The Culinary Trip of a Lifetime – Part 2 (Cinque Terre)


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.

Spaghetti with mussels and clams, at a restaurant in the Vernazza castle overlooking the sunset

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

Walnut Pesto at Trattoria Sandro (on the main drag in Vernazza)

I like it, I would rarely order it in a restaurant. But, when in Rome (so to speak)…, 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:

Angelo's boat, ready for our cruise - he had already poured us glasses of prosecco as we waited at the bench on the dock

Our amazing antipasti - pesto, focaccia, salumi, cheese, etc.

One of the villages, perched on the cliffs

Fresh swordfish and shrimp grilling on the boat at sunset

Our shrimp and swordfish on the boat

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.

Breakfast at Il Pirata - most like dessert!

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.

Focaccia and a Peroni

The local SciachetrĂ  wine - yes, that is really how small the glass is!

Traditional pesto

Caprese salad

Fried seafood of the day

Pesto ravioli

Gelato with a pizzelle on top

Cinque Terre wine - each village bottles its own

When I saw this dessert in a glass case, I told Rob I wanted it before we sat down to dinner. It was amazing!


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8 Responses to “The Culinary Trip of a Lifetime – Part 2 (Cinque Terre)”

  1. Holly Hon Says:

    Hi, Your trip looks amazing. Was this a guided tour or a self exploration?

    If I would like to have a similar experience who have never been to that part of the country, do you think I will need a guide or can I do it myself if I would like a similar type of culinary experience?

    Thank you.


    • foodforthoughtblog Says:

      Hi Holly! We didn’t do anything guided, but I used TripAdvisor, Rick Steves and friends’ recommendations to plan our own trip. We used a couple private guides for day trips (Chianti wine region and Brunello wine region) which was well worth the cost. Otherwise we took trains and rented a car. I am happy to give you our itinerary if you find it helpful, just let me know you email and I will send to you! Happy to answer any specific questions you have on Italy!

  2. Mary Byrski Says:

    Holly – planning a trip this summer to Northern Italy. Would love your itinerary. Sounds like you had such a good time.


    • foodforthoughtblog Says:

      Mary – of course! What kind of detail is helpful? (don’t want to overwhelm you but definitely want to give you what you need). Cities, hotels, memorable restaurants, attractions, etc. Let me know!
      Best, Sarah

  3. pittiefullove Says:

    Just stumbled upon your blog…when I was googling food tours in como… My husband and I are basically doing the exact same trip in sept (adding in Florence)… how crazy!? If you have any specific restaurant rec’s in Venice, Como or Cinque, please let me know! (we are staying in vernazza in Cinque, and Varenna in Como–nuts I know!).
    I’m most overwhelmed about Venice-since i’ve never been and it overwhelms me a bit!

    • foodforthoughtblog Says:

      Wow, that is so crazy we had almost the same itinerary! We loved Vernazza and we ate at various places and I honestly dont remember the names. They were all so amazing! You should have pesto and seafood as it is super fresh and the local specialty. In Venice I wouldnt say we had a memorable meal, but in Como we went to a cooking class from Varena (they took you to a small village about 10 minutes away) and the chef was Moreno. It was AMAZING – most memorable meal of the trip by far. It takes a leisurely 4 hours or so, but you have an amazing meal and learn so much! You can learn more here:

      I hope this helps! Let me know how your trip is! I am sure it will be amazing! Also, Venice might seem overwhelming, but I didn’t think it was too much, especially at night. The tour buses leave and it is quiet and romantic. If you get lost, someone will always point you in the right direction and it isnt too big an area so you truly can’t go too far! I recommend having a drink in the square at night – with the wine and string quartets and lights, it is just the most romantic place in the world! I hope you have an amazing time!

  4. Brenda Says:

    Your post is great! We are honeymooning in Europe in a couple weeks and spending 4 nights in Cinque Terre (Monterosso). We will definitely take your culinary recommendations into consideration! Are you able to walk between all the villages? Would you recommend we do a village per day?
    Any additional info you have would be welcomed!

    • foodforthoughtblog Says:

      Hi Brenda! Yes there is a trail between all 5 villages. When we were there, the trail from Vernazza and Monterosso was closed due to rain, but we took the train to the last village, then hiked back to our village of Vernazza. We stopped in each village and had some food, gelato, or just wandered around. I am not sure you need a full day per village, but staying in Monterosso, you can do the full hike in one day or break it up into two. The train system in between village is super easy and cheap so if you dont want to keep hiking, you can always take the train home! I hope this helps! It is such a beautiful area – you will have an amazing time! Have fun!

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