As I researched my Italian summer trip, my main agenda was to jam pack the itinerary without compromising the quality of my excursion. Additionally, my hope was to be wowed by at least one charming coastal town filled with distinct Italian cuisine, cobble stone roads that narrow as you trek along, and sunbathers with foreign tongues co-existing on a sandy beach. All my expectation were happily met as I stumbled across an Italian gem, or five.
Cinque Terre, which literally translates to” five lands,” rests on the northwest coastal region of Italy where the clusters of unique pastel villages dust the coastal hillside terrain. It was obvious that each town has developed their own romantic appeal over the years; however, there was no clashing of personalities as each village seemed to complement the next, providing a cliff hanger at the end of every visit, forcing the “reader” to turn the page, or rather hop on the train in route to the next town. If you are strapped for time, like I was, then the Cinque Terre Gods are on your side. The cities are easily accessible by trains running every 30 minutes which allows visitors to spend several hours at each heavenly destination before hopping to the next.
The most eastern-situated town and a common starting point for many explorers, Riomaggiore offers visitors the opportunity to explore a town bustling with thirsty wine tasters, sunbathers and hikers. The entrance of the town is painted with restaurants and co-ops lined on a declining slope that leads to the town center with views of the Mediterranean Sea. A stairway scaling the side of a rock cliff guides visitors to a lookout point only seen in dreams. As climbers gaze to their west, they are rewarded with a view of the remaining four villages situated on coastlines that poke in and out of coves to sprinkle the jagged seaboard. If you look closely, you are able to spot a hiker’s path called “Via dell’ Amore” lining the mountain that leads to the neighboring city of Manarola. As if the sight of coastal beauty wasn’t enough, a small wine bar at the top of the stairs offers free wine tasting to those parched from the incline. Riomaggiore is a perfect destination for tourists looking for a little exercise, breathtaking views and some indigenous Italian vino!
The coastal town of Manarola combines fishing, hiking and scrumptious pizza to make up one of the most visited towns. Up a narrow and steep worn down flight of steps you will uncover a hillside vineyard overlooking the sea below. After you catch your breath from the uphill battle (and the beauty before you), you will most definitely want to snap some photos as the backdrop of this Manarola hillside is a sight to be captured and perhaps even worthy of your cover photo on your Facebook page. The main road leading to the swimming hole and fishermen’s hangout is paved with a variety of restaurants and bars with outside diners to add to the lively nature of the village. In my constant search for pizza throughout Italy, I can say with conviction that the best gourmet pizza in the land was found in a small in size but gigantic in taste hole in the wall restaurant that can surely be missed if you blink. Do not blink! Il Discovolo is home to a pizza pie so delightful you will feel compelled to speak about the bursting flavors absorbed in the focaccia dough throughout the remainder of your trip- at least I was compelled to do so.
It was evident this was a town so special you had to earn your right to experience its greatness. Corniglia, rests on a mountain that is only accessible by hundreds of steps. Possessing the need for a challenge coupled with my curious nature, you can bet I climbed. The flight of stairs originally viewed as potential torture quickly earned the name “Stairway to Heaven” as I neared the top. Perhaps the smallest of the five cities, Corniglia is quaint in the most beautiful way. With its tapered lanes interwoven throughout the town, guest are able to walk wondrously as their surroundings include buildings hundreds of years old with plastered rocks and old lumber doors stapled to the outer Italian structures. Resting on the opposite side of the weathered constructions was home to a selection of boutiques specializing in handmade jewelry, scarves, and knick knacks. I was a kid in a candy store- or rather a woman in the streets of Corniglia. With so much love and creativity put into each item, I left well and uniquely accessorized, as each piece I collected was one of a kind. Unfortunately, what goes up must come down and during my sky high trip to Corniglia this sad reality was no different. I walked down the “Stairway to Heaven” not knowing that the next village in line would be equally, if not more dreamlike.
With bursts of color that seem to coat the centuries-old structures one might be led to believe children fantastically and effortlessly painted the town. The brightness of the hills filled with flamboyant construction joined with the dynamic crowd populating the small town square serves as an instant mood enhancer- not that you will likely need it in these Italian hills. This is perhaps the most picturesque village due to it’s a natural amphitheater-shaped pier that causes eyes to broaden and mouths to drop. My suggestion is that you join the smiles in the crowd gathered at the town center for a glass of Italian aged grapes before you mosey on to the next stop.
The western most village and easily the largest among the “fab five” is Monterosso. For all those beach-going, sun-soaking, sand-lounging travelers- listen up! Monterosso supplies the best beaches in Cinque Terre offering chairs and umbrellas to help make your bronzing experience in the Italian Riviera the best it can be. Not quite the lay-around-and-soak-up-the-sun-type? No problem. The beaches are equipped with sea activities such as jet skis, paddle boarding and cocktail-sipping from your choice of a voluminous amount of bars and restaurants lining the sea-met boardwalk. Due to its collection of restaurants, shops and hotels, most visitors opt to stay in this bustling town. You can slumber in three and four star hotels with ocean views for a decent price per stay that includes a delectable breakfast of breads, cheeses, fruits, and Italian cappuccinos all while listening to the water crash against the white sand. I had the pleasure of resting my head at Hotel Baia, where the staff was accommodating, the views were spectacular and the price was right.
If you are planning an Italian getaway scribble Cinque Terre at the top of your list. With its authentically romantic feel and engaging life, you are sure to leave happily bellowing “grazie, grazie, grazie!” to the land that produced such a magnificent Italian wonderland.