Saturday, September 8, 2012

"The Five Lands"---- Cinque Terre!

Wine upon arrival... Cin Cin!
The weekend after Plitvice Park in Croatia, we (Nate, Chris, and I) were on the road again, this time heading west.  Only a three and a half hour drive away, on the rugged west coast of Italy are five small towns that make up Cinque Terre (“the five lands”).  The five towns are connected only by trains, boats and walking paths… no cars.  We stayed in the northern most town of Monterosso del Mare, known mostly for it’s nice beaches in comparison to the other four towns which sit on cliffs overlooking the ocean.  Thanks to the recommendation of Rick Steves, we booked a room at an amazing agriturismo situated in the hillside above the town and beaches.  Within minutes of our arrival, Nate and I decided that we would be returning again in the near future.  Overlooking a grove of lemon trees, the agriturismo, has an amazing landscaped terrace where we were immediately poured a glass of wine (produced there at the agriturismo), and instructed to sit, relax, and enjoy the beautiful view.  Our luggage was brought down the steep, narrow, gravel road from our car and taken to our quaint room.   With only three rooms available for rent, the agriturismo is a quiet retreat just a short walk above town.  We sipped our wine and enjoyed the view then headed out to explore town and enjoy more drinks closer to the ocean.  What a beautiful place!  Not yet too crowded with the tourists that come in the summer months.  We watched the sunset over the water as we drank sangria, ate gelato, and enjoyed a seaside dinner.
Agriturismo Buranco
By the sea
In old town Monterosso
We rose early on day two and were treated to a delicious breakfast served on the terrace.  We got an early start with the intention of hiking all the trails linking the five towns.  Hiking from north to south, the trails get easier and shorter, so we were happy to knock out the hardest and longest trails first.  The hike from Monterosso to Vernazza (the next town) is steep, narrow, and mostly uphill, but the views from high on the cliffs are well worth the hike.  Mid way through, Vernazza starts to come into view, nestled in a cove right on the water.  Unfortunately, in October 2011 heavy rain followed by mudslides severely damaged Vernazza and took out several of the trails in the area.  As a result, most of the town was still recovering and under construction.  The next trail on our journey, linking Vernazza to Corniglia, was also severely damaged in the floods and consequently still closed, so we were forced to detour and take the train to our next stop. 

Hiking up, up, up
Overlooking Vernazza
Beautiful and colorful Vernazza

You would think taking the train to town would eliminate the grueling hike we otherwise would have encountered.  However, once we arrived at the station, we learned that the actual town of Corniglia sits up on the nearby cliffs and we would need to hike up the 382 steps to get there.  We made it, though on weary legs, and with hungry bellies.  We decided it was time for drinks and tapas.  Shortly after lunch we met up with some friends also in Cinque Terre for the weekend who were hiking South to North from Riomaggiore.   Once again, we took the advice of Rick Steves and sought out a highly recommended wine shop.  What was meant to be a brief wine tasting, quickly turned into an all-afternoon event, when the straight faced owner began to take a liking to Nate.  With his willingness to chug wine, Nate challenged the store-owner at guzzling from a unique oddly shaped wine decanter called a pirun.  Outfitted with a bib, Nate “lost” the challenge several times to the much more practiced shop owner who impressed us with the range from which he could accurately pour the wine into his mouth.  The rest of us watched in amusement and were served a delicious platter of antipasti, "on-the-house", as well as more wine.  Apparently, we, or should I say Nate, won, the otherwise serious, Italians over.    
Made it to the top- Corniglia

The Competition

The Pro


         Though the rest of us were not chugging wine, we were all drinking it  liberally and by the time we removed ourselves from the dim lit store, it took all we had to drag ourselves back to the train station for the return trip to Monterosso.  The other two towns of Cinque Terre would have to wait until a more sober next visit. 
         After faceplanting in our beds and taking long afternoon naps, we awoke to darkness and hungry bellies.  We set out to find a good dinner with the help once again of Rick Steves.  Success #3!  At his recommendation, we ate an amazing seaside dinner of seafood stew poured straight from an oven-fired urn.   It was quite the meal with a whole lobster and octopus starring back at us from our bowls.  We loved it! 

Seafood Stew

         Knowing we will return to Cinque Terre again, we did not attempt to see the other towns before leaving for home on Sunday.  A little sore from the previous day’s hike, we awoke, ate breakfast, and got on the windy road for home.  It was a great trip, with great friends, in a beautiful place!