La Vita Dolce: Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre, Italy is one of those perfect places in the world. It’s not too isolated, but not yet too commercialized, the locals are kind, the stray animals are fat and happy, and the food is perfection. When I was studying abroad in Rome in 2006, one of my friends and I decided to check out these five small coastal towns (“cinque” means five, and “terre” is land) on the Italian Riviera, about a four or five hour train ride from Rome.

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre is made up of five small towns: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. These villages are special because they’re inaccessible by car. The five towns are only connected by train, a hiking trail (the Sentiero Azzurro, or ‘Light Blue Trail’), or boat. Most of the towns are perched high on the cliff side, wedged between mountains and the Mediterranean Sea–built purposefully high and hard to reach to protect themselves from pirates long ago. The whole of Cinque Terre is part of the Cinque Terre National Park, which is protected by its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre is also one of those homey small towns where you can feel safe anywhere. My friend and I had read in our guidebook that the towns were so small that there were only a couple of hotels between all five villages, and these hotels would most likely not be open in the off-season (we went in March I believe). So we decided to be brave and do as the book suggested–which was to just show up at the train station, and wait around for a local to see us and offer us some lodging in their homes. I know that sounds incredibly dangerous and sketchy, but in this quaint place, it’s hospitality.

Sure enough, we stepped off the train and a sweet little old woman immediately approached us and said “You need room?” We told her we did, and then we negotiated a price. As she led us over the steep stone steps that wind through the village, she asked us “You know Rick Steves?” We told her we didn’t personally know him, but that we know of him, and she replied “I’m in Rick Steves book!” I’m guessing her apartment is listed as a good place to stay. We never checked up on her claim, but I believe her because her service was impeccable. Despite her limited English and our beginner Italian, we fumbled through simple conversation as she showed us around the apartment (adjacent to her home). She even brought us a wine bottle opener one night when she realized we didn’t have one–she was the perfect little Italian host-grandmother!

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre

The next three days all we did was hike through mountain-side olive, grape and lemon orchards, and eat simple meals of baguettes, peccorino cheese, pesto, fruit, yogurt and wine on the cliffs overlooking the sea. We only ate a restaurant once, where I ate quite possibly the most delicious (and largest) calazone I’ve ever had in my life. It was easily one of the most laid back and fulfilling trips of my life–and definitely a taste of la vita dolce.

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre

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6 Responses to “La Vita Dolce: Cinque Terre, Italy”

  1. Keith June 8, 2012 at 9:51 am #

    Rick Steves just posted “Vernazza and Monterosso are Open for Business”, about his recent visit there – I think the first for him since the huge flood they had last year.

    • Andrea June 8, 2012 at 2:29 pm #

      I just heard about those floods! So sad, it’s such a beautiful place. But even when I was there in 2006 one of the trails was flooded and closed to hikers.

  2. Lori Finley June 8, 2012 at 9:50 pm #

    What a beautiful, amazing adventure!

    • Andrea June 9, 2012 at 10:36 am #

      Thank you! This particular trip was a long time ago, but holds a special place in my heart :) Thank you for reading and for all of your supportive comments!

  3. Fidel June 9, 2012 at 4:07 pm #

    I was sad when I heard about the floods as well. As visited in June 2010, partly because I read about it in a Rick Steves book. I wasn’t as savvy navigating the travel blog world back then (ummm, yea, 2010 lol) so I would still purchase or check out travel guide books.
    I found his guide, especially the hand-drawn map to be very educational. I think he has bought a lot of tourism to that part of Italy and they love him there. A lot of restaurants display the “As seen in Rick Steves” sticker on their windows. I went to a restaurant he recommended in Manarola and had one of my best meals while in Italy. The Lingurian seafood is perhaps the best I’ve anywhere thus far.
    While there, it had been raining, so hiking the trail was not recommended, but my friend and I decided to do it anyway, from Monterosso to Vernazza. It was a tough climb, that trail is no stroll in the park. But we were treated to spectacular views, especially that famous one looking down on Vernazza.
    Another hike we did, was taking the street from Riomaggiore to Manarola. I don’t know if it is listed anywhere, but it is a beautiful walk along the street and quite quiet since not a lot of people are walking the road.
    What did you think of the Via D’Amore?

    • Andrea June 9, 2012 at 6:25 pm #

      We did all of the hikes/walks but the flattest one (other than Via D’Amore), because that one was flooded then. I can’t remember much about them, but I do remember my friend and I were commenting that Via D’Amore would be so much better with a significant other than each other! But overall, I really loved Cinque Terre. I was a poor student back then, so it was the perfect place for a getaway, nothing touristy to do and the food was cheap and delicious!

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