Every person who has ever been to Cinque Terre has said it is magical. I had no doubt it would be beautiful, but magical is such a strong word. But after 3nights in this breathtaking place, I knew exactly what everyone means. They mean you don’t want to leave – and you consider what your life would be like if you just never went home at all!
Different from Lake Como, Cinque Terre is on the Italian Riviera, so it has a more resort feel,with a Mediterranean backdrop. Cinque Terre means 5 lands, so you can experience all 5 villages, hanging from cliffs with pastel houses leaning on each other for support. We stayed in Vernazza, the only one with a natural harbor – but we experienced all 5 villages either by boat or by hiking.
The food history in the Cinque Terre region is amazing – and because of its regional specialties, I almost felt as if I were eating in a very different Italy.
Being on the sea, it is no surprise that seafood is their specialty…sardines, anchovies (a local favorite), octopus, clams and mussels to name a few. After many years of believing I was allergic to clams (and testing negative 2 days before my trip), I was thrilled I could try of one their well-known Cucina Tipica – spaghetti with clams and mussels. It was one of the most amazing dishes of the trip, and felt like the perfect food overlooking the sunset on the Mediterranean.
Another food that originates from the Cinque Terre area is pesto. They were the first to take basil, garlic, cheese, pinenuts and oil and use a mortar and pestle to create what we call pesto. I have never made much pesto – my husband never claimed to be a huge fan and although
I like it, I would rarely order it in a restaurant. But, when in Rome (so to speak)…..so, our first night we tried the pesto. And, appropriately, it was the best pesto I have ever had in my life. That night we had a green pesto, but then the next day we had a walnut pesto (another regional favorite) that was one of the best pasta dishes I have ever had. It is safe to say we had our fair share of pesto in Cinque Terre.
Another item we were told was a must have is focaccia – another dish that originated from this area. Our first night in Vernazza, we were looking for an aperitivo and a little snack before contemplating dinner, so we found a little place on the main street and had an amazing focaccia bread. We met a couple on their honeymoon and had an amazing time – we also all tried Sciachetra which is a local sweet wine. I am not big on sweet wines, but we had to try it while we were there (it came in the cutest little wine glass!).
But amidst the amazing seafood, unforgettable pesto and light, crisp white wine (perfect with their cuisine and a nice break from red) – perhaps the most amazing culinary experience in Cinque Terre was Angelo’s Boat Tours.
I had read about them on TripAvisor (no surprise to those who know me), and he offered small group (no more than 6 people) boat rides along all five villages. We opted for a sunset cruise where we were taken along all 5 villages – complete with salumi, pestos, focaccia and flowing prosecco. Then, we docked in Manarola (one of the villages) and he grilled a fresh swordfish he had just caught, along with amazing shrimp. The food was so fresh and delicious. And yes, the atmosphere sure played a role.
Below are a few photos from the amazing boat ride:
Another noteworthy culinary experience was less about the food and more about the atmosphere – it was this little cafe called Il Pirata up where the traffic is stopped and forbidden to come into Vernazza. Two Sicilian brothers own it and they are a hoot. We went every morning not just to talk with the hilarious owners, but also for a great breakfast.
Also worth mentioning is that we were in Cinque Terre just one week after their lemon festival. Needless to say lemons are plentiful and a point of passion for Ligurians. Because of the prominence of lemons, limoncello is also in abundance. We found out early on during our stay that people like to give away limoncello as a thank you – particularly with your bill. We got used to that polite gesture in a hurry!
Cinque Terre truly is a foodie’s paradise – as well as one of the most romantic places I have ever been. Below you will find more food photos from our stay along the Mediterranean.