Aug. 17th – onwards to an Italian highlight for many vacationers, a tourist destination that neither of us had ever been to before! We chose to keep La Spezia as our base, and just travel to the ‘Five Lands’ by train at will. Instead of starting straight away to hit Cinque Terre, we asked our excellent host what she recommended about the area, the best way to get around, what activities to do locally. She pointed out some posted schedules and maps for the bus and boats and train, and then left us to get settled. She came back shortly afterwards to show us a newspaper clipping with an evening photograph of some lights at night festival — Festa della Madonna Bianca in Portovenere. Apparently it was happening THAT evening! There was either a bus or ferry boat to that town (not one of the Cinque Terre), so we decided to go with the €10 ferryboat (getting a special ‘night’ ticket for a return only after 10pm — we found out later, so we got a gelato while we waited ;). By taking the ferry boat, we would be able to see the coastline views along the way. We decided to save Aug. 18th all day for Cinque Terre — best decision we made on the trip. So worth it!
La Spezia and Portovenere:
Tip #1 – Don’t buy your Cinque Terre pass the morning of your travels! There will be a freaking long line! That was annoying, but eventually we embarked on the train, and had enough time to see all five towns. And worth buying the ticket, because we did get checked by a train conductor at one point. Also a gypsy woman’s child tried to pickpocket inside my handbag when we tried to get back on the train in Riomaggiore — so keep your eye/hand on your valuables in crowded touristy areas.
Tip #2 – Check which hiking trails are open between villages. Weather conditions change the trail closures (and they aren’t as well maintained as you would think considering how famous they are. O Italy.) We were only able to do the two trails that were open, those between Monterosso-Vernazza, and Vernazza-Corniglia. We took the train to the end after checking out the first two villages (Riomaggiore and Manarola) and hiked backwards (southeast) towards La Spezia, so we could end in Corniglia and have dinner there.
In Vernazza, we took a well-deserved break from hiking to rent a canoe (€5/hour/person) and use our arms instead. Tip #2.5 – If you do this, wear your bathing suit, and pack plenty of water and sunscreen (you need both for the hike anyway!).
Tip #3 – When tired/hot/sore, have a glass of wine with your next meal. Does wonders for smoothing over rough edges in every friendship. Trust me.
best lunch: Osteria Da Bartali (Via del Torretto, 64/66, 19121 La Spezia SP, Italy). This might have been one of the best meals we had in Italy. Amber had been dying to order seafood up till this point. We ordered the frutti di mare pasta for our primo, then grilled octopus with olives and stuffed mussels for our secondi. ★★★★★ The focaccia in the bread basket was extra good. The spaghetti with mussels and clams was so fresh and creamy — it tasted like the sea. I love pasta, but my favorite dish turned out to be the stuffed mussels, which were amazing — they tasted like fatty meatballs with a fantastic tomato sauce. All in all, lovingly made and deliciously flavored, and fresh fresh fresh! Only complaint: if you don’t speak Italian, service treated you second-class. We had to wait extra-long for our table, water and bread, menus, and dishes. Italians who arrived after us were served and gone before us, and this is one of the Slow Food nations.
best dinner: Il Buongustaio Cucina Casalinga (Via Fieschi, 164, 19018 Corniglia SP, Italy). Surprisingly delightful to sit indoors, because the view overlooked the sunset over the sea, bordered by the hillside vineyards of Corniglia. Of course we continued to order seafood, being on the coast, and had the mixed seafood risotto to share, which turned out to be plenty big and excellent. And we indulged in the dessert, a traditional sweet dessert wine (Sciacchetrà) that you dip biscotti (cantuccini) in. We picked this village to dine in out of the five villages, because it was noted as being the least touristy. This unfortunately meant the evening train we had planned to take back home didn’t stop there… but that’s what e-books are for.
Finally, a couple of panoramas Amber took of me: