When my hubby Bill and I realized that this year was going to be a landmark anniversary year for us, we decided to celebrate with a trip. A special trip – someplace we had never been before, somewhere exotic and unique.
We are both fitness enthusiasts and marathon runners. My first inclination was to find a notable marathon for us to run together. That’s how I discovered Le Marathon du Medoc in the Bordeaux region of France. The more we thought about it, though, we didn’t want the trip to be about a marathon, we wanted the trip to be about us.
We considered walking part of El Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain, and even found an agency that would transport our luggage from hotel to hotel so that we would not have to carry heavy backpacks all along the route. When I was talking to the very helpful young woman assisting me in making the reservation, I mentioned that this was an anniversary trip. She suggested that, rather than walking El Camino, we may want to visit Cinque Terre, Italy instead.
Cinque Terre means “five lands” in English, in reference to the five small villages in the area. A national park, Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre, with an extensive trail system connects the five villages. Cinque Terre is in the Tuscany region of Italy and the villages are all situated on the coast of the Ligurian Sea (part of the Mediterranean) in the northwest part of the country.
We could stay in one of the villages and hike the trails to the others. The benefit of this arrangement was that if we didn’t feel like hiking one day (or more), we didn’t have to. On El Camino, we would have been on a time schedule, required to hike a certain number of miles each day to reach the destination our bags were transported to.
We opted to stay in Monterosso al Mare, the northernmost and largest town (also, I believe, the nicest). I began studying Italian using an app on my phone. We were not sure how much English people in Monterosso would speak, and we wanted to be prepared to communicate. There was no need for concern, however, everyone in Monterosso spoke English.
We flew British Airways into Pisa, the closest major airport and took the one-hour train ride to Monterosso. Trains in this area are cheap and easy to figure out. It’s a great way to get around. We arrived at our hotel at night, got a recommendation for a nearby restaurant for dinner, and crashed immediately after we ate.
Our hotel was on a very quiet street which was too narrow for cars. A buffet breakfast was included in the price of our room. We were used to the American hotel breakfasts, but this breakfast far outshone anything I have ever had in the U.S. The dining room was filled with tons of fresh fruit – melons, strawberries, pineapple, kiwi fruit, pears, bananas, grapefruit and more. An espresso machine produced espresso, latte, cappuccino, and macchiatos from freshly ground beans, as well as hot chocolate. A variety of teas were available. Eggs and bacon were usually served, along with pancakes some days. Freshly sliced meats and cheeses, cereals, and granola were available. The star of the breakfasts, however, was the pastry table. Seven or eight freshly baked delicacies awaited us each morning, each one delicious. I am sorry I didn’t take pictures of the buffet, but I didn’t want to look like a doofus American tourist.
Bill and I often eat a big breakfast when we are traveling, then an early dinner (no lunch), and that was our plan for Italy. Unfortunately, an “early” dinner in Italy is considered 7:30 p.m. Restaurants didn’t even open until then. We had to revise our plan, so we usually had a glass of wine and a light snack sometime in the afternoon, then dinner around 8:00.
We decided to explore Monterosso, rather than hike on our first full day in town, so we spent the day strolling around the village, visiting the quaint little shops, tasting local dishes and sampling the wine.
The wine was mostly white, fruity and slightly effervescent. Each restaurant served their house wine for about $10 – $12 a carafe. As you walked around town, you could catch a strong yeasty odor emanating from some buildings. I thought at first it was from bread-making, but it was actually the restaurants making wine.
On the second day, we set out for a hike, and hoo, boy was it a hike. I pictured strolling on a rail trail-like pathway from village to village. The distance from the northernmost town to the southernmost is only about 10 miles, but those 10 miles are up and down steep, rocky, narrow paths with some pretty spectacular drop-offs. The towns are mostly perched at the bottom of cliffs, clinging to the last bit of land before it falls into the Ligurian Sea. The trails, however, are at the top of said cliffs, so a lot of climbing and descending was required. The views were spectacular, however. Everywhere you looked was another gorgeous vista.
We made it to the third town, Corniglia, explored and had a snack there, then took the train back to Monterosso. After a much-needed shower and rest, we strolled around town, had another fabulous dinner, and retired for the evening.
The next day we decided to take it easy and visit the beach. We rented two beach chairs, and an umbrella, and spent the day reading, lounging, and swimming in the clear, blue Ligurian Sea.
After the beach, we cleaned up and visited a winery that was literally 500 meters from our hotel. Those 500 meters were all up, however. Steps were required to get up the hill – it was too steep for a path. We sampled wine and snacked on delicious savories, then, after another stroll around town, had more fabulous seafood for dinner.
The following day, we explored some of the other towns that we had not hiked to. A friend had recommended a restaurant, La Taverna, that was not to be missed, so we went there for dinner. I had their seafood pasta, which was probably the best meal on the whole trip.
For our last day in Cinque Terre, we had to decide – another beach day or another hike. we opted for the beach, went back to La Taverna for dinner again, and polished off sumptuous plates of seafood risotto and a bottle of white wine.
Our last day in Italy was spent in Pisa, where we visited the leaning tower (of course), the cathedral associated with the tower, and the ancient wall that encircled medieval Pisa. The cathedral was celebrating its 900th anniversary. To an American, not used to such old buildings, this was amazing.
After another exquisite dinner, we strolled back to our hotel under a moon that appeared as big as a pizza pie. I couldn’t resist humming –
“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie
When the world seems to shine like you’ve had too much wine
-by James Marsden
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