Monday, August 18, 2014

Cinque Terre, Italy

At the end of June, our friends Ray and Mary were in Europe for a two week whirlwind tour.  In their time here they saw Paris, Cinque Terre, Berlin and Prague.  We were able to make it to Italy to see Cinque Terre with them, and we had such a fun time!

Fun gifts from the Hoosier state!

Ray and Mary caught the high speed train from Paris to Stuttgart.  They were staying the night here with us before we all headed to Italy the next day.  They had just about half a day to spend here with us in Germany.  Since they would be seeing a large German city, Berlin, later on their trip, I thought they would enjoy seeing a smaller, more quaint and picturesque German town rather than downtown Stuttgart.  From the train station we headed to our favorite local town of Tübingen  (where else??)  followed by the tiny medieval monastery town of Bebenhasen.  We enjoyed walking the old scenic streets and stopped in a biergarten for beer and a snack.  It was a great, relaxing afternoon.

Ray's Pic

Ray's Pic


We started off early the next morning to make the long drive to Cinque Terre, Italy.  The drive was straight south through Switzerland, so the views were gorgeous!  Cinque Terre literally translated means "five lands."  It's five little towns along the rugged Mediterranean coastline of the Italian riviera.  The colorful little towns are built right into the cliffs on the coast, surrounded by greenery and vineyards.  We stayed in the fourth town of Manarola.  We had a great little apartment right on the main street (that was thankfully air conditioned) and had an awesome terrace with sea views.  That evening we spent walking around our town.  We had a nice dinner at a restaurant right on the water.  It was a great start to our trip!

Manarola main street

Looking back towards Manarola

Ray's pic

The five towns of Cinque Terre are connected by rugged hiking paths.  Back in 2011, there were horrible floods that devastated the towns and the terrain.  While the towns have been completely repaired, some of the trails are still closed.  Luckily, the best trail that we wanted to do was open!  We took the quick train ride from our town to the northernmost town of Monterosso al Mare where we started the trail.  (It's the biggest, most touristy town since it has the beaches.)   The trail was 3.5 km, which is a bit over two miles to the next town of Vernazza.  While the trail wasn't very long, there were definitely some steep and narrow areas since you're pretty much hugging the edge of a mountain hovering over the sea.  The trail has spectacular views!  We must have stopped every 200 meters to take pictures!

Watching the seagulls, waiting for the train

The beach at Monterosso al Mare

The first glimpse of Vernazza is pretty magical!

When we reached Vernazza, we were all really hungry and ready for lunch!  We ate at a nice cafe by the little harbor.  Cinque Terre is known for their pesto on the uniquely shaped trofie pasta, so we ate that a lot during the trip!  We also ate a lot of sea food and focaccia, which originated in the region.  After lunch we strolled around the town, had some gelato and took the train back to our town.

That evening we had dinner reservations at a restaurant that is above the town of Monterosso.  So after showering and resting, we took the train back to the northernmost town.  A driver from the restaurant met us in town and drove us up steep, winding roads to the restaurant.  We ate at a table outside with gorgeous views overlooking the mountains and the sea.  Our dinner was very good, and of course involved more pesto trofie and seafood!

Ray's pic

The next day we ventured out to visit the town of Portofino.  Mary had been to Cinque Terre twice, and I had been once while I was in college.  (I was so excited for Kyle to see it!)  None of us had been to Portofino, so it seemed like something fun to do since it wasn't too far away.  It definitely wasn't the easiest place to get to, but the journey was the fun part!  Instead of the train, we decided to take a boat from our town back to Monterosso where were would catch our train.  The waters were rough that day, and the boat was REALLY tippy!  I don't get motion sickness, but I'm glad we weren't on the boat for more than 20 minutes!

See the guy in the white shirt at the bottom of the cliff?  He's standing by the "dock"...

The town of Corniglia, the only one of the five towns without water access

From Monterosso, we took the train to the gorgeous and swanky town of Santa Margherita.  In my guide book I read that there was a pleasant walk from Santa Margherita to Portofino, so that's what we did.  We had some delicious gelato before taking our walk.  The walk was about twice as long as the guide book said (it was 5.3 km, or 3.3 miles) but it was so nice!  It was a flat walkway right along the coast.  We loved seeing the blue and emerald green waters, yachts, beaches and spectacular villas.  (We went from cute and quaint in Cinque Terre to high class and ritzy.)  The walk took longer than it should have because of our frequent photo stops, but we were in no hurry at all!

The harbor parking lot in Santa Margherita...I think we're out of our league!

Portofino is a jewel of a town, tucked into a little harbor off the Mediterranean coast.  If you've ever been on Pinterest, I'm sure you've seen a picture of it!  We walked through the town and found a restaurant right by the harbor.  (This is definitely another rich person destination!  We paid dearly for those harbor views!)  We enjoyed a leisurely lunch that had a few rain drops, as well as some pigeon poo on Kyle's shirt.  Despite that, the sun came back out and it was another great meal!

We took the boat back to Santa Margherita, and then the train back to Monterosso.  Unfortunately, the train we were going to take from Monterosso back to Manarola was cancelled for unknown reasons.  (That's Italy for ya!)  So we had about an hour and a half to kill in Monterosso before the next train to Manarola.  It wasn't too horrible being stuck in a beautiful beach town full of cafes!  We had drinks at a restaurant that gave us some really nice (and free!) snacks of prosciutto, salami, cheese, and olives.  Not too shabby!  We also picked up some food to have dinner at our apartment that evening.

We had one more glitch before getting back.  There were two trains that left Monterosso a minute apart.  It's Italy, so the trains weren't labelled and we got on the wrong one!  The train sped through our town and stopped at the one just past it!  Luckily, a nice person told us that there was a train going back the other way in just one minute, so we ran down the stairs, under the tracks, and back up to the other platform, along with half of the train that had done the same thing! We finally made it back to our apartment and were ready to relax.  We hung out on the terrace, had some wine and had a simple, delicious dinner of local food.  We had prosciutto, three flavors of focaccia with pesto and caprese salad.

Sunset view from our terrace

We headed out the next morning.  None of us were looking forward to walking up to the car!  No cars are allowed in the town, so we were parked in the parking lot at the top of the town.  Remember, the town is built into a cliff, on a mountain on the it was a long walk dragging our luggage up!  It took us probably 20-25 minutes with breather breaks to reach the car!  We drove a couple of hours to Milan, where we stopped for lunch and left Ray and Mary to catch their flight to Berlin.

Cinque Terre has to be one of the prettiest and most picturesque places I've ever been.  I'm so glad that Kyle finally got to see it, and that it was with Ray and Mary!  We're definitely glad that they squeezed in a trip with us on their European tour!

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