In second grade, my teacher gave us an assignment to write a postcard to someone – “Wish you were here!” We could describe or invent any location we wanted, imaginary or real. I think mine was sent from the inside of a waterfall or somewhere else where mermaids might be found. If only I had known then that Cinque Terre existed – I would have wished for all of you to be there.
Only three words were necessary to make me want to go to Cinque Terre: limoncino, Mediterranean, gelato. Or maybe gelato, limoncino, gelato. Tough choice, but worth it quand même. Cinque Terre is at the north west coast of Italy on the Mediterranean, only about two hours from Nice.
Though it is possible to navigate the five (cinque) lands (terre) alone, I highly, highly recommend doing it with a tour if you are only there for a day. My friend Laura recommended a tour she used when she went a few years ago, which just happened to be the number one rated tour on TripAdvisor – with good reason. Lavi was our guide for the day, a super sweet, adorable woman from Tuscany who spoke such good English I almost didn’t believe she was Italian (until, of course, I heard her speak Italian).
After a two-hour bus ride out of Florence, through the marble quarry where Michelangelo chose the stone for David and the town Napoleon gave his sister Josephine, we found ourselves in Manarola. Lavi told us that the houses are so colorful so the fishermen could see their houses from the sea and that every house has two doors – one to escape from in case pirates tried to attack. We walked up the side of one of the mountains and up a thousand stairs, stopping every 10 seconds to take pictures, until we reached Corniglia.
In Corniglia, we had one of the best lunches I could have ever dreamed of. With the Mediterranean behind us and rows of colorful houses lining the sea, none of it felt real. Our first course was a plate of seafood – octopus with potatoes, squid and mussels, breaded anchovies stuffed with cheese, white fish with mayonnaise, and a crab dough ball. All of it was drizzled with the best olive oil I have ever had and could have eaten with a spoon and/or straw. I put my qualms aside and realized that if I am ever going to eat any of those things, freshly caught from the sea on the Italian Riviera was the place to do it. The only thing I couldn’t finish was the sardine marinated in vinegar…the rest was magnifique. After, we had linguini pesto with potatoes and green beans – the region of Liguria, where Cinque Terre is, is known as the birthplace of pesto. It felt like being in the birthplace of a celebrity that I was emotionally attached to.
After sufficiently carb-loading, it was time to hike. We were going from Corniglia to Vernazza, about four kilometers away. Luckily, it was the perfect temperature and sunny, making the hiking manageable with a beautiful view. I got the chance to talk to Lavi about traveling and Italy and learning English and before I knew it, we had reached Vernazza.
Vernazza is where I fell in love with the best gelato I have ever had in my life. There are lemon trees all over Cinque Terre, so it is mandatory to eat something (or everything) with lemons in it. At the gelateria, I got ricotta and fig paired with limon – maybe one of the best decisions I have ever made. After strolling with my gelato, walking along the Mediterranean and wandering through back streets of colorful houses with laundry lines hanging out of every window, I settled on a bench with limoncino – the Cinque Terre version of limoncello. Everyone, I think, has a moment when they fall in love with a place – that was where I fell in love with Italy.
Our next stop was Monterosso al Mare, where we were encouraged to explore through some of the old town (it was still too cold to swim!). I found a bar filled with Italians as Ciribiribin played in the background. I pulled out my notebook, and for the first time in Italy found the time to write and absorb and experience. With another limoncino and the Italian music seeping into my bloodstream, I began to dream of actually being Italian – though with my limited, mostly food-related vocabulary, that will likely never happen (plus, I’m still working on becoming French ;)).
Before heading back to Florence, we went to the last town: Riomaggiore. This is technically the first town of Cinque Terre, with some of the most famous views and an incredible panoramic view of the Mediterranean. After a long day of exploring and hiking, just sitting in front of the Mediterranean as the sunset was so relaxing, and made me feel like home was only a sea away. (It was, but I still wish you were there.) ♦
Editor’s Note: All opinions about the tour are my own and I was not compensated for writing this post. For more information and to book a tour – which you should – check out the Walkabout website.