Imagine this: You’re on a road trip and you’re rocking out in the car trying to ignore the fact you’ve been sweating in the car for the past 4.5 hours and the car enters a long dark tunnel. When you emerge from the tunnel the road starts to curve around the mountain, and suddenly BAM! To the left is a steep cliff side and the Ligurian Sea and to the right is straight up rows of vineyards.
Visiting the Cinque Terre has been on my bucket list for a while now. I’ve only seen photos of the villages on the cliffs, but absolutely nothing could possibly do it justice. Words can’t express how I felt when I had my first glimpse of the Cinque Terre. I literally teared up at the beauty of the landscape. Maybe it was a combination of PMS and listening to “Bottle of Wine” by Impossible Bird (which always makes my heart flutter after Jamie and Kevin used it for their wedding entrance), but I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. Giovanni stopped his car in the roadway (no one else was around) and we just sat there in awe. I felt like we were just lifted away and transplanted into a fairy tale. There is just something magical about this area that makes you forget that anything exists beyond these villages…
That is…until you get out of the car at the same time a train arrives and hordes of tourists trample out with their rolling suitcases in tow. This was a rude awakening for me, but I couldn’t help but laugh at myself. I seem to have forgotten that tourists actually exist. I’ve been here for some time now and everywhere I’ve traveled everyone spoke Italian. I was like this rare specie that stumbled into their land. But now that I made my first venture to a tourist destination, it was a madhouse of English, French, and Asian accents. But they were all speaking English. I felt like my brain was a little jarred and confused being surrounded by English again, and I didn’t like it. I wanted to bury my head in the sand hoping it would all pass me by. But then again, I was so excited to be there the annoyed feeling quickly faded away when we were greeted by our B&B host, Andrea. He and his wife Kate own a couple rooms in Vernazza. We must’ve stood out as his guests because came practically skipping down the steps from the train station whistling with his burly beard and backpack over his shoulder, and introduced himself to us without even confirming if we were his guests waiting to meet him. Just a short stroll later we found ourselves in our lovely clean sunny Sun Room. 🙂
Giovanni and Andrea hit it off in their Italian way and as soon as Andrea had us all settled in, we changed and headed out for some dinner. For those of you who don’t know, last fall there was a major landslide that devastated parts of the Cinque Terre. The video below is from when we were leaving town but shows you the damage in the upper part of town. I also love how Giovanni starts whistling to the Handful music in the background. 🙂
Monterosso and Vernazza were affected the most, so I had to do quite a bit of research to figure out what was open/closed, etc. Thanks to the Rick Steve’s blog, I felt compelled to stay in one of those two towns to help in whatever way I could to bring business to their towns. So I did some heavy research/contacting to find a B&B for us and felt lucky to find Andrea and Kate. Knowing we would arrive to town in the late evening just in time for dinner, I scrounged for restaurant reviews in Vernazza. This is where I failed. The only two places I was interested in having dinner and breakfast at were Trattoria Gianni Franzi for the fish ravioli and Il Pirata delle Cinque Terre for the sicilian pastries. The genius in me forgot to check if they were open.
I’m wrong in the video, we ended up having dinner where all those pretty umbrellas are. You can read more about the dining experience in another blog entry.
Wandering around town at night and sitting on the rocks watching the waves crash was nice to say the least. Unfortunately we couldn’t find any gelato which seemed strange on a Friday night, but oh well. We called it an early night since we would be up early to hit the trails.
We decided to go for a challenging hike, since some of the trails were closed (and by we I meant just me). But just as we started our hike we ran into a nice Australian fellow who told us he just came down one of the easier trails we thought was closed. So we decided to take trail #2 from Vernazza to Corniglia. It was a good thing we did, because the humidity was INSANE. I wish I could explain to you how humid it was but I have never sweated so much in my life. We thought we would take the hard hike from Corniglia to Manarola, but we definitely voted that out after the first trail. It was too hot and humid even for Giovanni.
This trail was by far the most beautiful of the day. As we were approaching the part of the trail just below San Bernadino, I heard some charming Italian music in the distance. Up until now we hadn’t seen much of civilization and suddenly we came upon a small area with a couple buildings. You can watch a small clip in the hiking montage below. Eventually we emerged to a clearing and Corniglia was well in sight.
We stopped for a little bit to enjoy some gelato/granitas, but Corniglia didn’t exactly excite me. It was crowded and hot, and I felt anxious to keep moving on. Lucky for us we managed to wander down an alley way and enjoyed a park bench at the end overlooking the water. Away from the crowds. We jumped on the train to Manarola which took all of 2 seconds.
Manarola was much more to my tasting. While it was still crowded and hot, at least I felt like there was more space to move around. We found our way to the harbor, the whole time I’m still amazed at what was surrounding us. The place just didn’t seem real at all.
We decided to settle for a light lunch before we moved on to Riomaggiore. The walk to Riomaggiore from Manarola is called “Via dell’Amore” (Trail of Love)…it’s flat and easy and estimated to be about a 20 minute walk. We decided to make it last a little longer by stopping at the little bar along the way for some iced coffee.
Saw what was supposedly an agave plant, according to our server. I was surprised. It was about 50 feet tall, I took this photo from our seats..the plant was on the cliffside. The rest of the walk was cheezy and probably the worst 5 euros I’ve ever spent, but we got to Riomaggiore just fine. The trails from Manarola to Riomaggiore and from Vernazza to Monterosso require you to pay 5 euros because for some reason they are part of the national park.
Riomaggiore was similar to Manarola, but much larger than I had imagined. It was beautiful nonetheless and since we still had much of the day left to explore we decided to hit another trail to see if we could get another view of the town. We decided to take trail #3, but nearly halfway into it, the humidity and temperature caught up with us. The trail was also taking us more inland than we wanted, but it was beautiful and peaceful. You can see it in the video below (sorry the sound isn’t working at the moment…it’s pretty important for the first part of the hike..working on fixing it):
We saw a man working in his vineyard. I seriously can’t believe all the work it takes to take care of these vines. Clearly no machinery can make it to these locations so everything is done by hand. Bravo. After we turned back on the trail we spent some time at the harbor by the water people watching.
Leisurely we made our way back to the train to clean up at the B&B before we went out for dinner in Monterosso.
We arrived to Monterosso just as the sun was setting and proceeded to walk around town for dinner. While Monterosso was still beautiful, it was probably my least favorite of the five towns. To me it just seemed like a smaller version of any coastal city in Italy. It was busy, there were cars everywhere, clubbing music at your local gelato shop, and of course, the mass of private beaches with their matching umbrellas. Monterosso is definitely the biggest of the five towns, a good place if you are looking for some city-like night life. We did find one restaurant that had one thing on their menu I had to have: Sea bass stuffed ravioli. Yes please. It was by far the best food we had in the Cinque Terre.
We wandered around town last night, unfortunately the wait at the restaurant caused us to miss the football game that day. But we explored the stone “castles” and found a tunnel with a lovely musician outside of it. Hence the photo above. The young woman played some beautiful acoustic music and as we sat there for a moment with the waves crashing behinds us, I once again felt that this area was just too magical.
A hilarious moment on the way back to Vernazza as we caught the late night train was a frisbee I found at the station. Clearly from Seattle, I thought how it didn’t surprise me at all that someone from Seattle would bring a frisbee to Italy.
The next day I enjoyed a solo breakfast at the harbor from my favorite bakery before we headed to Monterosso for some beach time.
It was quite windy this day so swimming conditions were considered dangerous. Giovanni was brave enough to tackle the waves but I stayed a little closer inland and let the end of the waves crash over me. After my first real coastal experience in Hawaii and being dragged out to sea, I’ve been a little more weary and not so confident in myself. One day I’ll learn to surf though…one day…
Pretty soon it was too hot to be at the beach as well so we retreated to find some gelato before heading back home.
On the way back I captured a pretty long video of the drive back. It’s boring for the most part, but there are some parts that show you how beautiful the area is. I was just too lazy to edit the video.
It was a short trip, but beautiful and unforgettable to say the least. As I went through the photos, I still couldn’t believe what we had witnessed. Enjoy the slideshow.