When I look back on our honeymoon, it’s nearly impossible to pick a favourite destination. Our trip was filled with incredible sights & wonderful memories. If I did make some kind of list though, Cinque Terre world certainly figure towards the top. This region combines everything I love most about travel : phenomenal food, breathtaking views, welcoming locals, & an array of activities to keep us from getting bored.
Cinque Terre literally means five lands. It consists of five villages along the rugged Italian coastline, in the region of Liguria: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, & Riomaggiore. I did a lot of research on the area before choosing the quietest (& perhaps least accessible) of the five towns, Corniglia, as our homebase. The laid-back, slower pace & central location appealed to me, but it’s not for the faint of heart. In order to reach the town’s centre, you’ll have to climb over 300 steps. Unlike the other four towns, Corniglia is also not accessible by boat. We found these traits added to the charm of the little village & allowed for much quieter evenings.
After a day of train travel across Italy, we arrived in our small, seaside village quite late. The Italian train system was exactly how I remembered from my limited experience – usually late & a little bit quirky. Getting off the train in a new place after dark that night, I wasn’t so sure of our decision. Our late arrival meant the shuttle up the hill was no longer running. We were forced to walk up, enormous rolling suitcases in tow (I almost always travel with a backpack, but we decided to try to be a bit classier since we were cruising. I missed my backpack once we were off the ship). We decided to take the dark, winding road, crossing our fingers that it was the right direction. Luckily, we bumped into another couple who assured us we were on the right track.
The main square was pretty quiet when we finally reached it. A few diners lingered over their meals, tourists enjoyed a stroll for ice cream, & locals gathered for a chat. I love how squares are the heartbeat of most European towns & cities.
The grocer on the corner was still open, so we took the opportunity to ask for directions to our rental. Instead of pointing us to the building, he picked up the phone & called Lidia, the lady we were renting from. That’s how small Corniglia is. She pulled up a few minutes later & walked us over to our apartment, pointing out some of the things we’d need to know in the coming days. She only gave us a quick overview before sending us off to dinner before the restaurants closed for the night.
We chose a place on the main square & ordered some wine, trenette al pesto, & grilled fish. It was all delicious, especially after such a long day of travel. I really couldn’t get enough of that pesto. Afterwards, we bought a bottle of wine & had a couple glasses on our rooftop terrace, overlooking the little village & coastline.
After a few additional tips from Lidia in the morning, we grabbed a nice, big breakfast & set out for the day. The two easiest hikes were unfortunately closed due to landslides in the area. Instead, we planned to do the more difficult (but free) ones. We started with the trail to Manarola, along the red line. Climbing further & further up the steep path, the view quickly became impressive. Once we’d almost reached the peak, we split off onto another trail to start our traverse. This part of the path was probably my favourite; I gushed over the many olive trees, lemon trees, & terraced vineyards. It was suddenly clear where the incredible, fresh flavours of everything we ate came from (their backyard, literally). We were surrounded by vines (some of the steepest vineyards I’ve ever seen) everywhere we looked. It was truly an incredible sight.
Our descent into Manarola included over 1000 stairs & panoramic views of the village. I probably exclaimed, “this is so beautiful!” over 200 times. We followed our stomachs to a little restaurant in the heart of the village, grabbing a spot on their terrace. I decided to go for the grilled octopus & was not disappointed. It was the most tender octopus I’ve ever tasted. Like most of the food in Italy, simple & delicious, I never knew it could taste thate amazing. N went with the lobster spaghetti, which he thoroughly enjoyed (can you really go wrong with lobster?).
Manarola features an incredible harbour, full of people sunbathing, swimming, & cliff jumping. We decided to join them & each jumped off about a ten foot cliff. It was scary at first, but once we got over the fear, it was so much fun. The water was the perfect temperature & I could have easily swam for a couple hours. We wanted to see Riomaggiore too though so we had to get back on the trail.
The town isn’t really that far, but with Via dell’ Amore close, it took about an hour to do the harder hike. Instead of a 25 minute walk on a paved pathway, we headed straight up the mountain (& I mean STRAIGHT up). It was pretty much 25 min up, a little break at the top, then 25 min back down. Once we got into the village, we grabbed a cone of mixed fried fish including calamari, white fish, crayfish, & whole anchovies. I wasn’t sure how I’d find the whole fish, but they wound up being my favourite part. Everything was delicious & tender, but those little anchovies stole the show. We bought a large beer from a grocery store & headed down to the rocks, enjoying the sun, sea, & a cold drink. We also picked up some pesto & a nice bottle of local wine before taking the train back to Corniglia.
We caught the end of the sunset on the panoramic terrace in Corniglia. There’s a little bar that sets up tables & chairs there. We ordered a few appies – some tartines with pesto & anchovies, & cheese with honey – grabbed a couple glasses of wine, & watched the sunset. It was delicious.
Quickly changing for dinner, we decided to try a cute little spot in the centre. When we’d walked past the previous night, it was packed, so we figured it was a good bet. It turned out Osteria a Cantina de Mananan was a winner. Although, we were the last diners, our server didn’t rush us &, instead, made us feel welcome in every way.
We started our meal with some charcuterie, cheese, olives, & this surprisingly delicious quiche. I like quiche, but I never think that highly of it. This version was a total game changer. For our main course, we shared a huge bowl of spaghetti with shellfish. It had a slight spice & buttery sauce, with an incredible amount of fresh seafood. It was one of my favourite meals in Italy. I can’t recommend this spot enough. (After reading reviews, we lucked out in getting a table without a reservation. Look into booking ahead.)
We ended the day with another bottle of wine on our terrace. It was quickly becoming our favourite way to finish off the day.(How can you go wrong?)
I’ve been thinking about Cinque Terre since we left. I knew I loved France & that the cruise would be a great experience, but I wasn’t expecting to fall head over heels for Italy in the way that I did. I’ll recap our second, equally wonderful, day in Cinque Terre next time.