Browsing Tag

Italian Riviera

Culture, Europe

Visiting Cinque Terre

September 2, 2015 • By

Cinque Terre is a tourist destination nestled in a corner of the mountainous coastal area of the Italian Riviera or Liguria region. Genoa is the capital and Liguria borders France to the west, Piedmont to the north, Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany to the east, and it sits on the Ligurian Sea (Mediterranean). If searching for it on a map, it’s at the tip of a sideways “u” at the top of the country.

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Cinque Terre – 5th town Monterosso

Cinque Terre translates literally to “five earth.” Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare comprise the five villages or towns on this strip of Italian coast, all similar but distinctly different in size and personality. Colorful homes in varying shades of yellow, orange, pink and red with green shudders and balconies–some painted, some real–characterize much of Cinque Terre. While nearby Portofino serves as a shopper’s paradise for the pretty people, Cinque Terre provides a more low-key retreat from the big city for travelers on a budget. It’s got a chill vibe that caters to backpackers, young families and a sprinkling of retirees.

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Old Town, Monterosso

People venture to Cinque Terre to hike the terrain at sunrise, relax at the plentiful beaches and taste the rich Ligurian flavors. All will leave you yearning for just one more day on your trip. The towns are about 10 minutes apart by train or boat, making it easy to see one place–or five–depending on your pace. Unless you plan on renting accommodations for the week, Cinque Terre can be easily conquered in a day and a half and is accessible from Milan by train (3 hours) or car (2 hours). While the Italian Riviera has a reputation for playing second fiddle to the French Riviera, in Cinque Terre you will find meticulous, terraced vineyards carved into the hillside along with fern, olive and lemon trees and magnificent mountain and sea views wherever you choose to base yourself.

My mother and I stayed at La Cabana, a bed and breakfast in Monterosso al Mare, high in the hills with a view of the terrain and out to the water. Monterosso has a long promenade connecting the New Town (Fegina) to the Old Town (Centro Storico) and is relatively flat making it easy to browse some of the tourist shops or wander a couple of the historic churches and the local cemetery. Overall, there isn’t much to do but lounge on the beach, swim, hike, eat and embrace the heat.

Since my mother is battling a hip injury and hiking was not an option this trip, I ventured through the trails of Monterosso on a 45 minute loop through local vineyards and winding paths to find rocky and uneven surfaces and steep and challenging stairs. The sunrise over the mountaintop and the sweeping views of the coast were well worth the work, but when done, I retreated, thankful that my mother’s looming surgery provided me with an excuse to skip the more laborious trails. As is always the case, the Germans and the Brits came equipped with polls, gear and attire worthy of the most treacherous paths.

But like true Americans, Joyce and I came to Cinque Terre for the food, armed with bottomless stomachs and our taste buds calling. Liguria is known for its anchovies, seafood salad, pesto, pecorino and Parmesan cheese, white sauce never red, focaccia and white wine. The fresh pesto adorning homemade pasta or lightly basted on pizza will forever leave me scarred for any other food. To say it melted in my mouth is one thing, to admit it danced on my tongue and left me hankering for more is quite another.

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Monterosso, Cinque Terre a most worthy view

 

We lunched beachside at Ristorante Belvedere where the house specialty, a fish soup, receives rave reviews. We opted for the plentiful seafood salad and it tasted fresh and tasty.

Don’t miss Ristorante Miky (closed Tuesdays) for its ambiance, service and traditional dishes. Miky delivered our favorite meal of the trip so far. Joyce devoured the seafood ravioli and I inhaled the branzino, prepared local style with olives, pine nuts and potatoes. The stuffed mussels starter proved to be a surprise and our bottle of white wine Friulano paired with our food perfectly. If you fancy dessert, try the mint cream (basil) and berries. You won’t be disappointed.

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The best food in Monterosso

Lastly, we followed Rick Steves’ suggestion and booked a table at Cafe Tortuga (closed Mondays) on the cliffs of Monterosso. While the service lacked, the restaurant more than made up for it with delicious, flavorful, well-prepared food. Per our server’s recommendation, we ordered local pasta–pesto lasagna for me and mussels and broccoli for Joyce. The turbot fish for two as a main course prepared with olive oil, olives and potatoes finished us off for the night. A day later we still cannot decide who won the pasta food wars.

If you find yourself around town and hungry, skip the gelato–it’s tasteless. Instead head directly to the bakery and order a pizza, olive, onion or sage focaccia. Every bite is like a step closer to heaven on earth. Make a meal of it or share if you dare. It’s absolutely worth the calories, the carbs or the extra five minutes on the treadmill.

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Vernazza, The 4th town, Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre is fun to explore and worth a short stay. The towns are simple, sweet and incorporate a slice of the past–each with their obligatory castle and local church–with a touch of the present. The promenades, filled with restaurants, bars and beachgoers are basic yet inviting.

We enjoyed our stay in Monterosso and  short visit to Vernazza but check out Cinque Terre for the views and stay for the local kindness and the delectable food.


Europe

His and Hers

August 29, 2015 • By

Balconies with a sea view, moonlight dinners and bushels of roses and other fresh, fragrant flowers are the norm in Portofino, Italy, as are wealthy people with yachts to envy, couples in love and 28 members of the Qatar royal family.  This disqualifies Joyce and me (mother, daughter) but that did not stop the hotel staff from trying to make sense of our odd coupling.

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At Splendido La Terrazza

At dinner on the terrace of Splendido, La Terrazza, we snapped lovely pictures documenting our stay.  Seated with a stunning view of the Portofino cove, we relaxed with a glass of wine and began perusing the menu, but upon closer review I realized my menu contained no prices.  Perplexed, my mom reported her menu had plenty of prices listed. We decided she is “the man” or perhaps “Mr. Mom,” and therefore responsible for paying the bill.  Albeit old-fashioned, traditional etiquette dictates that the person paying for dinner receives the menu with prices.  I’ll take this as a win.  We enjoyed lobster and rocket fish for the starter, followed by sea bream and veggies for our main course–all fresh and very delicious–and to finish, an Italian-sized serving of creamy panna cotta with raspberry sorbet.

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Splendido Moonset on the Sea

Before retiring to bed, we entertained ourselves with people watching from the terrace, serenaded by live music from a Barry Manilow-like besequined pianist who fancied my mother and sang her favorite song, Nella Fantasia.  She sprang to his side upon recognizing the melody and even patted him on the back to show her gratitude.  He then stopped playing and gave us a history of the song for the next 10 minutes. I wrote down Lady Caliph and promised I would do something or another with that information.

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Blue Slippers, I prefer white

We retreated to bed and I found the turn down service placed blue slippers next to my bed.  I yelled to Joyce in the bathroom, “It’s so weird! I have blue slippers and last night I had white.”

She then started hysterically laughing and shouted back, “They must think you are the man because you left that XL Michigan State T-shirt on your bed.”

Sorry, Spartans, it’s back to lingerie and pretty things for this princess to sleep.

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Splendido, our hotel view from the sea

With two more days to admire our incredible sea view, Joyce and I decided to mingle amongst the tourists and see other parts of the Italian Riviera.  We hopped a shuttle to a water taxi and 15 minutes later docked in Santa Margherita, a much larger port than Portofino.

It’s noisy and busy and more commercial than our base.  It has beautiful beaches, lengthy hikes hugging the coastline up into the hills and more casual restaurants and shops.  Whereas Portofino is a special kind of luxury, Santa Margherita is hustling and bustling and perhaps provides a more ideal stop for the everyday traveler.  There are more accommodations, and it also serves as a transportation hub to other towns and villages along the coast.

Portofino Marina

Portofino Marina

We sweated a fair amount walking the streets of Santa Margherita, and worked up a desire for a refreshing scoop of gelato.  I mean, there are so few calories in a cup of Italian gelato… why not order two scoops?  And we did.  To add to further insult, a bird shat on me while we waited for the ferry. They say that means good luck and by “they,” I mean those individuals who see it as a bad sign and want to feel good about themselves.

This is the second time a bird has relieved itself on my head. I would define it as an unwelcome and very unfortunate experience.

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Italian Riviera -Santa Margherita

We returned to Portofino, gobbled up a cheese and arugula pizza, and considered another helping of gelato, but with dinner plans in our future and Joyce already in a shop, waving her wallet, we skipped it.  Besides, hell is about to freeze over.  We are going to 6:30pm Mass on vacation in Italy, where I am sure to find plenty of air-conditioner in the 114 year-old Catholic Church. Yeah right!

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Portofino’s Catholic Church

 

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