My recent trip to Italy for the first time left a deep impression, it was so much more than I expected and my expectations were high. The sights were all new to me with never ending wonders of architectural grandeur but perhaps it was the culture of food and family seeming as strong as my own roots that made me fall right in. And so I decided my first post about my trip to Italy wouldn’t be of churches and monuments. Instead it would be of coastal fishing villages. In fact, 5 villages together built on steep terraces. Welcome to Cinque Terre.
Cinque Terre is part of the Liguria region of Italy. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a historical place dating back to the 11th century. Today the landscape is very unique with terraces that hold houses, restaurants, vineyards, plantations and other farming. It’s quite amazing how they have utilized the land and space available to become a self sustaining place. This place can only be reached by train and boats. No cars or big tour buses so in a way it has protected much of its natural charm.
The best way to get there is by train from La Spezia station which connects to each town in Cinque Terre. There’s almost a feeling of discovering a hidden city behind the mountains or through the tunnel. It’s pretty special. If you are travelling from other cities, you will have to get to La Spezia first regardless before boarding the local train in. Once you get to each town it’s pretty much just one street up and down so you can’t get lost. I had a chance to wander around and by no means did I discover everything but here are 5 things you should do in Cinque Terre.
1. Eat local
This is a food blog so naturally the first thing in mind is the food. Liguria region is known for seafood and pesto but the other thing we all know so well is the Ligurian Focaccia. Generously brushed with olive oil giving it a crunchier crust, yet soft and fluffy inside. Easily the best focaccia I’ve had. Of course we had to try another one with the famous Genovese Pesto, which is the green pesto as we know it. We later found out that pesto just means local mashed herbs hence there are many other versions, in Italy you have to specify which pesto but for tourism purposes it pretty much says Genovese pesto everywhere since that’s the most commonly known one. And popularly delicious! The locals put a lot of emphasis and passion into food, about freshness, flavour balance, simple good quality ingredients and not overcrowding a dish. It’s so simple yet so flavoursome.
While we are on the subject of bread, get your hands on a slice of Farinata. It’s a thin flatbread made out of chickpeas sold like pizza slices. I love chickpeas to start with but bread not so much. This was amazing.
If you like seafood I suggest you indulge a little. Try the local fresh catch. Australia has pretty awesome seafood so my taste buds have been spoilt already but they come at a heftier price. Here it doesn’t. By the way we did most of our eating in Riomaggiore.
2. Castello Doria
While everyone is waiting to get to famous the postcard view, there is another gorgeous view from Vernazza. To be more specific from the top of Castello Doria in Vernazza. For a very reasonable €1.50 you get to enjoy the stunning panoramic views of the sea, mountain and villages from up high. The only way to get up there is by climbing steps so not a bad way to work off that focaccia.
3. Gelati, gelati, gelati
When in Italy, try every gelateria you can right? This came recommended as a place that does it properly, hand made with natural ingredients. There’s a whole lot of “fake” gelato in Italy which they deem untraditional and not made “properly”. I spent some time trying gelati from different towns and I can tell you it is a world of difference. Still in Vernazza, at the end of the road where the boats are there’s this little shop called Gelateria il Porticciolo. Don’t deprive yourself of it. Get a cup or cone and go sit by the harbour.
4. Relax with some Vermentino
There are plenty of trattorias throughout Cinque Terre, it’s not hard to find one with a lovely view. Take some time to sit down and soak it all in because you’re probably going to miss this place. While you’re there try some local Vermentino wine. Unfortunately, we were told most wineries are small artisan producers so not a lot of wine is produced and much of what is produced is consumed locally. While we were able to buy a bottle home from the shop there, we may be hard pressed to find them in duty free or overseas. It’s a lovely crisp white wine that went very well with our local cheese and salumi platter as we gazed into the sea.
5. Take that postcard shot
Finally the moment you’ve been waiting for. The picture that had you wanting to visit in the first place. Manarola is the town and the view is as promised. Make your way up the ramps and the Italian flag marks the spot. Get in line.