21 June 2016

Cinque Terra, May 8-9: Quaint villages, beaches, and lots of tourists

This was the shortest part of our trip to Italy in May, only two nights. We arrived in Cinque Terre after a very pleasant drive from Piedmont. Well, mostly pleasant. We took a slightly longer route, driving south to the coast then along the coast to Genoa. When we left the wine country, the landscape got increasingly mountainous and the scenery more dramatic. When we exited from the highway for the final few kilometers to Monterosso, the road was extraordinarily twisty. It was not a relaxing conclusion to the road trip.

We got checked in to our hotel and then walked around town getting our bearing and checking out restaurants. Of the five towns in Cinque Terre, Monterosso is the first one on the north. The guidebooks said it's the busiest of the towns. We were still a little ahead of the main tourist season, and besides, we were there on a Monday and Tuesday. So it wasn't too crowded. We picked Monterosso primarily because we needed a hotel accessible by car and a hotel that provided parking. (That really tends to limit your options in Cinque Terre.) 

The best way to visit Cinque Terre is by train. For travel between the towns, we found the train to be quick and easy, and it eliminates the hassle of driving and parking. In Monterosso, the train station is right in the middle of town and easily accessible to the hotels and guest houses. 
The beach in Monterosso

I suppose some people go to Cinque Terre to enjoy the beach. There was a very nice beach in Monterosso. We did sit on the beach each of the days during our stay. But we did not have swim suits along, so other than my wife wading on the edge of the sea, we didn't get wet. 

Our main reason for coming to Cinque Terre was to hike the trails along the coast that link the five towns. That's what we did on Day 2 of our stay, our only full day.

After breakfast, we set off on our hike. We had been forewarned that some of the trails were washed out. So our plan was to trek from Monterosso to Vernazza; that took about 2 hours, counting a short break in Vernazza and sightseeing. Then we continued on the trek to Corneglia; slightly shorter, but pretty close to 2 hours after resting in town and planning our next move. 

The trekking is quite arduous, but if you go slow and don't over-exert, it's not that bad. On the first leg to Vernazza, there were a lot of people on the trail. Often the groups would get bunched up at the steep ascents, and you'd find yourself head to tush behind the next person up the trail. But on the second leg, from Vernazza to Corneglia, there seemed to be fewer people, and there were many sections of the hike when we were quite alone. That was a lot more pleasant.

When we got to Corneglia, we had planned to take the train to the southern-most town, Riomaggiore, then either take the train back or the ferry. But our credit card wouldn't work at the train station. So we used the cash that we'd brought to buy train tickets back to Monterosso. After getting back, we took towels down to the beach and rested after our fairly strenuous hike. 

Hotel: We stayed Locanda a Ca du Gigante. As I've already noted, one of our main considerations was a hotel with parking. But this would be a very nice place to stay even if you didn't need parking. It's convenient to the beach. The room we were offered actually was an apartment a block away from the main part of the hotel. It was beautiful and spacious and had a balcony overlooking the town and the sea. The breakfast was very good, and the proprietor, Claudia, was very friendly and helpful. 

For dinner our first night, Claudia had made a reservation for us at Ristorante Miky. We got a 10% discount and the restaurant is highly rated on TripAdvisor. Our experience was superlative! The food was excellently prepared and attractively presented. We had a bottle of house wine, a local white that nicely complemented the fish and seafood. 

For a starter, we ordered a specialty plate of Parmesan flan, topped with purée of roasted red pepper, and a tower of eggplant caviar. Linda's entree was grilled squid. It was a generous plate with the squid and grilled veggies. I had local fish (which on this night was sea bass) roasted whole and served with very thin slices of potatoes. The fish was brought to the table whole on a platter and then expertly deboned and plated atop the potatoes. Great!

We didn't order dessert. But when we asked for the check, we were brought a complementary plate of little vanilla cookies and a shot of a locally produced fortified wine. Linda made an offhand remark about lemoncillo and voila, the server appeared with a bottle and another glass for her. It was an excellent dinner.

On our second night, we ate at Ristorante il Cosello. Beautiful setting overlooking the harbor. It was a little chilly, but they lit the heater and it warmed up nicely. We had the house white, a Ligurian wine that tasted similar to Chardonnay. For a starter, I had Ligurian style anchovies - roasted and served with olive oil, tomatoes, olives, and pine nuts. There was a small salad of tomatoes and lettuce on the side that Linda ate. For an entree she had roasted sea bass with potatoes. It was similar to mine from Miky the night before. But the potatoes were cubed rather than thin sliced, and the fish was not deboned table side, like mine was. Still at half the price, it was pretty good. I had fresh fish ravioli in olive oil and tomatoes with shrimp and zucchini. The ravioli were very unique, two-colored, green and white. The whole plate was visually appealing and the flavors were very good.
Little towns of Cinque Terre cling to the cliff

Concluding thought: There are a lot of Americans and other English speaking people in Cinque Terre. Also a lot of French. Well, actually just a lot of tourists. The scenery is beautiful. But it's hard to enjoy nature when you're surrounded by people, even pleasant good-natured people as most of them were. In my post about our stay on the Amalfi Coast, I commented that I liked that better than Cinque Terre. From my perspective, they offer similar experiences. So you probably don't need to go to both, unless you have lots of time (as we did). If I were going to do one or the other, I'd go back to Amalfi.

Click here to view an album of photos from our stay on Cinque Terre. 

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