Friday, March 20, 2015

Cinque Terre

Laure and I visited one of the popular spots in Italy: Cinque Terre.
A six hour drive split up into two parts.
All five villages, each one worth visiting.

Cinque Terre are five villages with pastel colored houses lying on the hilly coast of the Italian Riviera. For the most part, the towns are free of cars and vacation resorts, which helped us experience some of the fishing village charm from a few centuries ago. Unfortunately, some of that charm was rudely destroyed by the overwhelming throngs of tourists that we were trying to avoid by visiting during the shoulder season. We were two such tourists.
We based ourselves in Riomaggiore, which is the southernmost of the five villages.
We later passed by the small village of Vernazza and encountered thousands of other tourists.

Since we dragged our feet about booking lodging, we ended up with a simple bed and breakfast in the outskirts of Riomaggiore. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because the owner was a humble Italian old lady that did not speak a word of English but had a very positive attitude and lots of energy. As the situation required, we communicated using lots of hand gestures and hand drawings all while I once again butchered the Italian language.
La Terrazza was humble but had an amazing terrace.

We walked through vineyards to the center of town from our Bed and Breakfast.

For those not afraid of some hills, Cinque Terre is very walkable and mostly protected from new development. The main streets hold most of the commerce, but the arterial alleyways hold most of the old charm.
Despite the flocks of tourists, Cinque Terre still has many charming local shops.
Here Laure enjoys some deep fried anchovies in Riomaggiore.
The Piazza at Manarola.
I suggest straying a few blocks away from the busy streets.
Cool walking paths throughout each village.
Despite Cinque Terre's popularity, you can still find everyday traditional houses.
According to travel writer Rick Steeves, the house colors are regulated
You can also find some traditional fishing boats like these in Manarola.

There are basically three ways to travel between towns: by train, ferry, or foot. The train is by far the fastest option; albeit too fast to take in the scenery. The ferry is supposed to be very nice especially during sunset, but unfortunately we could not work that into our schedule. Lastly, hiking between villages is possibly the most gratifying because it provides different views of the towns and surrounding hills. One caveat is that portions of the hiking paths might be still closed for reconstruction after 2011 mudslides. In true Italian style... they are still working on it might they should be fully open summer of 2015.
Routinely running trains connect the five lands.
Some walking paths are nicely paved with stones.
Whereas others were simple dirt paths.
The hikes between towns reminded us of the California coast.
But with cute old towns.

As is always the case, the food in Italy did not disappoint. We discovered what turned out to be our favorite restaurant almost by chance. While we were relaxing at our roof terrace during the first night, we heard jovial laughter coming from the restaurant across the valley, which piqued our interest. Next night, we checked out Ripa del Sole -- a restaurant with a friendly staff and delicious dishes made with local ingredients while preserving the regional cuisine. We knew we were in the right place when the waitress handed us a menu in Italian.
Anchovies are a local specialty heavenly paired with olive oil.
Pesto originated in the surrounding region because of the favorable climate for growing basil.
We also found a great gelataria in Coniglia.
The genlataria also made artisan popsicles.
We came here twice for frozen treats.

Cinque Terre reminded us of our old home in California not only because of its rugged coast and fresh seafood, but also because of the sun setting over the sea.
Never gets old.
At night, Manarola's lights bounce off the pastel colored buildings and reflect against the water.

Another unexpected benefit of staying somewhere outside the city center was that we had a terrace overlooking the village and sea below.
The best way to wind down after a long day is to share a drink outside and shoot the breeze with those you love.