It’s definitely safe to say that Italy has my heart.
I wake up at 6 for my first full day in Cinque Terre, ready to hop on the train to Monterosso where my first adventure would start. About fifteen years ago, this area began a tourist destination. Before that, the now well trodden hiking trails with spectacular views was well trodden goat trails and the primary way people got around from village to village aside from the train.
In order to beat the heat and floods of people here to experience the culture of the Cinque Terre, my day started early.
Thanks to a tip from the locals, we discovered the different tiers of difficulty between the hiking trails. Monterosso to Vernazza was said to be the toughest and then it got easier from there as you went from Vernazza to Corniglia then Corniglia to Manarola and so on.
With only a general point in the right direction, my sister, her husband, and I took on the first stretch!
Monterosso al Mare is one of the larger villages geared toward tourists with countless outdoor vendors, shopping, and the sandy beaches along the Mediterranean. In the heat of the sun, the crisp salty water is absolutely refreshing! And if you forgot a towel or are looking for a massage or new dress, there are sellers combing the umbrellas eager to show you their goods. If you do choose to take a dip (much encouraged), then my recommendation is arrive early and pay for an umbrella. Usually an umbrella comes with two lounge chairs for twenty-five euros. Otherwise, you’re stuck in the hectic and overcrowded public space, believe me it’s worth it!
Afterwards, there is a fresh fried fish shop right in the entrance to the train depot where your order is made fresh within minutes! The calamari, fish, and vegetables was a perfect treat to end a few hours in the water.
During the two hour hike to Vernazza, we were stopped not by passersby, but by the breathtaking views around every turn! You can see for miles and there is no “bad” picture that can be taken! *Be sure to pack a large bottle of water, for even early in the day, you will be needing a refreshment before a sit-down meal in Vernazza.*
Of course once we walked down the cobbled stones into the watercolored scenery of Vernazza, we were greeted by streets full of life. Only a select few restaurants and cafés are open before noon, but once that golden hour passes, the food options are endless!
Right around that time, we sat down for piping hot and fresh out of the oven pizza, focaccia bread, and other delicious Italian delicacies complimented by lemon soda and frizzante. The pizzeria had opened mere moments prior so each dish had a freshness that is envied by many. Strolling the streets, we also passed bars, sandwich shops, and a gelataria or two. There is a shop for every taste in Italy.
The next night was a local festival we were invited to in celebration of Santa Margàitta in the bay of Vernazza. Around 11 was a fireworks show that rivaled that of Paris on Bastille Day! The streets were packed with people of all ages and the college aged crowd stayed around for the outdoor party that began at midnight. It was definitely a night of wonder and appreciation, for it isn’t everyday that you happen across a festival of this capacity. In the future, if I plan a trip to Italy (extremely likely) I’ll be stopping by Vernazza on July 20th.