Sun, sea, pasta, gelati. In a way, it doesn't take a lot to make me happy. Throw in some picturesque pastel villages, challenging "hikes", and warm (summer) weather, and you have the Cinque Terre. Heaven.
It's no secret that I'm obsessed with holidaying in Italy. I really think it's impossible to go wrong with an Italian holiday (I've already started planning my 30th birthday European sojourn, with a large chunk of time spent in Italy)!
The Cinque Terre, literally translating to "five lands", is comprised of five villages (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, Monterosso al Mare). Though each village has its own personality, they are characterised by their pastel buildings perched upon the cliff face - azure water on one side, climbing vineyards on the other. Tourists flock to the Cinque Terre in hordes, mainly on day trips, with few people staying in the towns long enough to truly enjoy their beauty.
Many of my friends had visited the Cinque Terre before and didn't have much desire to visit again (I really don't understand why) so I spent a few days in the Cinque Terre by myself and it was exactly the tonic for my (self diagnosed) London induced Vitamin D deficiency. If leave wasn't so precious, now that I've moved back to Melbourne, then the Cinque Terre would definitely be on the list for next year's 30th birthday extravaganza.
Scroll through for some of favourite spots from my trip. If you have any tips for me (I'm heading to Wellington, NZ, this weekend, tips would be much appreciated) or if you're planning to visit the Cinque Terre, or even if you'd just like to say hi, I'd love to hear from you! L x
Getting to the Cinque Terre is relatively easy by train from either Pisa in the south or Genoa to the north. The area around the five towns is a national park, and car traffic is restricted, which is one of the reasons many people tend to stay outside of the Cinque Terre proper. For me personally, I loved staying in the Cinque Terre itself, as you get to experience the town you're staying in before the influx of tourists when the trains start running. The train runs between the five towns quite frequently, but make sure you check the timetable as the last train isn't that late.
My favourite of the five towns was 100% Manarola. I felt it was the most picturesque of the five and I loved its connection with the water and the vineyards. Waking up to catch the last of the sunrise over Manarola with no one else around, was truly one of the most beautiful moments.
SIGHTS & ACTIVITIES
The absolute must do activity in the Cinque Terre, is a bout tour with Daniele, who runs Enjoy Cinque Terre Boat Tours. Daniele was born and bred in Manarola and his love of his hometown shows. There are normally two tours a day during season, one before lunch, the other at sunset, and both are small groups (I think no larger than 10). I chose the daytime tour, as Daniele takes you to some secluded swimming spots only accessible by boat (plus a romantic sunset tour for one, didn't exactly interest me, ha). The water along the Ligurian coastline is nothing short of stunning; the colour a bright turquoise-y blue - no filter required. I cannot recommend this highly enough.
Hiking between towns is extremely popular, with many trail options. Unfortunately in 2011, floods and mudslides caused significant damage to the villages, resulting in some fatalities. The cliff walks were affected, so make sure you check which trails are open. I walked the Manarola-Volastra-Corniglia trail through the vineyards. This is labelled as an easy trail... but for my short legs, climbing large steps is not exactly easy (probably not aided by my wearing the most inappropriate hiking attire known to man). The views are insane and if you feel you need to make up for the overindulging in pasta and gelati, then this is the perfect way to do it!
If active pursuits are your thing (like me), kayaks and stand up paddle boards are available for hire from the main beach at Monterosso al Mare. Exploring the coastline on a paddle board is a lot fun. Monterosso al Mare is the quintessential Cinque Terre beach (pebbles), with the orange and green umbrellas, and it's the best spot for people watching.
My favourite beach in the five towns was actually the beach at Riomaggiore, which can only be described as rocky. Less touristy, plus I actually kind of enjoy the hot stone massage effect of the rocky beach!
Jumping off the rocks (and off the cliffs, and off the bridges) is also hugely popular, I guess that adrenalin rush of feeling your stomach in your throat is addictive? The rocky outcrop at Manarola's marina has jumps for both the timid and the bold. Further around the coast at Manarola, towards Corniglia, sun seekers line the pathways and boat ramps, alternating between dipping into the azure water and drying off in the sun.
There are some great day trips that are easy to include in your Cinque Terre trip - Portofino and its surrounds being the best one. More on that in a couple of weeks time!
FOOD & DRINK
Now for the good part... Italy is all about the food. The Cinque Terre is located in the region of Liguria, which is famously the birthplace of pesto (who doesn't love pesto)! So of course I had Liguria's pasta specialty, Trofie al Pesto, at practically every lunch and dinner. Trofie is a short, thin, twisted pasta, with a chewy texture (I love the chewiness).
Another local specialty is Farinata, a pancake-esque bread made from chickpea flour. When smothered with pesto and olive oil, it's just delicious! La Cambusa in Manarola does a mean Farinata, perfect for a daytime snack.
Also perfect for a snack or light lunch, is the Calamari Fritti from Il Porticciolo. Visit the takeaway outlet across the street from the main restaurant to grab your cone of crispy fried calamari. Take this with you down to the harbour and enjoy the tasty morsels as you sit on the rocks.
Avoid the restaurants on the marina of Manarola; they may have the best views, but the food is average.
For aperitivo, Nessun Dorma, is the spot in Manarola for the best views over the ocean and back towards the village. Plus the aperitivo is spot on.
But my favourite meal by far was at a restaurant in Manarola recommended by locals, Trattoria dal Billy (this even comes with my cousin Sarah's stamp of approval, who is known for barely giving a review above "it's ok"). The Carpaccio di Tonno (tuna) was simply yum and the Trofie al Pesto was the best I had in my few days in Liguria. When the waiter asked whether I'd like to see the dessert menu, I actually ordered another pasta (the pasta was just so good) and the Spaghetti Frutti di Mare (seafood) didn't disappoint. At this point, the couple sitting next to me couldn't believe how much food I'd consumed (more than the two of them put together)!
And obviously I didn't stop at the carpaccio and two plates of pasta... because gelati.
When I'm in Italy I try to stick to a double scoop cone, three times a day. It's a tough prescription, but I make it work. I became a regular at Manarola's Gelateria 5Terre, all of their flavours were silky smooth, and I made a habit of combining the Fior di Latte with various flavours. Be warned though, this place closes early so do not leave your visit for after dinner.
Winner of the most inventive flavours (and possibly beats Gelateria 5Terre for the best gelati in the Cinque Terre) is Alberto Gelateria Artigianale, in Corniglia. I'm still thinking about the basil flavour... ridiculously good, sounds wrong, but so right.
And if you're craving gelati post beach time in Riomaggiore, there is a little unassuming gelateria on the walk back to the village from the beach, on the right hand side. I have no idea what the name is, but the old man who owned the place supplied me with the most intensely orange, orange gelato of my life.