On Sunday, my weekend adventures took me to Cinque Terre, five little hill towns on the Mediterranean coast on the northwestern side of Italy that are connected by a loooong trail. We went with Florence For Fun, a local travel agency that arranges spring break, long-weekend, and day trips for students in Florence. It was a great deal, too! Cinque Terre (literally, 'five lands') is world-renowned for its incredible natural beauty--it's on UNESCO's World Heritage List--and it has a fantastic hiking trail with some drop-dead gorgeous sites. It really felt like we were walking around inside a postcard. It was almost too beautiful to be real.
We arose at the obscene hour of 6 AM; well, my travel companions did...I fell back asleep and they jostled me awake at quarter to 7. Whoops! I also awoke to find my puffy face had returned; a mosquito must have bitten me last night. Grrr! It wasn't as bad as last time, and faded by the time we got off the train in the first town, Riomaggiore. It seems that it's not just Florentine weather that likes to trick us more than treat us, but all of Italy - it was cloudy and freezing when we got there! (Don't worry, we sang "Oh Mr. Sun" in Italian and he eventually came out to de-thaw us!)
The big deal history-wise with Cinque Terre is its muretti, "little walls." Despite its terrain being incredibly steep, rocky, and generally difficult to farm, its people have thrived as farmers from the first centuries AD. They propped up their farms and vineyards by building little stone walls - a lot of them. 11,000 kilometers (6836 miles), in fact, which is similar in length to the Great Wall of China. I know, crazy, right?? The craziest part is they did it completely by manual labor. SAY WHAT???
This mural was painted in recognition of those who built the walls. They deserve this and more! 11,000 KM!!!!
We didn't actually go in to Riomaggiore; we pretty much got off the train, went to the bathroom and started hiking! Didn't stop me from snapping away, of course:
The bar where we used the bathroom listed the ingredients used in the breads/pastries they sold. TOO COOL!! Look at all that real food - no artificial unpronouncable chemical ingredients here! This made me happy. [coughfoodgeekcoughcough]
The first trail, from Riomaggiore to Manarola, is called Via dell'Amore - The Lovers' Walk. It was actually named by a journalist who was writing a story was walking on the path and found a note left by two young lovers. Awwwwwww!!!
Doesn't everyone proclaim their love on a cactus leaf? I would.
When couples come to Cinque Terre they bring a lock and put it on rails, plants, nets, anything, then lock it and throw the key into the ocean. So sweet!
Ok, get ready for some serious picture overload. I'll try to let the pictures speak for themselves and narrate only where necessary :)
Town #2: Manarola
Follow the "Indiana Jones" bridge to...
Town #3: Corniglia
After all that walking + 382 stairs to get to Corniglia, our collective blood sugar was very low. BUT we were determined not to let our stomachs take us to the first (or second or third) touristy restaurant we found and wandered to find the "right" place. Jackpot!!!! We found a wine bar with a restaurant upstairs. Quiet, music in the background...and some seriously incredible eats & drinks.
We started with a necessary bottle of wine:
Cute label, right?!
They only produce white wine in Cinque Terre, and I am not complaining - this was delicious! A little fizzy, a little sweet & sour. Very tasty. (and for 16 euro, I should hope so!)
I also split an appetizer with Alaina:
Anchovies!!! They are the specialty fish here, and I see why - these were amazing. Soft, tender, almost silky in texture, and they were drizzled in a garlic-infused olive oil with I think a bit of pesto on top. I need to find anchovies at home.
For our main course, we all ordered the same thing and it was brought on one big platter:
Pasta in a tomato sauce & pesto
Cinque Terre is in Liguria, where basil is grown and hence is the region from whence comes the holy pesto sauce. And I must say, this pasta was a downright divine experience. The pesto was a beautiful, vibrant green color and the basil used was sooo fresh. Mixed with the slightly sweet tomato sauce, I was sad when my plate was empty and there was no more sauce to sop up with bread. We were happy little hikers!
After lunch, the trek continued to...
Town #4: Vernazza
^Corniglia from the trail^
Vernazza from the trail
Frutti di bosco (mixed berry yogurt), mint chocolate chip, dark chocolate
It was amazing gelato, but the dark chocolate was quite good. We had more chill time in this town and we got to walk and shop a bit - I found one store with some faaaabulous turquoise jewelry and I wanted to wrap the whole shop up and put it in my pocket!
We also, as usual, made some furry friends:
The hike from the 4th town to the final 5th is the longest and most difficult, and because we were quickly running out of time before out train left in the last town at 6:30, we took the very fast 5 min. train ride to...
Town #5: Monterosso
Loved the turquoise/coral colors of this house!
What a charming little beach town! We have been planning to go to a beach in May before we leave, and we are thinking about coming here to explore it more and do the last hike we missed out on (it's also supposed to be the prettiest).
Before leaving, I had to try the limoncino, which is Liguria's take on the southern Italian limoncello (basically lemons, sugar, and alcohol - it's a very typical after-dinner drink). The only difference between the two is the lemons; limoncino uses lemons from the north.
I could definitely taste a difference between the 'cino and 'cello - the lemons had a distinctly different flavor, more mellow and sweet maybe? I liked it well enough but just like limoncello, I can only handle a few sips and after that my tastebuds just get bored. Even though it's poured in a small dessert-wine glass, it still seems like a little too much to enjoy. But I'm still happy to have satisfied my curiosity!
[More gelato may or may not have been consumed at this point. I am powerless to anything melon-flavored.]
We also bought some focaccia for dinner on the rather long train ride home. Focaccia is the bread specialty of Liguria, and my cooking teacher expressly specified that focaccia con formaggio (with cheese) must be tried in Cinque Terre. No arguments here! I got some with cheese, tomatoes, and more anchovies (so amazingly good here!), and swapped half for some of Alaina's cheese and tomato piece. It was really good, especially with the anchovies. Very light, airy and buttery (well, olive oil-y, in a good way). Although I think I prefer the focaccia we made in class last week for being denser and doughier, both have their own place in my carb-loving heart.
A long, glorious day of walking, eating, oohing and aahing. Now it just seems like a dream! Every moment was like stepping inside a picture on a postcard. It was breath-taking, awe-inspiring, mouth-watering, exhausting, rewarding, and above all...