I dream about Cinque Terre. It is a magical place that one must go to, to believe that it really exists, and that it is Exactly as you see it is in pictures! It was described to me as looking like a fairy tale, and, I absolutely agree. And the best part with being there is I got to take advantage of my favourite things- the beach, and Italy! What a dream come true! Luckily when you travel with someone that also likes to read and do research about where you are going, you end up with a wealth of knowledge, and a TONNE of more decisions to make. Once Kathy had discovered the existence of Cinque Terre, we decided to go for the day on our way to Pisa. It was a no brainer decision. Then once we both started reading more, and looking at all of the pictures, soon enough Pisa got scrapped altogether (sorry Pisa), and we decided to spend 3 nights, and every extra minute we could in this Magical place.
The Nitty, Gritty about The Cinque Terre:
Cinque Terre means 5 Lands in english, and there are 5 villages that comprise Cinque Terre. The 5 villages are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Each village is unique in it’s own way, yet a bit similar to the others. According to Wikipedia, the area dates back to around the thirteenth century. To travel there, you can by train, or by car, but there is very limited parking in the villages, so once you find your way there if you are driving, you will either walk, train or boat to the other villages.
The Cinque Terre is a National Park and UNESCO protected area, and there is a foot path that connects all of the 5 villages, that is around a 5 hour hike, with an admission price to enter the park. We had planned on going on the hike, but unfortunately we were unable to when we were there do to mud slides on parts of the trail, it was almost completely closed off. However we did get to do the walk on the Via dell’Amore, or the way of love in english. There are many locks along this trail, and the locks symbolize the love between 2 people. If you leave your lock there, you are locking your love for each other. This is something that you may see throughout Europe, but not everyone understands why the locks are there. It is a touching symbol that was once against the law, as it was considered littering. Local officials finally gave up on continually cutting them off, and now they leave them as part of the ambiance.
Living, Loving, and experiencing Cinque Terre!
First stop: Monterosso Al Mare! May I say, we were SO HAPPY to be out of Milan. If you are staying in Cinque Terre, it can be a daunting task when you know nothing about the area to first decide which town to stay in. So, I pulled out my Rick Steves guide book to see where he recommended to stay, and then I went to Trip Advisor to read other recommendations there also. We ended up deciding to stay In Monterosso because we found a wonderful place to stay, literally just steps from the beach, called Le Sirene, and it was only 80 meters from the train station. And we were not going to have to walk up 100’s of stairs with our luggage to get to our room, as we had read in many review of other properties. Location, location, location. We were happily greeted by Ermanna at the office of the property, and she took us to our room. The building appeared to be an apartment building, and it took 3 different keys to 3 different doors to get into our room. It was not very big, but it was bright, clean, and we had our own updated bathroom. If we climbed through the window (which we did), we had our own balcony, on which we could sip on wine, while enjoying the view of the beach, and ocean when we looked to the left; straight ahead were the hills (the mountains to them). And the men in the grocery store right across the street could enjoy their own view (us). LOL Gotta love Italian men, and their appreciation of women! It was important to me to be able to have access to the internet, so that I could communicate with home to let my family know when we had reached our next destination, and that we were OK, and hopefully get an update from their, end. And this was the first time that I had traveled so far from home without my husband, so there were extra worries from the home front that 2 good looking women were traveling “alone” in Italy. Little did they know that all I would have to do is say “Help”, and 100’s of Italian men in all shapes, sizes, and ages, would come running saying, “Mi permetta di aiutare la mia bella” (Let me help you, my beautiful!” LOL Unfortunately there are not a lot of places with wifi in this area, and it was kind of a pain to tote my laptop along, so when we asked Ermanna if they had wifi, and she offered up her husband’s computer in his office, which is attached to her office; I was Extremely Grateful. Luigi allowed us to use his computer each day to check our emails, and in the process, we had some great conversations with him, and his son. They were such wonderful hosts! I have just recently found out that she had only started running Le Sirene and Raggi di Sole only days before we arrived, and her English was limited then. I must say that for where she may have lacked in understanding English, she made up for in trying to help, and understand, and was extremely accommodating to us. She has also told me that her English has greatly improved since April.
Once we got to our room, we quickly changed into our bikinis, and sun dresses, it was time to check out this Beautiful spot on the Italian Mediterranean. Monterosso has the largest beaches of all 5 towns. There is the main beach, which you can see in the picture above, and then there is another beach towards the old town. EVERYTHING is within walking distance, which is wonderful! To get from the new town, which is also known as Fegina, which has the train station, the main parking lot, a small soccer field, many restaurants, etc., you must go through a tunnel to get to the old town, and a smaller beach. Once you go through the tunnel, you see another beach to the right, and straight ahead is the old town, just under a train overpass.What is amazing about this area, is the history, and how the locals have done such a wonderful job in preserving it. I instantly felt like I should be lazy, and laid back when we arrived. Even though there was so much to see, we felt like kicking back, and enjoying la dolce vita, along with the locals. We explored a bit to get our bearings, but then it was quickly time to eat, and drink vino! Since we were at the ocean, we needed to eat at a restaurant on the beach to enjoy the views, sun kiss our very white Canadian, winter beaten skin. We then found Bar 5 Terre, Gio! We sat right on the boardwalk, drinking wine, and Perseco, and eating food that is making my mouth water as I think about it. The food was so fresh, and flavorful, and since this is the birthplace of pesto, it was to die for! We enjoyed this spot so much, we ate there 3 times, which when you think of all the other choices of restaurants in Monterosso, and the other towns was crazy! But that is how much we loved their food, and once again, location, location, location.
I love the time of year that we visited Cinque Terre (April 19-21), because you could feel the excitement in the air. Shops, restaurants, and cafes that had closed their doors for the winter months, had just reopened just 2-3 weeks before we arrived. Residents who go to the city for the winter had, and were just coming home. It felt wonderful to be a apart of this rebirth that happens every year in this Mediterranean community. Everyone was happy, the crowds were light, and the weather was perfect! We could only imagine what it would be like when business, and the tourist season was in full swing in the summer months, and the crowds were crazy, waiting times to get a seat in a restaurant were long, and walking shoulder to shoulder with the fellow tourists in all of the narrow, windy streets, and stairways. We NEVER had to wait for a seat in one restaurant, bar or cafe- and there are SO MANY to choose from! WE had our choice of places to stay, and the prices were all reasonable. I was struck by how this area had remained true to itself, and I could not see any signs of being “Americanized”, which has happened in the larger centers of Italy. There were no Starbucks, no McDonalds, and thank God, no Dominos- YEAH! It was ALL pure small town Italy, where you almost felt like time had stood still in it’s architecture, the community, and it’s industries. How Blessed was I to be witness to such an Amazing place!
As we explored in the old town, as with every other town and city in Italy that we had visited so far, it was easy once again to get lost in it’s windy streets, and in addition to the streets, there are so many cement, and stone steps leading to many more streets, apartments, and walkways. Luckily the town is small enough, so it did not take much time to find yourself where you wanted to be, or to some wonderful surprises like the tasty wine, and specialty shops. I loved these shops because they always had free samples of their yummy fares, such as different pestos (which was invented here), olives, tapenades, limoncello, spices, sardines, and many more tastes of this region. It was hard to restrain from buying too much, when I was trying to travel as light as I possibly thought I could, but the knowledge that I would be craving these flavours once I got home consumed me, so I did buy some things. However since coming home and immediately using everything I bought, I wish that I had bought more. I guess this is yet another excuse for me to go back…
One night as we wandered the quiet streets in the old town,when we decided to go into the American Bar, mainly because I really needed to go to the bathroom, and while Kathy was sitting waiting for me, she noticed a picture behind the bar that looked like the same hot chocolate we had in Venice. OMG! The bar tender was surprised at our choice of beverages ( I guess we look more like party girls?), but in April it is quite cool at night, and we needed something warm to pick up our energy from our busy day. We were so happy that it was the same velvety, luscious, so thick you needed to use a spoon hot chocolate, that we first discovered in Venice! However, when we returned the next evening for the same warm drink, the nice male bartender was not working, and the young girl behind the bar was not in the mood to make us one, so she told us that they did not have it. We were crushed. So we went back to the boardwalk, and ordered a hot chocolate at one of the restaurant/bars that was still open, and it was basically instant hot chocolate. 😦 If I knew the proper term or name in Italian for the yummy, thick hot chocolate that would be as important as knowing how to order good wine in my books. So, if you know, PLEASE let me know. Grazie Mille! One must know how to order proper chocolate, no matter where you go…
At night it struck us how quiet it was. We weren’t sure if it was the time of year that we were there, or if all the tourists that were there during the day, returned to the cities from which they came from. Well, both were true. It was early in the season, and the night life was not nearly at full tilt yet, or even 1/2 tilt. I didn’t mind that much, as our days were filled with walking and hiking, so I was exhausted by the evening. The picture to the right, is of the boardwalk at night, and it shows how deserted it became in the evening. It was a shark contrast to the city, where it is common to not go out for dinner until 9pm or later, and stay out even later. I loved it, as I could feel lazy, and did not feel pressured to go, go, go, 24 hours a day here. It was purely lovely!
Will I be back to Monterosso al Mare? Absolutely! I can not wait to take my husband, Kim there. He will greatly appreciate the slower pace, the amazing food, the beach, the hiking (actually he doesn’t care about that, but I do, and he will just go along with me), and also that I can go and drink cafe at the beach while he sleeps in! Like I said, the best of both worlds- Italy, and the beach!
Stay tuned in the next blog post about the rest of my travels in The Cinque Terre….