I am quite sure Cinque Terre is the most naturally beautiful place I’ve ever been. It was definitely my favorite place on my trip so far. If you are not familiar with it, Cinque Terre is 5 small Italian towns on the Mediterranean and they are connected by hiking trails. Most tourists only hike on the trail that links the 5 cities near the sea, but there are many more trails up in the hills that are amazing. Several of them wind through vineyards and all have awesome views of the hills, cities and sea.
The first night I stayed in Riomaggiore, the first town from the east. After I checked into the hostel I met someone from Philadelphia and we decided to go for a hike. We hiked to Manarola and then all the way up the hill to the park boundary, then back to Riomaggiore. The Cinque Terre national park is surrounded by an electric fence to keep the wild boars out so we purposely chose trails within the park as we were unsure whether the wild boars like to eat grapes or humans. At the top of the park we found a few summer homes with amazing views. We talked to a lady that lived in one and she told us they though the original structure was medieval and was built to watch for African pirates. We sampled a couple grapes as we walked through the vineyards and they were all really good! We found some interesting vines that had both red and green grapes in the same bunch.
The next two nights I slept in Corniglia, the middle town, so I decided it would be fun to hike with my backpack instead of taking the train. Unfortunately, the coastal trail between Manarola and Corniglia (2nd and 3rd towns) was closed indefinitely due to a landslide. So I had to hike via one of the inland trails which was quite a workout with my pack. I locked my backpack up at my hostel and decided to continue along the trail to Vernazza and Monterosso, the 4th and 5th towns.
The last day I started from Corniglia and hiked to Vernazza via the coastal trail, then took an inland trail to Monterosso. Once I got to Monterosso I decided to continue hiking along the coast to Sant’ Antoni (or Antonio, I went swimming with my map in my pocket so it’s pretty hard to read). From this point, I could see an amazing view of all 5 cities.
After both full days of hiking, I ended in Monterosso and went swimming. Monterosso is the most touristy and largest cities of the Cinque terre and has 2 large beaches. Most of the beach is covered with beach chairs and sun umbrellas for which you have to pay to use but I found the free beaches to be just fine. The sea in Monterosso is very salty, similarly to how it was in Greece, so I was very buoyant and swimming was easy. However, the water was much colder than in Greece. Focaccia bread is very popular in Cinque Terre. In Monterosso, there was always a very long line coming out of the focaccia bakery. They served it with various toppings, such as olives or pesto. I tried it with olives and it was very good.
One day for lunch I ate a Cinque Terre specialty pizza called frutti di mare, or fruit of the sea. This was the best pizza I have ever had and included clams, mussels, calamari and shrimp. I decided to de-shell the animals and empty the meat onto the pizza and it turned out nicely.
For my last night in Cinque Terre, I met up with someone I live with and 2 girls he is traveling with. It was a coincidence that we both ended up in Cinque Terre at the same time and our reunion can be attributed to none other than Facebook. We met in Monterosso and went to a restaurant recommended by Rick Steves. We got the dish that Rick recommends, a seafood stew with many types of creatures including shrimp, mussels, clams, squid, mini lobsters and some other animals I didn’t recognize. It comes in an enormous bowl in the middle of the table. As Mr. Steves suggested, the stew and a plate of pasta is plenty of food for four.
Also called out in the Rick Steves Italy guidebook was a winery in the town where I stayed, Corniglia. A local 3 Euro glass of wine is served in a purin, which aerates the wine to give it more kick. I didn’t get a video but I’ll be happy to demonstrate the technique if anyone is interested. It’s a little messy at first but I started to get the hang of it toward the end of my glass of wine. A purin will most definitely be on my list of items to acquire when I return to the states.
On my last day, a forest fire (vineyard fire?) lit somewhere in the hills between Riomaggiore and Manarola. I first noticed it when I was past Monterosso and was first a bit concerned that I wouldn’t’ be able to get back to Corniglia if it spread quickly but luckily the Italian fire fighters got the fire under control. Because the hills are so steep and there are not many roads, They fought the fire with a seaplane that scooped up water from the sea and dumped it on the fire. I’ve seen pictures of these planes but I’ve never seen one in action. It was pretty impressive. They also had a helicopter that was dangling a bucket on a cable to do the same thing but the airplane was much more effective. By the next morning, there was no more smoke and the plane was not dumping water on the hills so I assume they put out the fire. Hopefully the grape farmers have insurance, as it seems like a fire could wipe out a livelihood pretty quickly because most of the vines are quite thick, so I assume they have been in the ground for a long time.