Thursday, September 5, 2013

Italy Part 1 - Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre comprises of five beautiful villages perched on top of the rugged portion of the Italian Riviera in northwest Italy. Colorful houses on the hills along the turquoise Mediterranean ocean on the Ligurian coast, the landscape, food and the friendly people - all make Cinque Terre one of the must-see places in Italy.

The villages from north to south are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. They have managed to preserve the old world charm of the place. Cars are not allowed and the villages can be accessed by ferry or by train. The area is a National Park and is a UNESCO protected territory since 1997. It has become a very popular tourist destination in the last couple of decades. We went in mid July which is the peak holiday season in Italy. It was great but I did feel it was a little too crowded. September would be a great month to visit to avoid the crowds and also escape the scorching summer heat.

There could be no better way to see Cinque Terre than to hike the trail that connects all the villages. The views that unfold at every turn will be worth the hike that does get a little strenuous at places. It is recommended to start at Riomaggiore and walk your way to Monterosso. The initial stretch is not very hard and helps you get used to the hike. Only two trails were open when we were there. Check for conditions ahead of time as trails could be closed due to landslides or flooding. The hike from Corniglia to Vernazza was simply amazing! We took the train to Corniglia and climbed over 350 steps to reach the village. This is the only village that cannot be reached by ferry as the coastline is very rugged and the village itself is situated very high on the cliffs. The views as we left Corniglia were stunning! We walked on internal trails for a while and towards the end the trails again have ocean views. Vernazza was one of my favorites and the view as we entered were the best.

If you are not up for the longer hikes, I would recommend doing the Sanctuary walks that are there in all the villages. We did the one in Vernazza and walked halfway up to a castle in Riomaggiore.

What to eat? Of all the wonderful food we ate in Italy, I have to say the flavors of this region were my favorite. Pesto originated around this place. The Trofie pasta with Pesto that I had here was delicious. The fish is the freshest you can find and very delicately prepared. Riomaggiore has some very nice restaurants. We went t0 La Lampara and were very happy:

Another place that tripAdvisor recommended and we liked was was Ristorante Il Moretto in Monterosso. I had the tagliatelle pasta with salmon while the husband had the grilled fish.

The area is also very popular for its Focaccia bread and there are many flavors to try from. Here is a little bakery we stopped by at Vernazza for a snack:

We loved it so much that the next morning we found a nice sandwich place for brunch in Monterossso. The Focaccia sandwiches were amazing, and I really liked my simple Mozzarella and Tomato Focaccia with Pesto.

We stayed at the Hotel Magherita in Monterosso. It was nice and elegant and just a 5 minute walk from the beach. Monterosso is the only village with a beach and has most of the boutique hotels and B&Bs. 

We took the ferry a few times as the views while entering the villages are gorgeous. We also got a train pass for the time we were there, and we could hop on and off as we liked. Also, get a Cinque Terre pass that is sold in the railway stations if you are planning to hike. I would recommend spending 3-4 days in the area.

Overall, Cinque Terre was one of our most beautiful experiences and we wish we had a few more days to relax in these villages that have still managed to maintain their quaint charm. 

- Yam