I know I promised to do a ‘Top 5 Counties’ post but I lied a little and instead I’ve decided to do a ‘Top 5 Places’ series for now. I’m going to write a separate post for each place over the next few weeks. Excited yet? I am! It’s actually been really hard to narrow it down to only five, in the past year we’ve been to hundreds of places and as I’ve said every place has good and bad points, but luckily for you, some have way more good points than bad. And so here is my No.1 –
Cinque Terre, Italy
Cinque Terre was my favourite place of the whole year! And that’s saying a lot considering some of the amazingly beautiful places we’ve seen on our trip. There was a bit of nostalgia (is that even the right word?) for me with the Cinque Terre, you see, it had been the screensaver on my laptop and work computer for about 5 years and I could never figure out exactly where the picture was from. Eventually the boyfriend figured it out and Cinque Terre was added to our 6 week tour of Italy, even though it was a little out of the way, more on that later.
Cinque Terre literally means “five villages”, and Italians often refer to it as the Italian Riviera. It’s made up of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. We stayed In Manarola, because that’s the village my screensaver was of and also because in my opinion, it’s the prettiest. There’s very limited accommodation options in Manarola so we ended up booking an apartment from a local lady (http://www.ilpatio5terre.com/) it was beyond perfect for us, down a little cobbled alleyway with a balcony looking onto the village and ocean beyond. There’s also a hostel in Manarola (http://www.hostel5terre.com/) it look’s like a converted convent from the outside but the room’s look really cute. I heard they have a curfew though so definitely not a party hostel. But then, if you’re looking for a full moon party rave, Manarola definitely isn’t for you 🙂 If you’re after a bit of luxury – La Toretta Lodge is for you (http://www.torrettas.com/).
As if Manarola couldn’t get any better, my favourite restaurant in the world is here. It’s called Billy’s, doesn’t sound very fancy I know (http://www.trattoriabilly.com/) but the views, the food, the owner are all superb! We stopped by our first night in Manarola and they were completely booked out but the owner Billy found us a seat inside, there were lots of couples coming up without a booking specifically requesting a seat outside and Billy just laughed at them. We thought this was weird until our next night when we actually managed to get a seat outside. If you don’t like seafood you might struggle a bit at Billy’s, although their pesto is yummy and actually originates from the region, their pasta is home-made. The fish is legit caught fresh that afternoon. It’s true, we saw the fishermen come straight from their boats to Billy with massive fish laid across their arms. Cute story – Billy’s father was a famous fisherman in the area and started the restaurant as a side-business, his wife was an excellent cook you see, and now Billy who spent most of his life as a fisherman has taken over the business. He’s a bit of a legend, if you go to this restaurant make sure to have a chat with him! Anyway, you can buy these massive fish and share them with your table, the waiters will de-bone the fish for you or you can choose to do it yourself (no thanks). We got the 12 course seafood starter, its pretty much every fish dish on their menu and it was heaven. Obviously their dessert is heaven too.
As remote as it seems, there’s actually a train that goes to every village in the Cinque Terre. But beware if you get off at Corniglia it’s quite a walk to the village – up a very steep hill. Worth it though, as Corniglia is much-less-touristy than the other villages. Our second favourite village was Vernazza, it’s like a bigger Manarola and if you want a day at the beach go to Monterosso al Mare. Spend a whole day walking (hiking more like) the Cinque Terre coastal trail, the views are insane but bring appropriate footwear – I had flip-flops and a bikini top while everyone else had hiking boots and those special hiking sticks 🙂 Oh well! Bring a good camera too because you will be stopping every 5 minutes.
Getting there – we got the train from Florence to La Spezia (the nearest major town) and then a regional train to Manarola. If you want to fly there the nearest airport is Genoa. But I recommend flying to Florence, it’s one of my favourite city’s, and getting the train to Manarola the way I did. The trains in Italy are very clean and super-efficient. But REMEMBER to validate your ticket before getting on board, even if you only bought the ticket a few minutes before, you have to validate your ticket at a little box-thing on the platform. You’ll understand if you’ve ever been on a train in Italy. We learned the hard way (with a fine) 😦
Pros: insanely beautiful, relatively easy to get to, friendly locals, yummy food
Cons: you will never want to leave, don’t go during school holidays as it can get really busy, more expensive than other parts of Italy
Thanks for reading 🙂
P.S. this is where I’m getting married when I do, so to all my friends you will get to see its gloriousness one day 🙂