When I arrived in Monterosso al Mare it was pouring rain. The weather reports said my five days *could* be more of the same. I couldn’t believe my luck. I was cursing myself as I headed out of the train station, trying to slip on my rain jacket. My internal whimpering abruptly stopped the second I caught a glimpse of the ocean.The Cinque Terre is magical – even with clouds and in a downpour. Little fishing boats bob up and down out at sea. The boardwalk, with covered restaurant seating, overlooks the sandy beach and the crashing waves. Yep, suddenly I had no doubt I could find ways to pass the time if I was water logged for five days.
When I arrived the owner’s son picked me up near the train station and whisked me up the hill – thanks goodness since I was now packing three bottles of wine in my big old backpack. My room had an amazing view, a terrace with a kitchen and sitting area. It was great. And, the hike to and from town was great for a little extra exercise.
I ventured around town that night to check out the area, have a glass of wine and eat some local fare. I kept it lean with pesto bruschetta. Cinque Terre is the home of pesto. As one would expect, it’s AMAZING
The next day I got up early to find some blue sky peeking out from behind the clouds. I could tell it was trying to shine down on all of us dejected travelers. I started out on the hike, determined to get in as much as I could despite the unseasonal conditions. My host, Frederico, told me the night before that the trails can get slippery and dangerous after rain. And, sometimes they even shut down the trails.
Next was Vernazza to Corniglia, the second hard hike. I just took off on this one despite the slippery spots. I leap frogged with a tall woman (Sandra) and her hiking buddy a few times. After a while Sandra, and I started chatting. Turns out, she was also a solo traveler from Australia on a five-week holiday. I’m so jealous of the Australians. I need to move down under so I can get five weeks of vacation. Sandra told me of her adventures finding a room and making friends in the Cinque Terre. She had trusted the guide books and didn’t book a room in advance. When she arrived three days before she quickly found out that pretty much everything was full. She almost ended up sharing a room with a random South African gentleman, who was quite nice, but it still made her uncomfortable. She ran into two women from California who happened to have an extra room in the apartment they were renting, so they invited her to stay with them. What a great story! I ended up having lunch with them in Cornigilia then we carried on to Monarolo.
The sign at the train station insisted the trail was closed due to weather. We refused to believe it and blew right on by. We walked at least a half a mile, sure we’d tricked the system. But, we came upon a locked gate. So much for being renegades. We headed back to the train station, hopped a ride to Monarolo and finished up the last leg of the hike to Riomaggiore.
The Cinque Terre National Marine Park was created in 1999 and requires visitors to pay a fee to hike the trials. I bought a three day pass for 10 euro. They say it pays for keeping the trails clean and maintained, but I was very disappointed with the garbage that littered the way. I guess I am spoiled living in Colorado, where we take the upkeep of our trails so seriously. To all the tourists going this beautiful place, I beg you to please be respectful of the visitors to come and the natives of the land. Do not drop empty water bottles and food wrappers along the way. It’s just disrespectful.
I was also very surprised by the lack of trail etiquette. People didn’t move out of the way when being passed and they frequently took up the entire trail, when most parts should have been easy for two people to pass each other. I even had a woman stab me with her hiking pole because she simply wasn’t paying attention. I got the sense people really didn’t know what they were getting into when they hiked the Cinque Terre. Proper shoes, clothing and water are essential.
When we finished up we headed back to Monterosso for celebratory drinks and dinner. We hit up nice wine bar called Enoteca Eliseo. For dinner Sandra and I split an order of anchovies. They were amazing in olive oil and lemons — the olive oil grills them! We put them on bread and they just melted in our mouth. We also both got big tubs of mussels and split them – mine margherita (but it wasn’t a red sauce!) and hers stuffed. Oh, they were heavenly. We then ventured over The Fast Bar, The American Bar where loud music played and dollar bills papered the walls. We met another solo, also from Denver, named Jeff. He was staying in Vernazza the next night, so we decided to meet for dinner. Sadly my hiking friends were leaving Italy the next day, so I was on my own again.
I met some folks on the trail that first day who recommended a place called Il Pirata delle Cinque Terre. The next day I got up early and did the hike again – hoping and hoping that Cornigilia to Monarolo would be open, but it was still closed. I stopped in Vernazza and got a pastry at Il Pirata – amazing! – and made a reservation for dinner that night.
The restaurant is owned by twin Sicilian brothers who are just a hoot. Plus, the food was incredible. The pesto lasagna was out of this world. And, somehow we ended up sitting next to two Americans dressed as pirates. Yes, I said pirates. At first we thought they must work for the restaurant, but not so much. Apparently there is something called Pirate Day in the States, so the couple plans their annual trip to Cinque Terre around it and eats dinner at Il Pirata. Interesting tradition…
I spent my last day in Cinque Terre just walking around Monterosso and relaxing. I was so sore from my two hiking days I couldn’t even think about another day on the trail. I had one more pasta dish with delicious mussels and called it an amazing stay.
Cinque Terre Tips:
– Don’t be scared to try the anchovies. They are delish!
– Hike! Hike! Hike! But, be prepared. It’s not an easy hike, especially if you plan to do it straight through. I recommend practicing on stairs if you aren’t very active.