- If you plan to visit during high season, book your accommodations well in advance
Though it does require some planning, there are multiple ways to get to Cinque Terre (more information here!). Peter and I made the eight hour drive down from his home town in Germany, and as we wound through the Swiss Alps, I was reminded that the journey is truly as important as the destination.
Each new turn brought delight; mountains soared out of pristine lakes, waterfalls tumbled off cliffs and picturesque villages dotted the rolling green hills. The highway eventually lead us out of Switzerland, and into Italian Lake Country. We stopped for lunch in Como, marveling at both the stunning scenery and the fabulous people. Though Como is more touristy than the other, smaller towns of Bellagio or Verenna, I still enjoyed admiring the villas while sipping on espresso lakeside.
Back on the road, things flattened out and got (briefly) less scenic between Milan and our exit. Headed towards La Spezia, the highway dodged in and out of tunnels and up and over river gorges. Finally depositing us in town, our car crept through the atmospheric streets and I kicked myself for not planning to spend a day here. Most Cinque Terre visitors make this their home base, taking the train or ferry to the villages. As we were staying in Manarola, we hustled through without a stop.
Up, up, up went the narrow, winding road until we finally crested the ridge and were greeted with a panoramic view of the Mediterranean. Glimpses of Riomaggiore peeked out at us as we slowly made our way over along the rugged mountainside and over to the parking lot situated above Manarola. Cars are not allowed in the villages, so we prepaid for our stay, grabbed our bags and began our trek down into town.
WHERE WE STAYED
If you can swing it, I highly recommend staying in one of the villages. Certain travel guides are crazy for Vernazza, but Manarola stole our heart. While the town may lack the dramatic harbor or sandy beach present in some of the other villages, Manarola is stunning in its own way. The last ferry departs the village around 5:30 pm, and the last train shortly after 6:00, leaving mostly locals in the village. Without the crowds, wandering the narrow streets at the “golden hour” almost feels like you’ve time traveled.
We definitely lucked out when I stumbled into an amazing Airbnb in Manarola. Peter suggested taking the road trip to Cinque Terre about a month before our planned trip to Germany, and I REALLY wanted to make it happen. However, looking at hotels in Monterosso al Mare, we found that the prices for decent places were approaching the $300/night range- if they had any availability at all. In a final, desperate act, I checked Airbnb and, fortunately for us, La Linea d’Acqua had an unexpected cancellation. At $125 nightly, this place is a gem. The rooms were updated, modern and adorable, and the host was so kind! You can find Deborah on Airbnb, or check out the hotel here!
WHAT WE ATE
Has anyone ever gone to Italy and not eaten well? Probably not – even the crusaders allegedly managed to come out with helmets full of minestrone.
Cinque Terre is located in Liguria, a region of Italy know for pesto and focaccia (and rumored to be the birthplace of the aforementioned soup). Thanks to the coastal location, seafood also figures prominently into the native diet. Unfortunately, I had no plans to start a blog when we took this trip, so I’ll just give you some quick highlights from memory!
- The most scenic restaurant in Manarola, hands down, is Nessun Dorma. Perched on the cliff’s edge, this open air eatery offers only six indoor seats and limited outdoor tables. The menu is limited to cold items, such as meat and cheese boards and bruschetta. There may be a line, but it’s well worth the wait to sip on local wine and drink in the view.
- Trattoria dal Billy came highly recommended and, after checking in at our Airbnb, we headed straight there. Without a reservation, we were lucky to get a table (but not so lucky as to get a table with a view). Service was a little rough, but the meal was outstanding. Peter had the pesce al forno (the catch of the day, baked and served whole) and I made a valiant, but ultimately unsuccessful attempt at finishing a giant mound of homemade pasta.
- Selected on a whim as we walked up from the ferry, Aristide surprised us with high quality food and service. Additionally, we were seated on their covered patio, a perfect perch for people watching.
- Of course, we also ate gelato! I think this dessert is best enjoyed under the hot sun, with your toes in the water.
WHAT WE DID
The options of what to do in Cinque Terre are limitless. Hiking, shopping, swimming – whatever it is that you like, I’m positive you can accomplish it in the villages or the surrounding national park. The best day* I have ever had, though, came when Peter and I agreed to do… nothing. After a long, hot day waiting for the ferry and jostling with other tourists as we went from town to town, we decided to dedicate a day to immersing ourselves in Manarola and investigating the concept of la dolce vita.
Up early, we grabbed 1€ espressos and focaccia, and headed down to the water front to make camp. We spent the morning lounging on the smooth rocks in Manarola’s harbor, dipping into the cool waters of the Mediterranean when we got too hot. Nearby, cliff divers made more daring plunges, and we watched them as waves of people disembarked the ferry.
Around noon, we made our way back to Nessun Dorma and stuffed ourselves with cheese, salami and anchovies. After lunch, we explored the shops, learned more about the Cinque Terre DOC wines, and purchased our requisite dumb magnet before heading up for a nap.
In the early evening, rested and showered, we ventured back out. Determined to snap THE picture of Manarola illuminated with light from the setting sun, Peter and I packed a picnic and headed over to the Sentiero Azzuro to find a spot among the photographers. The golden hour faded quickly (we got our picture) and we followed the path north to find a private place to share a bottle of wine.
After the sun set, we ambled back to town, grabbed a late dinner, then collapsed into bed, exhausted from a day thoroughly enjoyed.
*Best day ever, excluding our wedding day
Pictures are my own.