For the past 18 months, I’ve been dreaming of Italy. Shortly after my breakup with B, I had an irrational brainwave (probably inspired by a Pinterest board) imploring me to roam the Bel Paese (or beautiful country, in Italian). I spelled out the dream holiday previously in this post – the trip would involve exploring Tuscany, grooving my way through Rome, and splashing in the sea on the Amalfi coast. At the time of my fantasy, I did not know Cinque Terre existed. If you did not know Cinque Terre existed, you are in for a delight. Cinque Terre means The Five Lands in Italian, and is comprised of five stunning seaside villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Hiking trails and trains scale the lush, hills of the Italian Riviera, connecting the villages. Boats also ferry between the villages, however a major part of Cinque Terre’s charm lies in the fact that the villages aren’t quite accessible by car. Olive and lemon trees speckle the hills, terraces run along the rugged, steep landscape, overlooking the sea, and seafood is plentiful in the local cuisine. Essentially, Cinque Terre is an Italian lover’s dream, and so when Amie made her semi-annual pilgrimage to Amsterdam, we booked an inception vacation (a vacation inside Amie’s vacation) to the stunning Italian Riviera, to visit none other than Cinque Terre.As most grand adventures do, our trip began on a plane. Well, let me back up there. Our trip started with a jarring 6am wakeup call, followed by a 7am taxi ride to Amsterdam Centraal, followed by a long ass train ride to Eindhoven Railway Station, followed by a bus ride to Eindhoven Airport, and finally, eight hours later, a plane ride to Pisa. However, a flight to Italy is fantastic for tired eyes. The recipe? Doze for the first hour of the flight, wake up, have a sparkling wine or ginger ale, and then gaze out the window at the Italian Alps. Mother Nature’s beauty is often awe inspiring from above, and Italy is no exception.
With eyes glued to the window, we slowly started out decent, carefully falling past the Alps and towards the Italian cost. From one minute to the next, the scenery changed from rocky and mountainous to coastal and turquoise. Moments later, we had landed safely on the ground (to my utter delight).
At the airport arrivals gate we booked tickets to Vernazza, the village in Cinque Terre where we would be staying. The voyage from the airport included a shuttle from the airport to Pisa Centrale, and then a train ride from Pisa Centrale to La Spezia, the gateway city to Cinque Terre.
Cruising along the sea towards Cinque Terre was magical. We whizzed through Tuscany, past tall mountains, crumbling villages, and vineyard after lush and stunning vineyard. When we pulled up to Vernazza, our Airbnb host promptly found us (he was kind enough to meet us at the station) and guided us through the colorful streets to our flat.Our flat was adorable – a cute studio apartment, nestled down a narrow, stone alleyway. The space was tastefully decorated and just big enough for two.
The only downside was the internet situation. And by that I mean, there was no internet. Or cell phone reception. No 3G or 4G or Facebook or Instagram. But that was OK. Because we had wine, books, and friendship, and hopefully a whole lot of adventures ahead. v v This is the view out of our kitchen window. Every morning when I swung open the shutters, I felt like a character from Beauty and the Beast. After a quick freshen up, we spent the remainder of the afternoon exploring Vernazza. Vernazza is the fourth town in Cinque Terre, if you’re headed north. There’s no car traffic in this little village, save for Tuesday mornings when a quaint market sets up in the center, and small trucks roll into town and swing open their doors, selling fresh bread, figs, clementines, and cheese to the locals.Vernazza is also the only village in Cinque Terre with a natural harbor, where boats float on buoys and pebbles line the cove. It’s a true fishing village of 600 people, astoundingly fortified more than 1,000 years ago.While Vernazza’s house of worship, the Santa Margherita di Antiochia (above) is not boastful or incalculably rich like many Italian churches, it does offer an oasis of calm and beauty in an otherwise bustling village. The square in front of the church features a beautiful river rock mosaic, where you can often spot locals relaxing and soaking up the sun (below).There are numerous restaurants along the harbor, marked by colorful umbrellas and white table linens.These establishments offer shade and fantastic harbor views for a late afternoon lunch with wine, or a three-course dinner under the stars.Smartly, we timed our Vernazza explorations so we could catch the sunset over the sea.
Many others had the same thought, gathering on the harbor’s stone steps and waterfront rocks to sip wine and absorb the sorbet sunset ahead.As an American gal from the East Coast, I rarely get to catch a sunset over the ocean (as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west). However, the sunsets in Cinque Terre were picture-perfect, with the golden sun slowly dipping below the sea, leaving a trail of plum fire in its wake.
Once the sun had dipped below the horizon, we walked back into town and made a reservation for dinner. Our Airbnb host had recommended dinner at Belforte, home to one of the most romantic dinner tables on earth. The views from Belforte were simply astounding.But somehow, the food was even more exquisite. We opted for a table inside, as the sun had set and the October evening was growing cold. However, several brave diners sat on the beautiful stone terrace outside, wrapped in blankets, seated under the stars. I failed to get a proper photo of the inside of Belforte (hello three glasses of wine) but the below picture, although blurry, should give you a good sense of the ambiance. Large stones lined the walls and wrapped up over the ceiling, as if we were dining in a glorified wine cellar or medieval castle. We were given basket after basket of warm Italian bread, served with fresh olive oil and thick balsamic vinegar. We both ordered starters – Amie went for a simple caprese salad with buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, olives and extra virgin oil, and I went for the cut of octopus with boiled potatoes, olives and tomatoes. The intention was to share my potatoes with Amie, as she’s not a seafood fan, however, the octopus was literally taking over my plate, leaving no potato untouched!This was by far the best octopus I have ever consumed. It was so tender and delicious, with a slightly smoky taste. Bathed in fresh olive oil and herbs and sat atop a mountain of delectable vegetables, I was unsure of how my second course could possible stack up to the first. But it did. Oh my god it did. For a main, I had the spaghetti with Monte Rosso anchovies. Anchovies are Cinque Terre’s equivalent of the Dutch bitterballen . . . but slightly more refined ;) Ideally served the day they’re caught, these beauties aren’t cured in salt or tinned for 12 years. They’re plated fresh, typically butterflied, grilled, marinated, or deep-fried, and are served with a variety of accompaniments, such as handmade pasta, olive oil, and pinenuts, as I sampled below!
Amie ordered another local delicacy – the trofie with pesto. Cinque Terre is the birthplace of pesto. To make pesto, basil (which thrives in this region), cheese (both parmigiano and pecorino), garlic, olive oil, and pinenuts are ground together and then poured spaghetti or trofie, both of which are specially designed for pesto to cling to. What is trofie? Trofie (as seen in Amie’s dish below) are small, thick twists of pasta, made with flour and potato. I’m determined to find trofie here in Amsterdam, otherwise I will be breaking out the pasta machine to re-create my own Belforte feast.
I could rave about Amie’s pesto for days. I suspect it had a small squeeze of lemon in it, making it rich, creamy, and flavorful all at the same time. It was to die for – by far the best pesto I have ever tasted. The wine was also pretty stellar, as we made a conscious effort to order local whenever possible. And so we consumed glass after glass of vino delle Cinque Terre, a local white wine ideally served with seafood.
After an amazing, filling, and colorful Italian dinner, we stumbled back to the flat, via Vernazza’s beautifully lit alleys and pathways. Goodnight little fella, see ya tomorrow!More Cinque Terre goodness to come!!