[Travel Report] Cinque Terre and Beyond!

So having wined and dined our way through Emilia-Romagna, we said our goodbyes and headed west to Cinque Terre for some light serious hiking and quality time with nature.  We took a ton of pictures from this leg of the trip so I hope you don’t mind!

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Cinque Terre (which means “five lands”) is made up of five small, picturesque fishing villages – Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, Monterosso al Mare – carved into the rugged, rocky hills along the Italian Riviera.  We stayed in Riomaggiore during our visit, and made it our base to venture into other villages.  Some visitors try see all five towns in one day (it’s totally doable with the Cinque Terre rail card), but if you have the time and are in good shape, I’d totally recommend ditching the train pass and hiking the paths that link the five towns.  It’s a completely different way to experiene the beauty of Cinque Terre!

After dropping off our bags and relaxing for a while on our hotel room’s balcony, we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon on a hike from Riomaggiore to the neighboring village of Manarola.  The famous blue trail, which consists mostly of footpaths along the coastline, was closed because of landslides, but there are many more alternative trails to explore.  We got our sneakers laced up and were ready to go!

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We took the trail #4 from Riomaggiore, and the first part was just brutal.  Steep stair climbing for the first hour or so.  You gain elevation quickly, and on the bright side, it means you’ll be getting a good view very quickly as well.

003Fragrant flowers were blooming everywhere and I couldn’t help but stop and smell the roses, literally.  Here is a view looking down, with grape vines, lemon trees, olive trees, and prickly pear plants grown along the path.

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On this trail, you get a breathtaking view of the sea and the villages from above.

Some parts of the trail are anything but a walk in the park, though.  Make sure you find yourself a good pair of sneakers or hiking shoes!

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Here are the difficult, rugged parts of the trail.  I was using an umbrella as a hiking pole.  It looked pretty ridiculous, but hey, it worked!

004Manarola in sight … we’re almost there!

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The map said it would take close to three hours and we did it in two!

010 009 011We were eating gelato at different times of the day at this point, it almost became a habit. But we definitely earned this one!

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Seafood is the local specialty and there are many seafood shops along the main streets of each town selling fried seafood cones.  After our hike, we took the train back to Riomaggiore, picked up a cone of fried calamari and a bottle of local white wine, and returned just in time for a beautiful sunset on our balcony.

012The next morning, we woke up to a beautiful sunny day and decided to tackle the longest southeasterly coastal trail on the map from Riomaggiore, through Telegrafo and Campliglia, to Porto Venere.  It’s estimated to take over five hours!

Like trail #4 we took the day before, it started out with a long, steep climb up the hill.

Collage 5It continued up a paved road, back on dirt path, and more winding stairs, until we reached a church atop what seemed like the highest point.  And then there was another descent…and another ascent.  It was a pretty strenuous hike to say the least!

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The path weaves in and out of the forest with varied terrains and vegetation (pine trees, chestnut trees, and some areas marked as saffron fields) until we reached La Spezia.

IMG_1462From there we still had waaaayys to go. Our destination was all the way at the end.IMG_1479
After about four hours of hiking, the trail eventually descends into the charming little town of Porto Venere, culminating with a castle fortified with high walls and towers.

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With the exception of a few breaks we took, I was surprised that I could actually keep up with the steady pace James was setting for us.  There was no room for slacking! :)IMG_1513We didn’t bring any snacks for the hike so we were starving by the time we reached Porto Venere. We found a restaurant by the marina and had a leisurely lunch of some scrumptious seafood pasta dishes while enjoying the view.  My seafood pasta was prepared exactly the way I wanted.  James’ spaghetti alla vongole as well!  Or maybe because we were too hungry?

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With full bellies and tired feet, we hopped on a ferry to get to Monterosso al Mare.

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It was amazing to see the coastline and the little houses built into the cliff from the perspective of the water, with a beer in hand!Collage 10IMG_1555
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The village of Monterosso is the northernmost of the five villages and definitely has a resort-like feel, with lots of restaurants, shops, and hotels all along the beachfront. We heard from the tourist office that the blue trail between Monterosso and Vernazza was open, so we started hiking immediately hoping we would reach its neighboring village of Vernazza before sunset.  Two hikes in one day!

IMG_1641The blue trail is less challenging than the other ones we had taken, but because of the rain earlier that day, the dirt path turned muddy and the rocks became slippery.

IMG_1579There’s a lemonade stand en route which we stopped for a much-needed refreshment.Collage 9The trail eventually leads us into Vernazza, the most beautiful of the five villages in my opinion. The town is full of pastel-colored houses and fishing boats, with a bustling main street that runs from the train station to the harbor.

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You can easily find a romantic spot to rest your feet and share a bottle of wine with your special someone :)
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For dinner, we returned to Manarola once again (we got off at the wrong stop) and ended up having a delicious pasta dinner at Trattoria Il Porticciolo.  Having eaten a delicious seafood pasta earlier that day, I ordered seafood pasta again and James had pesto ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach.  Both dishes were scrumptious! In addition to lemons and seafood, Cinque Terre is known for their fresh basil pesto.  James couldn’t get enough of it!

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The next day, we awoke to rain and thunder but decided not to let them deter us. We hopped on the train and headed to Corniglia, the only town we hadn’t visited at that point.   Unlike the other five towns, Corniglia is not by the sea and instead, sits up on a cliff well above the sea.

To get from the train station to the town, there’s well over 300 winding steps!  We walked a loop around the town (it’s significantly more quiet than the other towns and there’s not much to do), made a brief stop for gelato where I had a tasty gelato cone with lemon and basil flavored gelato, and proceeded to getting back to the train station.

On our way back, we got stuck in a thunderstorm and even with umbrellas, we were drenched by the torrential downpour!  To make the matters worse, the path to the train station got flooded and the only way to get through was to, well… walk through the flood water that came up to my knee.  My shoes and pants were completely soaked.  Yuck… 
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We spent the next hour and a half waiting for the train (the trains were skipping Corniglia for some unknown reason), which gave us plenty of time to wash up under the water fountain conveniently located inside the train station.  Needless to say, we hated Corniglia. Maybe I’ll give it another chance another day when it is not raining :)

A train eventually came and took us to Levanto, a neighboring town north of Monterosso which is not considered part of Cinque Terre.

IMG_1646As soon as we made our way into the town center, we found a bakery and happily stuffed ourselves with focaccia and biscotti.
Collage 13We had a few setbacks that day, but we’re finally ready for our hike!  This time it was from Levanto back to Monterosso.

This trail has lots of incline, which probably explains why it is not as popular as the other trails.  
IMG_1649The view are incredible though, and at one point, you reach a lookout spot where you can see the entire coastline and all five villages. We made it to Monterosso just in time before the hazy overcast skies turned into another full blown thunderstorm!

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On our last day in Cinque Terre, we took a train to the charming seaside town of Santa Margherita Ligure. From there, you can walk to Portofino in about an hour, but there are also bus and boat services. We opted to walk there and take the boat back.

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The walk is an easy, relaxing stroll on the waterfront promenade, which takes you past fishing boats, pebbly beaches, and diving schools, to the swanky Portofino.

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Portofino is a popular yatching destination, and is the place to master the art of la dolce vita. The best thing you can do is here to walk around the harbor, peek into the boutique shops, sit back and enjoy the spectacular view of the Mediterranean Sea from one of the many seaside bars and restaurants. From the main square, you can take a walk uphill to Castello Brown, a 16th century castle once used as a fort for defense and now a museum with a fantastic view of the harbor.

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At this point, I had already fallen in love with the Italian Riviera. The seaside towns definitely live up to my expectations (the lack of city noise and traffic is a bonus) – I haven’t seen any place quite like it and would love to return some day!  It was sad to say ciao and head off to the hustle and bustle of Milan, the last leg of our trip before we returned home.

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When we arrived Milan, the Duomo was closed for the evening, so after walking around the square (plus another gelato break) and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, we were ready for our last meal in Italy.

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We happened upon Salsamentaria di Parma and were drawn in by its extensive charcuterie menu and the legs of ham hanging from the ceiling.  Apparently we hadn’t eaten enough of it!

And because Lambrusco (this one is from Langhirano!) was on the wine list, we ordered a bottle to enjoy with our meal. The wine was served in ceramic bowls, which was a nice rustic touch.

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To start, we ordered a platter each of cheeses and meats, one of which was a selection of four premium cuts of culatello, known by many as the king of cured meats. Culatello is made from pig’s rump, and through a long curing process in a unique microclimate, a savory-sweet flavor and velvety texture develop. It tastes a lot like proscuitto, except that certain cuts are a lot leaner than proscuitto.

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On our cheese platter were Gorgozola, Parmigiano Reggiano with balsamic cream, and Caciotta. We couldn’t leave Italy without having one more pasta dish, so James ordered a plate of ricotta and pumpkin ravioli, and I had a simple gnocchi al pomodoro. So satisfying!
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With that meal, we’ve come to the end of our Italian vacation.  Below are the links to all of the stops we made in Italy. Enjoy!

[Travel Report] Venice, Italy

[Travel Report] Bologna, Modena, and Visiting a Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese Factory

[Travel Report] More on Modena, Parma, and a Memorable Meal at Osteria Francescana

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  1. […] myself with egg rolls, crab rangoons, and General Tso’s chicken all the time.  When James and I came back from Italy, the first thing I wanted to eat was chicken lo mein.  He wanted sesame chicken.  Pizza and pasta […]

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