Hello from Europe! Below is a guest post from my good friend and college roommate, another Meghan! Meghan is a travel planner extraordinaire, and we have enjoyed some great travel adventures from St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland to Queen’s Day in Amsterdam to camel riding in Tunisia and pub crawling in Roma!
Traveling to Europe is a yearly necessity for me. Whether it’s returning to some favorite places like Amsterdam or Ireland, or trying out new spots like Provence and the Greek Islands, it’s something that I look forward to every year. It also helps maintain my sanity! One of my favorite places to go is Italy, which has the holy trinity of food, wine, and overall beauty. I’ve stomped around Rome, Florence, and Bologna on several occasions, and have been to Venice and Verona but one place that always pulls me back is Cinque Terre. Literally meaning “five lands”, Cinque Terre is comprised of 5 villages perched on the cliffside with the Ligurian Sea below. Cinque Terre had avoided a major tourist influx, but once Rick Steves took a liking to the area, tourism has steadily increased in the past 10-15 years. Despite this, and thanks to it being slightly off the beaten path, the area still has a very authentic feel. You won’t be able to get by on English alone, so brushing up on your Italian is required.
Of the 5 villages, I chose Riomaggiore as my home base. It essentially has one main street, littered with markets, restaurants and gelatarias, and then a harbor area that leads out to the rocky beach. As you can see, the village is comprised of very colorful buildings that seem to hang precariously off the mountainside.
There are hotel rooms available, but I like to rent an apartment. Most if not all apartments have a lovely view of the ocean, but my last time there, I really hit the jackpot. Here’s the view:
The interior was fine, but the prize was our long balcony that just hung over the water. There were lounge chairs for our lazy days and a table where we could have dinner overlooking the sunsets. One of the great things about having an apartment is that you have a kitchen. The local markets have freshly made pasta and sauces, along with a huge array of mouth-watering anti-pasti options. One of the area’s specialties is pesto, which served over freshly made gnocchi is simply perfection.
While it’s tempting to spend my time in Cinque Terre sunbathing, reading and drinking wine, I like to work up an appetite by hiking the trail that connects the five villages. There are several different trails, differing in length and difficulty, but I have stuck to the main trail, which is about 12 km (8 miles). For me, that is more than enough exercise! The first 2 segments (starting in Monterosso) are the hardest. They seem to mostly comprise of going up.
After climbing steps like those, one of the best sights in the world is the next village, which brings a little rest and perhaps some gelato. Ok, not perhaps, DEFINITELY gelato!
And the perfect way to celebrate the end of the hike? Parking on a lounge chair with a glass of vino.
Another specialty of the area, being so close to the water, is seafood. Some of the best mussels I have ever had were eaten in Cinque Terre. They are plump and juicy, whether they are in a pesto broth, or sitting atop a bed of linguini with spicy tomato sauce. I also got to try out stuffed mussels, which I had never heard of before, never mind tasted. The ones I had were stuffed with breadcrumbs, herbs and spices – simple and delicious.
Being in Italy, wine and gelato are part of the daily diet, at least for me. While Liguria is not well known for their wines, reds from nearby Tuscany are easily found and very inexpensive. One Cinque Terre wine of note is Sciacchetrà, a white dessert wine. I haven’t been a huge dessert wine fan in the past, but this stuff is delicious. It’s also very hard to find in the States, so I make sure to bring a bottle back with me. Gelatarias also dot the landscape, seemingly every 20 feet. I feel like it’s only fair to sample as many flavors from as many shops as I can, so my 2-gelato a day rule is strictly enforced. Sadly, all of my gelato seems to disappear before I can get a nice photo of it.
I’m not sure when I will be in Cinque Terre next, but I know it will be as soon as possible. It’s the perfect spot for a vacation within a vacation. No museums, no big ruins to see. Just the sea, wine, and wonderful food.