On Thursday, September 6 at 8AM, our group of 12 set off for a drive out to the Italian coast (Lynnie stayed home- we missed you!). I’d been hanging around the villa for the most of the week but this was an excursion I didn’t want to miss. I wanted to see the pastel colored houses dangling from cliffs, terraces of grape vines, and the colors of the Italian Riviera. It was a long day with various modes of transportation but we were rewarded with a fun-filled adventure. How often do you get to visit a UNESCO World Heritage site, ride a local train, see half naked Europeans, feast on fresh seafood, go out to sea on a boat, and cap it all off with delicious gelato all in one day?
We split up into two vans for the ride out to the coast. I chose to infiltrate the guys’ group and plopped myself next to Ted for the two hour journey. It took us a while to get out of the Florence area but once we were on the highway, we seemed to fly. Paolo was our trusty driver and guide in the morning. It sounded like everyone in the other car was sleeping but it wasn’t so quiet in ours. Along the way Paolo pointed out these huge mountains on our right side that appeared to have a great deal of “snow” on them. Can’t be snow… it’s September… Then a light bulb went off in my head and I shouted, “oh my god, it’s marble!” Soon we were driving by truck-sized whitish blue grey rocks, the world famous marble from Carrara. So this is the source of all those statues (and kitchen counters and floor tiles and bathroom fixtures and…)
During his explanation of Cinque Terre, Paolo also told us about some of the products the five villages are famous for. Lemons: because it never gets very cold on the coast lemon trees can be planted in the ground, and the fruits grow big and juicy (other places they are planted in large pots and carried indoors in winter). Paolo said you can get great limoncello from Cinque Terre and we did. Wine: Cinque Terre is a small DOC region and has its namesake white wine. We had some at lunch which was delicious. I think Matthew ended up buying a bottle. Olives: again the weather contributes to the quality and the olive trees are all along the hillside terraces. Pesto: when you have good olive oil you get good pesto! Anchovies: strict regulations allow only the fishermen from Cinque Terre to fish around these parts, limiting large scale commercial fishing. We tried to have as much anchovies and fresh seafood as we could during lunch- anchovies in lemon juice, salty anchovies, anchovy pizza, etc.
There are numerous ways to experience Cinque Terre, five towns built along the rugged coastline north west of Florence. Given our time constraints, we thought it would be best to do a combination of walking, boat, train, and car to move about. The five villages are in this order, from north to south: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore. Our sightseeing was done in reverse to optimize our time since we drove up from Tuscany.
This is the route we took:
Start: Manarola- we walked through the village to explore a bit, stretched our legs, and got ready to
Walk along the “Love Walk” (Via Dell’Amore) to Riomaggiore where we
Took a boat, passing by Corniglia and
Alighting in Vernazza for a seafood lunch. We then got back on the boat and 10 minutes later we arrived in
Monterosso for a brief stroll/dip in the water and gelato break.
Train from Monterosso to La Spezia (passing all the villages of Cinque Terre mostly through tunnels) cut down our travel time significantly.
End: La Spezia- we met our guys at the train station to drive back to Tuscany.
We had a gorgeous day with lots of sunshine. In Manarola and Riomaggiore we encountered bus loads of tour groups but we still managed to weave our way through. We could have walked from Riomaggiore to Manarola but in hindsight I’m glad we did it the other way. The boat was pretty full in Riomaggiore and getting on in Manarola would have been difficult. Paula suffered a bout of motion sickness from the boat ride but quickly recovered with some bubbly water and yummy food in Vernazza.
I missed the fun on the beach in Monterosso, having to run ahead to the train station to purchase our tickets but I gave myself a big gelato cone as a reward. I did spot a few chestnut colored Italian men in their tight Speedos (the image of this one older gentleman with a bright yellow Speedo and a beer belly will not leave my brain!). This guy below looked like he was drowning in shampoo suds…
It’s not easy getting 12 people moving and following a schedule. In the end, we missed the train we were supposed to get on and we scrambled a bit to figure out the next train, changes in platforms, getting in touch with Felippo, etc. But all of that was part of our adventure. I could have used a few more hours to enjoy Cinque Terre but it was a great excursion none the less. I’m sure it was more fun because I got to see it with my friends.
Vernazza, where we stopped for lunch: photos below are by P. Merelis.
Tuscany Car Tours: Wonderful local tour company I used for various transfers and tours. Ciao Felippo!