On the morning of day twelve, Thursday, October 10th, we said fond farewells to our beautiful room in Siena, and set out for our longest drive in Italy yet. We were embarking on the very last leg of our journey, the roughly three hour drive from Siena to the Cinque Terre region, on Italy’s northwest coastline, known as the Italian Riviera.
Cinque Terre is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, and we were eager to get there. We had no major snafus on the drizzly drive north, which seemed pretty easy until we got to La Spezia, just outside of Cinque Terre. We made it through La Spezia with no trouble, but once we passed that town, the road became ever more steep and twisting.
Cinque Terre, which literally means the “five lands” consists of a string of five villages nestled into a coastal mountain range overlooking the Ligurian Sea. Our next three days would be based in Manarola, the second village (going west) in the string of five. (Map courtesy of Quentin Sadler)
We passed the sign for the first village, Riomaggiore, and kept going. We could feel our ears popping as our tiny car climbed higher and higher. We finally came to the turn-off for Manarola, and slowly wound our way down toward the village. The villages of Cinque Terre are strictly pedestrian, and so we were looking for the village car park just outside of town. We located the car park area, and phoned our hotel for the promised shuttle ride.
Our hotel in Cinque Terre was easily the most modern of all the hotels that we’d been to so far on the trip. It was more of a bed and breakfast, really, than a hotel, per se. Located at the top end of the village, the La Torretta B & B is perched with a view of the harbor below and the terraced vineyards directly across the way. Our very modern suite consisted of the bedroom, a sitting area with a balcony, and of course a bathroom.
We left our bags in our room and went out in search of – what else? – food.
Now admittedly, on my other blog posts I’ve mentioned that this town or that town was “steep” or “hilly”. Pshaw. These were child’s play compared to the steep streets of the Cinque Terre. My best advice to you if you’re ever considering a trip there: wear sensible shoes. With visions of a rolling snowball in our minds, we carefully picked our way along the street from the main piazza above the harbor, down to the harbor area itself. The street along the way was lined with shops and restaurants. When we were just about at the bottom, we noticed a restaurant with the Rick Steve’s emblem on the window, and so we felt safe stopping in.
By this time the weather had grown wild and windy, with the threat of a serious rain in the air. The restaurant was indoors though, and so we felt safe enough should it happen to start raining. There were large windows throughout the veranda room where we were seated, and it was bright in there in spite of the gathering dark clouds.
I ordered the fresh sardines for an appetizer, having read beforehand that this is a specialty of this region, and I got a mixed grill for my main dish. Everything was fantastic. The sardines were fresh and “non-fishy”, with a hint of lemon, and the mixed grill was amazing (lobster, prawns, octopus), other than one type of fish that I think our waiter said was known locally as the “chicken-fish”. Stay away from the chicken-fish. It was slightly mushy and tasteless. But everything else was primo.
We also sampled some of their local wine there as well, which was equally primo.
After dinner we walked around the tiny village for a bit. There was a storm brewing; the wind was whipping around us, and the waves were crashing against the rocks below. I was a bit dismayed at this point, hoping that our next couple of days wouldn’t prove to be rainy and windy. We made our way back UP the hill to our hotel, beating the rain by a few minutes.