Cinque Terre (Italy)


It is believed that Rick Steves put Cinque Terre on the American tourist map when he sang the praises of these five quaint Ligurian coastal towns in his popular tour guide on Italy. The Italian Riviera, as this stretch of coastline is called, now attracts hordes of tourists annually. The reason these towns (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso) are so beloved is that they have managed to keep their centuries-old character while welcoming tourism.

Lodging for our tour was divided between two hotels in Monterosso, La Pasquale by the harbor and Hotel Villa Steno, a little further up on higher ground, where we stayed. From the veranda of our room, we had splendid views of olive, citrus and fig trees as well as vineyards along the hillside and of the Mediterranean beyond.

View from our room in Monterosso

View from our room in Monterosso

After checking in to our room, we took a stroll through town. The passageways were all lined in stone, even the stairways that either led to a restaurant, lodging or other business or simply were a way to get to higher ground. Other things we noticed were the variation in pastel colors that adorned the buildings and the beautiful doors that graced their entrances.

Monterosso is lined with stone footpaths and stairways

Monterosso is lined with stone footpaths and stairways

Courtyard

Courtyard

We gathered for our group dinner last night at Il Pasquale, the dining room attached to the lower hotel, which only hosted our tour group for the evening. After an aperitif of prosecco, we were treated to a demonstration of pesto-making—arguably Liguria’s most famous contribution to world cuisine—in the traditional manner with mortar and pestle by the proprietress and her young granddaughter. The meal that followed included a luxurious pesto lasagne with béchamel sauce; swordfish sautéed in olive oil, tomatoes, and capers; and a semifreddo for dessert.

There was no organized tour today. Last night, Robin (our guide) gave us instructions on how to purchase a Cinque Terre pass that is required to walk the trails in this national park, gain entrance to museums and to use the bus system. Unfortunately, the morning rain forced all hiking trails to be closed, which meant we had to take the train between towns. First stop was Vernazza. From the station, a pathway led to a picturesque plaza area facing a harbor where rowboats of many colors were docked. A breakwater a few hundred feet beyond provided shelter. A foot path connected to Monterosso led to a popular spot, hundreds of feet above and overlooking the harbor, where possibly the most-photographed view of Cinque Terre is taken (top image).

The next town, Corniglia, is the most difficult to get to for the tourist. It sits at high elevation, requiring a climb of 100 or so steps to get into town. We chose to take a bus instead into the village center. At a local products store near the bus stop, we were introduced to limoncino, what is called limoncello in southern Italy. While the technique in making either is the same, the difference is the type of (local) lemon used.

Butiega sells organic products, including limincino

Butiega sells organic products, including limincino

The weather finally cleared up when we arrived in Manarola. Here was another picture-postcard town, built on a rocky cliff that faces the Mediterranean to the west.

The sun breaks through at Manarola

The sun breaks through at Manarola

As the humidity was high throughout the day and it was late in the day, we skipped the remaining two towns to the south.

Back in Monterosso, we went to dinner at Ristorante Al Carugio, a seafood restaurant recommended by the hotel clerk, where we ordered one of their specialties, acchiuge al limone (a ceviche of anchovies marinated in lemon juice), prosciutto e melone and stuffed mussels. The food was quite good, but the mussels were outstanding. It was stuffed with bread crumbs, Parmesan and herbs and cooked in thick, delicious tomato broth. We then enjoyed a brief walk afterward through the town where we found a café that served arancino, a liqueur made from oranges.

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