After Tuscany we headed northwest to the coast for a two-night stay in Vernazza, one of the five towns that make up the beautiful Cinque Terra (as soon as my friend Amalia showed me photos of her trip there last year, I knew I had to go). Yes it’s kinda touristy, and yes at some point you’re going to get taken out by an over-enthused tourist brandishing a freshly-purchased hiking pole. But it’s an incredibly beautiful part of the world, and well-worth at least a couple of days for the walks, the scenery, and the food (my god, the food!) My tip is to avoid staying in the hotel-hub of Monterosso (the largest and most populated of the towns) and opt instead for a guesthouse in Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola or Riomaggiore. The only traffic in these smaller terre is on-foot, and you’ll have the streets almost to yourself after sundown.
The Cinque Terre is trekking-country, with a dense network of coastal and inland paths linking the five towns and the hills beyond them. The walking trails (lined with calla lilies, irises and poppies in spring) span almost-vertical stairs and narrow cliff-hugging paths, weaving through forests, lemon tree orchards, working vineyards, and olive groves. Our trek of choice was Vernazza-Monterosso, then Corniglia-Vernazza (as portions of the Manarola-Riomaggiore paths were closed). As one might expect, the views weren’t half bad:
For those less enthused about back-breaking uphill and calf-cramping downhill hiking, all the towns are linked by local trains, and all but Corniglia are serviced by ferries.
After a solid day of walking, there was no better spot to wind up for a wee refreshment than Bar La Torre, teetering precariously on the last descent from Corniglia into Vernazza.
Our guesthouse was perched halfway up the hill in Vernazza, with views of the town and out to the ocean and the mountains north of Monterosso. A glass of wine on the terrace at sunset was therefore mandatory, and the little local wine shop Vineria Santa Marta delivered. The master of the house is a boss when it comes to local wine, and you’re in safe hands with his vinos and Italian craft beers (many of which he has pre-chilled, just ask), as well as local olive oils and balsamic vinegars, and all the usual suspects required for afternoon tiffin.
After the sun had set and a bit of post-trekking sustenance was in order, the restaurants dotted around Vernazza’s main ocean-front square were top-notch for local specialties like teofie al pesto, and were surprisingly inexpensive to boot. For a taste of Sicily and some incredibly hearty fare, Il Pirata in the laneways on the hill-side of the train station was the ticket – simple dishes like pesto gnocchi and cannoli with ricotta and spinach never tasted so good, and were served with a whole lot of bravado by owner-twins Massimo and Gianluca. The star for me was the fresh fish platter – salmon, tuna, swordfish, prawns, and anchovies, accompanied by ricotta with almonds, pesto, and a bottomless basket of bread with local olive oil and balsamic.
I could have spent a lot more time in the Cinque Terre, but the road leads ever North. Next up, Milan and Venice!