Three Days in Cinque Terre

cinque terre in 36 hours

I cannot wait to share this portion of our recent European adventure with you all.  I have been biting at the bit to share more about Cinque Terre because it was a highlight of our trip.  The entire experience was indescribable.  Take this photo for example… there isn’t one filter or edit used on it. The sky and town just looked like that. I kept saying over and over again to Matt, “I just can’t believe this place!” One of the reasons we may have liked Cinque Terre so much is because it was so different in every way imaginable from our previous stops in Paris, Beaune, and Lauterbrunnen.  It was full of natural wonder with a colorful explosion just dropped into the center. The people were so incredibly warm and inviting, which led to some of the humorous experiences we had. Plus, coming off of the trouble we had in Switzerland, we reveled in the sunshine and spirit that we found in Cinque Terre.  Where to start, where to start… I suppose I should pick up where we left off. 

After finally getting back on the road in Switzerland from our car trouble, then realizing that we had to use an old-school map, we were determined to still make it to our first stop in Cinque Terre – Riomaggiore – by sundown so that we could make our dinner reservation in Manarola. It was a six hour drive, so we raced towards our destination only to find ourselves slowing down once past Genova to navigate some of the most difficult roads we’ve experienced… and we used to live in the Rocky Mountains! The road from Genova to Cinque Terre is a patchwork of bridges and tunnels, at no point were we actually on top of any land. It was terrifying, especially when Ferraris would just blow past you going about 120mph. Matt and I both white knuckled our way through the drive.  When we arrived in La Spezia – which was kind of like the ‘entry’ to the Cinque Terre, we were exhausted from such a tense drive. Also, once we arrived in La Spezia is where our highway map began to fail us. There wasn’t a detailed section showing the city roads, so we just rolled into town and crossed our fingers that there would be signs… and thank GOODNESS there were! We followed the signs that kept pointing us to Cinque Terre and decided to drive on past Riomaggiore toward the second village, Manarola, where our first hotel was.  It was already pitch black and there was no way we’d be able to hike from Riomaggiore to Manarola like we’d originally planned.  Once in Manarola, we had missed our reservation, so we just parked our car in a random lot, paid the meter, grabbed our backpacks full of clothes and sundries for the next 48 hours . We walked through the town, keeping our eyes peeled for our hotel.  Remember… we originally had a Wi-Fi hotspot in our car (which was towed away with that car) so we weren’t prepared to navigate old-school.

Luckily, Manarola is about the size of a postage stamp and there are good informational maps at the parking lots, so we found the hotel relatively easily.  We checked into the gorgeous Ca’ d’Andrean which is not on the water, but the rooms are really nicely updated and modern and the owner and grounds were both wonderfully inviting.  I would highly recommend it.  With all of the craziness that had transpired since we left our hotel room in Switzerland that morning, we decided a drink was in order.  I quickly looked online to see if there was any place that was open late-night. The village looked pretty dead when we were walking in, but the powers that be online said that Cantina was open, so we walked down. As you get close, you can hear jovial music pumping out of the place and inside was packed with locals and tourists dancing and jamming to a local band who could have at one point been an opening act for the Grateful Dead.  It was perfect.  House wine was $3/glass and beer just $2.  We settled in, drank more than we should have, and let the stress of the day melt away.

 

cinque terre

In the morning, we popped down to the breakfast room, had two cappuccinos and some coronets (not to be confused with croissants) and checked out.  We walked back up to our car to pay for another full day of parking only to find that the parking attendant, Mateo, was one of the locals we rubbed elbows with the night before.  When we left the lot he was like, ‘See you tonight!”. With our backpacks and a few bottles of water, we set out on the hike north to Corniglia. We stopped on the way out of town at the restaurant for which we’d missed reservations the previous night – Trattoria dal Billy – to see if they could squeeze us in that night and luckily, they could.  This was to be the first of several dinners we managed to weasel our way into in Italy.

With the peace of mind knowing I’d have a fabulous dinner waiting for me that night, I was ready to hike. To say that the beginning of that path is difficult would be an understatement.  Matt actually didn’t think I was going to make it.  I knew I would, I just knew it would be at my own speed, which was slow.  The picture of me sitting in the path was actually a ruse to get a chance to sit for a moment.  Right before this photo was taken, we had to scale giant steps made of boulders which were probably the height of two normal steps, it was tough! I was pretty grateful that this ascent was the most difficult part of the whole hike.  Once we got to Volstra, it became much easier.

We walked through Volastra (got more water) then onto Corniglia.  That portion of the hike was about 3 miles and had some of the most breathtaking views.  In Corniglia, we awarded ourselves with a pasta and pizza lunch accompanied by wine and limoncino at Bar Terza Terre followed by gelato.  The town was beautiful to wander through with cascading flowers, winding alleys, and lots of fun looking pubs. Allegedly, there is a wonderful beach there too, but it was a little cold for a swim, so we skipped it. With a slight buzz and jelly legs, we took the train into the next town of Vernazza.  The train runs between all five villages, and takes all of 10 minutes to get from the first village to the last, but of course, a little hiking is good for capturing those views so we’re glad we did it! Vernazza is a lot of people’s favorite (it’s the photo directly above this text) but I was underwhelmed.  It was absolutely packed with tourists and you could hardly walk around.  Compared to the almost empty towns of Manarola, Volastra, and Corniglia, I wasn’t impressed. Instead of sticking around to explore, we hopped an 8-euro ferry to the final town, Monterosso del Mare.

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Monterosso is the largest of the towns, but seemed less crowded than Vernazza.  It was a little more residential and city like, but that didn’t take away from the charm.  Our room at Hotel Margherita had a stunning wrap-around balcony with views of the main thoroughfare. Matt took a small snooze while I wandered through the town sampling limoncino.  I discovered a gorgeous pottery shop called Fabbrica d’Arte where I saw the designer painting pottery and was mesmerized by shelves full off blue hued goodness. I had posted this photo on Instagram.

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That night, we took the train back to Manarola for the dinner I was looking forward to so much, but first, took a walk up to a mountainside terrace bar with a great beachy vibe called Nessun Dorma. A few glasses of prosecco and a sunset later, we were in love with Manarola…and ready for dinner.  Trattoria dal Billy and it did NOT disappoint. We started with the mixed antipasto di mare sampler which was 12 courses of small bites and it was one of the most amazing things I ate on the entire trip.  There was so much in the sampler that I would have never ordered, but we tried every single thing and there wasn’t one dish we didn’t love. After the seafood sampler, we got pesto pasta, then grilled branzino.  We finished with a lemon semifreddo and lots of limoncino, grappa, and some other mystery liquor that was passed around the restaurant in giant bottles.  We were fat, happy, buzzed and totally missed our train back to Monterosso.  It was ok, though, because that meant we had an hour to head back to the Cantina, meet back up with Mateo and the band, and get our groove on.

 

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The next morning, we peeled ourselves from our bed, picked up some of the best baked goods we tasted on the whole trip from Wonderland Bakery, recovered our car from Mateo, who was manning the lot again, and reluctantly left Cinque Terre.  We both agreed that we’d be back.

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