I lived in a postcard picture Sunday.
Cinque Terre was the first of (hopefully) many trips while here in Florence, the infamous coastal villages of Italy that sit on the cliffs of above the Ligurian Sea. Literally meaning “Five Lands,” the towns Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Cornigila, Manarola and Riomaggiore are thumbprints of bright colored houses along a coastline with water so blue pictures do not do it justice.
Myself and a group of friends from Kent booked a day trip to our destination with Florence for Fun for about 40 euros, and it was worth every penny for a day I’ll never forget.
We took a bus to La Spezia, the closest town to Cinque Terre that you can reach by car. It was about an hour and a half trip, perfect for catching up on some sleep after a spur of the moment decision to step out for a quick drink the night before.
Being the history nerd that I am, I read every inch of the info packet about Cinque Terre before we arrived. The towns are famous for the colorful houses, which are so with the intention of fishermen being able to see their homes and loved ones as they headed out to sea. Also a military defense, the rough coast defended the city from visiting pirates and the Turks during the sixteenth century. Since the region is so isolated, their agricultural system consists of narrow strips of flat terrain that harvests fresh produce, while they rely on the coast for fresh seafood.
When we arrived in La Spezia we took a train to Vernazza. Due to the landslides of 2011, most of the hiking paths in Monterosso are still closed, including Lovers Path, the most famous in Cinque Terre. It was a quick train ride as we passed along the coast through the cliffs. It was a gorgeous day, which was unexpected after a night of tortential thunderstorms.
In Vernazza we walked up and down the paths to get unforgettable views of the town from a small park that rests above it. We also walked down the rocks of the coastline and watched the waves from the storm crash into the sunbathers while being super touristy and snapping tons of pictures, but who could resist when we were in such a beautiful place?
We took a train from Vernazza to Corniglia, and from there were faced with the challenge of climbing 365 stairs to reach the village. After all the walking for the day, I did not feel one ounce of regret for missing my workout that morning, that’s for sure. The town was full of shops and restaurants, and we spent our time exploring all the handmade clothing and jewelry, like an group of fashion majors would. Here I also had the best piece of fococcia bread that I’ve ever had, a huge chuck for only 1.50 that made for a perfect lunch. We noticed that because the towns are so isolated, passion is the key to every business. I’ve never seen a man so happy to sell a piece bread.
We had the option to hike to Manarola and Riomaggiore, but on a day that was in the high-80s we opted to head straight the beach at the last village. Taking another train, we immediately were let off at the beach, full of travelers and locals enjoying the day.
Here’s the thing about most beaches in Europe, they have no sand. Laying out on tiny pebbles may be uncomfortable for most, but us Lake Erie natives are no strangers to less-than pristine beach conditions. Another strange find, public space to lay a towel was limited, as the beach was lined with chairs for rental. And with a large group of us, you can imagine how the fight for a good spot was real.
While my friends immediately jumped in the clear blue water, I opted to get my feet wet and head back for some tanning action and people watching. Open container is legal, so everyone was happily sipping on Coronas (of all things?) as vendors traced the beach with dresses and blankets for sales. There was also a woman offering massages walking around, so there’s that…
After a few hours we headed to the boardwalk (so to speak) to get some dinner. Famous for pesto and seafood, I was willing to spend every last euro I had on a fabulous meal. We picked a spot with a balcony right on the water to enjoy the rest of our night. My roommates and I ordered an antipasto mixed seafood plate to share, full of anchovies (Cinque Terre’s specialty), mussels, calamari, octopus, salmon, sardines and a few other fish I didn’t recognize, but were delicious. I have never had seafood so fresh, and had to stop myself from devouring the entire plate, even the anchovies, which were amazing. For my entree I picked trofie with pesto, another Cinque Terre specialty. The huge of bowl of pasta was served with a warm chunk of bread that I enjoyed with a refreshing mojito after a long day of hiking. A picture perfect meal to end a perfect day, and it only cost me 16 euro.
If any of you readers get the chance to go to Italy, please please please make this stop a priority. I promise you will never forget your time there.