Friends, fabulous food, views, hikes and swimming were the mainstays of our four days in Cinque Terre, the five hill towns on the Mediterranean, in north western Italy.

Piazza San Marconi, view from our window after early morning street wash

We stayed in Vernazza in a room that overlooked the main square, Piazza Marconi which was fed by the main street/walkway down from the train station.

Vernazza harbour, from the castle tower

 On two of the other sides of the piazza were 3 or four story buildings of many colours, stumbling and piling on top of each other up the hillsides. On the fourth side sat the little ocean harbour protected by a small causeway. The day we arrived the wind was still whipping up the end of a storm. Fishing boats were pulled up out of the harbour and filled the square.

Patio Umbrellas, Piazza San Marconi

They are bright colours, nice and sturdy, dory-like. Lovely that the square is filled with restaurant tables, patio umbrellas and fishing boats.

We had late lunch the first day here in Vernazza in a place close by our room, Ristorante Pizzeria Bar “Vulnetia”,  which hosted a wood-fired oven. We also ate there our last night and celebrated with a bottle of presecco and another round of pizzas.

But to start, we were meeting our friends Christine and Chantal in Vernazza to spend three days touring Cinque Terre together. After they arrived we all went out for a late dinner at Trattoria da Sandro and had an assortment of salads, calamari and some pesto and walnut pastas. Then gelato. A delicious start to our days in 5 Terre. We later determined that this gelaterie, Il Porticciolo, on the harbour, was the best in town with stand-outs like dark chocolate and fresh daily made fruit gelato, particularly the blueberry.

For our first day of exploring we hiked east to Corniglia, then after a short walk around town and late lunch, took the train back. Lunch included one large wood-fired salami pizza for the teenagers, insalate with tuna and the best pomodoro bruschetta for me, Cate had spinach pie and salad, and C&C had prosciutto and cheese sandwiches.  The train home cost about 1.60 then it was off for siestas.  For something a little adventurous, we decided to try a place up past the train station for dinner – a four minute walk.

At Ristorante Pirate we were hosted by the chef who set us up for dinner and then, after making his recommendations for our meal, turned us over to his brother. They were both characters who said they were from Sicily. Whether they were or not, their food was wonderful – walnut sauce on artichoke raviolis, lasagnes, pesto on homemade noodles and salads with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella. All topped off with pane cotta, canolli and hot chocolate so thick the spoon could stand up in it. We could all barely roll down the hill home after that meal.

At the beach, Levanto

For the middle of our three days we decided to venture out of the five hill towns, west to Levanto (on Lynn and Chuck’s recommendation). We were told that Levanto had a good market and the best beach around. The market was only on Wednesday but the beach was wonderful. We were blessed with a gorgeous, warm sunny day. While Chantal and Christine explored the town, the DTs ensconced in beach chairs rented from the casino, read books, ate focaccia, peaches and apples. We doddled home by train, a little dried up, salty, sandy and burnt. Fabuloso!

After a rest we were ready for another dining experience. This time we made a reservation in a restaurant that sits up in the cliff overlooking the Mediterranean harbour of Vernazza. Near to the top of the mountain and the castle, for which it was named La Castello. The restaurant was owned and run by a cast of characters who all seemed to be related. They had saved the six of us a table right on the cliff so we could watch the sunset while eating.  They were all very welcoming, and they ran the restaurant like a loud and welcoming kitchen, with a good dose of Italian humour. Again the food was fabulous – anchovies, done everyway – were on offer. I had the anchovies done in lemon and oil, followed by a large salad, others had pesto lasagne in a white sauce, ravioli in walnut sauce, and a house specialty, penne con pesto pomodoro. In addition we had large mixed salads, insalate del mari, and some octopus all followed by more delicious desserts – pear and chocolate tarte, strawberry ricotta cheese cake, and little chocolate cream puffs . OMG. Lucky we only had to wander down the hill and across the square to our rooms!

reminded us of hiking to Machu Picchu

On the final day we took the train east one stop where Hesquiat, Bow and I got out to hike to Manorola.  We met Cate, Christine and Chantal there and walked the final path, the Via dell Amore, together  to Riamaggiore.  To add to the kitsch was an accordion player in one of the tunnels playing “that’s amore” and other Dean Martin favourites. We decided we would start late so we could eat our big meal as a late lunch, and in Riamaggiore. More pasta – homemade chestnut pasta with pesto sauce, seafood marinara on spaghetti, vegetable torte, lamb stew and spaghetti with ragu, all accompanied by lovely fresh salads or roasted vegetables. This could not get any better!

We woddled to the train station and paid our 1.80 to ride home. It was still hot and sunny when we arrived in Vernazza so we rented kayaks and paddled out into the sea to check out the various yachts and fishing boats. Then we came back to swim in our harbour. It was filled with sun bathers on the little beach, the surrounding rocks and the breakwater. After a swim, others made their way upstairs to showers and naps while Christine and I sat on a bench in the sun and chatted until our rooms called to us as well. The final evening in Cinque Terre was celebrated with a bottle of prosecco and wood-fired pizzas from the restaurant just outside the door to our rooms – Napoli with anchovies (again), olive, marinara, proscuito and smoked salmon. We wandered up the little main street for a last chance shopping and the final round of gelato.

Oh my goodness, it was lucky there was some hiking to do in Cinque Terre. We could not have eaten so well. Our restaurant recommendations include Trattoria da Sandro, Ristorante Pirates, La Castello and Pizzeria  Vulnetia. Loved Vernazza, loved the harbour and our rooms looking out over the square. Deliciousness, but we must move onwards. The DTs caught the train this morning to Roma……. Leaving behind wonderful restauranteurs and chefs, the harbour, the views, the Mediterranean.  And also leaving our lovely travel companions Chantal and Christine who were off for more adventures of their own in Lucca, Assisi and Bari. Stay tuned for their guest blog with pics, to come later. Ciao.

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