This is the final part of our recent trip to Cinque Terre. Enjoy!
May 27, 2011: Riomaggiore & Manarola
Our day started the same as the day before. We got ready and then walked to Il Pirata for our breakfast of Sicilian pastries. Today it was much easier to find a table and place our order, but the pastries were just as delicious!!
We took a break from hiking today, and took the train to the first of the five towns, Riomaggiore. As normal, we started with the self-guided walk in Rick Steves’ to get a nice overview of the town. Unfortunately, a key part of the walk, the elevator to the top of town, was closed for renovation! So, we ended up walking through town to get to the top and then walking back down along Via Colombo.
After exploring Riomaggiore, we walked the Via dell’Amore to Manarola. This is definitely the easiest Cinque Terre “hike” as the promenade is paved and wide enough for baby strollers. This was the first trail made between the Cinque Terre towns in the 1920s. Landslides kept the trail closed more than it was open, but it was reopened after WWII and became known as a lovers’ meeting point for boys and girls from the two towns. A journalist, who noticed all the amorous graffiti along the path, coined the trail’s now-established name, Via dell’Amore: “Pathway of Love.” All along the trail you can see clusters of padlocks. Closing a padlock with your lover onto a cable or railing at a lovey-dovey spot—often a bridge—is the current craze in Italy, having been re-popularized by a teen novel. Needless to say, Brandon and I didn’t find it necessary to participate in this craze! Unfortunately, this was our only cloudy day, but it was still an enjoyable walk.
Manarola’s self-guided walk started at the harbor. Manarola has no sand but offers the best deep-water swimming in the area. There were several high-school boys daring each other to jump in that day and it looked quite chilly!! From the harbor, we hiked up the main street to the top of the town.
The skies were starting to look more ominous, so we decided to stop for lunch. Trattoria Dal Billy is listed in Rick Steves’ and had been highly recommended by some fellow travelers we had met at breakfast. We were not disappointed! We ordered the antipasti frutti di mare and they brought us about a dozen different seafood appetizers. Some were delicious, some not so much. One of the local specialties in the Cinque Terre is anchovies. We had been told that we should try them fresh here, and there were several anchovy dishes in the starter. I dutifully tried them, but I’m still not an anchovy fan! For my pasta course, I tried another local specialty, pesto. The Cinque Terre is the birthplace of pesto and it was the best I’ve ever had!
While we ate lunch, it really rained. By the time we finished, it had lightened up, but it was still sprinkling. We’ve learned that you can’t let a little rain stop you, so we kept going with the walk around Manarola. The last part was a walk through the vineyards up to the town cemetery. Ever since Napoleon—who was king of Italy in the early 1800s—decreed that cemeteries were health risks, Cinque Terre’s burial spots have been located outside of town. The result: The dearly departed generally get first-class sea views. There is a hierarchy of four places to be buried in each cemetery: a graveyard, a spacious death condo (loculo), a mini bone-niche (ossario), or the communal ossuary. Because of the tight space, a time limit is assigned to the first three options. Bones go into the ossuary in the middle of the chapel floor after about a generation.
We took the train back to Vernazza and did some souvenir shopping before dinner. My primary souvenir was wine. The vino delle Cinque Terre, while not one of Italy’s top wines, was still quite tasty. It’s a white wine that goes great with the local seafood. The wine is produced in small quantities and is not distributed much outside of the region. Since I’m trying to build our wine collection, I bought 12 bottles. This is when having the car nearby came in handy! We were able to take the shuttle bus up to the car, drop off the wine in the trunk, and ride back down. The shop owner was quite confused because we were obviously Americans, but he couldn’t figure out how we were going to get all of that wine home. After asking us lots of questions, he finally figured out that we were military stationed in Germany, so we weren’t trying to get it all the way back to the U.S.!
After relaxing in the room for the rest of the afternoon, we headed to dinner at Ristorante Belforte. This restaurant is right on the cliff by the breakwater in Vernazza. We had made reservations to sit at one of the four tables on the terrace with view, but, unfortunately, the sea didn’t cooperate. Due to the rough weather, the seas were pretty rough, too. The waves were actually as high as the terrace! We sat inside by the door to the terrace, but by the end of the night, the restaurant even had to shut that door to keep us dry. Despite the lack of a view, dinner was still delicious. We tried their mixed seafood appetizer also and I still didn’t like the anchovies! For my main course, I had the baked fish of the day with potatoes and vegetables. I was lucky that our waiter skinned and boned the fish for me at the table. The waiter was super friendly and even sat down to chat with us at one point since it was a rather slow night. We were treated to a complimentary dessert and sciacchetrà, the local sweet dessert wine. After all of that delicious food, we had to waddle back to the room for the night!
May 28, 2011: Corniglia
This morning we didn’t even discuss where we should go to breakfast, we just went back to Il Pirata. After our Sicilian pastries, we were ready to tackle the trail from Vernazza to Corniglia (pronounced Cornelia), which was closed when we first arrived. Again, the trail was extremely hilly, and unfortunately, Vernazza to Corniglia was the steeper direction. Thankfully, we had a beautiful, sunny day that wasn’t quite as warm as when we had hiked to Monterosso.
Corniglia is the “quiet town.” It’s the only one of the five villages not directly on the water. The self-guided walk basically followed the main street to the viewpoint at the end-of-town. After exploring the small town, we stopped at a café in the main square for a light lunch of focaccia, another Cinque Terre specialty.
Unfortunately, we underestimated the time it would take to get from Corniglia to its train station. We arrived just as the train was leaving and there wasn’t another one for about an hour. We bought Brandon a beer and waited. At least we had beautiful scenery to sit and enjoy! Finally, the next train arrived and we headed to Manarola. (We would have hiked there, but that was the only section of the trail that was still closed.) Our purpose for going back to Manarola was simply to walk the Via dell’Amore again with clear blue skies and sun.
Once in Riomaggiore, the plan was to ride the boat back to Vernazza. Sadly, the seas were still too rough from the day before and the boats weren’t running, so we ended up taking the train again. Back in Vernazza, we spent our last afternoon swimming and sunning on the rocks in the harbor. I did actually try to go swimming with Brandon this time, but I ended up hurting myself, of course. I cut my foot on some of the submerged rocks. This is why I knew it was best for me to just stay put sitting on the rocks!
Our final dinner in the Cinque Terre was at our favorite breakfast place, Il Pirata delle Cinque Terre. Dinner was just as delicious. We had learned to just let Massimo tell us what to order, so we did the same for dinner with the stipulation of no fish. (While the seafood was delicious, we are good Midwesterners who aren’t used to so much fish!) I had the best gnocchi I have ever eaten and Brandon enjoyed the pesto pasta! But the cannoli desserts were definitely the best part of the meal! During dinner, we enjoyed chatting with Massimo and he confirmed that two of the restaurants we had eaten at (Miky’s and Billy’s) were two of the best in the Cinque Terre. He was adamant that the restaurants without great views had to have the best food to draw in the customers. We certainly didn’t argue with his theory! Again, we waddled back to our room and packed to go home.
May 29, 2011: Cinque Terre to Home
Our last morning in the Cinque Terre started again with breakfast at Il Pirata. Massimo asked if this was our last day, and we sadly said it was time for us to drive home. When we went to pay, he surprised us with a bottle of wine and told us we had been his “worst” customers that week! I’d be willing to go back to the Cinque Terre just to eat at Il Pirata again!!
But before we could drive home, we had to try one more time to ride the boat. We rode the train back to Riomaggiore just to get on the boat to go back to Vernazza. It may have seemed a bit redundant, but I really wanted to ride the boat! Plus, it was a fun way to end the trip with beautiful views of the Cinque Terre towns from the water.
On our way back to our room to pick up our luggage, we bought some focaccia for the road and then hiked up the hill one last time to the shuttle and our car. Driving out of the Cinque Terre was just as exciting as driving in, except this time we were going uphill at about a 20% grade. I had to keep reminding Brandon to focus on the winding road instead of the breathtaking views of the sea! Thankfully, once we got on the Autostrade, the rest of the 8.5-hour trip was uneventful.
This trip to the Cinque Terre was so beautiful and relaxing. I can easily say that it has been one of our best while we’ve been in Europe!