First, the logistics. I am a convert to Airbnb ever since my parents and I went to Cannes this summer. I was surprised, dazzled even, how much more affordable travel can be when you rent your dwelling and forego the hotel. We stayed in a chic 3-bedroom house in a lively area right off Boulevard de la Croisette. The home was impeccably clean, well-designed and luxurious. All for the price of a single standard room in a “nice” local hotel. I was smitten and ready to commit to a longterm Airbnb relationship! It is no wonder that I did not think twice to chose Airbnb for my Italian vacation as well. The trip began in Rome.
I flew into Rome since the flights were significantly cheaper and also because I wanted to go to Cinque Terre by train for added adventure points. I’ve heard that Italy is best explored by train and now was a perfect opportunity to test it out. Cinque Terre villages are carved into the mountainous ridge so driving is best avoided since the roads are tough to navigate and parking lacking. In Rome, I stayed in an ornate studio with palatial ceilings. The neighborhood of Campo de Fiori had all the hustle and bustle of historic Rome without the overwhelming amount of tourists. Pleasantly I heard mostly Italian and could not be happier. I spent most of the day walking around and my greatest discovery was Roscioli, a family-owned restaurant group including a cafe, deli/restaurant and pizzeria. Right around the corner from where I lived, I stumbled onto Roscioli Caffe and peeked in hoping to find delicious coffee to perk me up early in the morning. I have to say that having breakfast at Roscioli is a true Roman experience and not for the faint of heart! Pastries, mini sandwiches and coffee are to be indulged in at the counter right where the line for the above-mentioned forms. You have to elbow your way in as people cut line left and right and act bold, quick and loud! It is intimidating for first timers but so worth it! Here is just a glance at their pastry counter and cappuccino. Delicious!
Encouraged by their impeccable coffee and dessert presentation, I booked the table for Salumeria Roscioli, the restaurant famous for its cacio e pepe, a must in Rome. Cacio e pepe turned out to be a disappointment but the beef tartar and wine selection as well as tiramisu were to die for! The night ended with a walk across the river to Trastevere, a trendy neighborhood full of lively restaurants and bars. With only one day in Rome, I barely scratched the surface but such was the fate of my glorious transfer city. The views of Rome from the Villa Borghese Gardens are forever in my heart:
Early in the morning, the Uber whisked me away to Termini station and I bordered the train to Monterosso, the town in Cinque Terre where I was to meet a couple of friends and spend the next two days. Despite many Trip Advisor warnings of schemers at the train station who pretend to help you and then demand money, my experience was nothing but pleasant. I did not buy tickets in advance and instead used the Trenitalia machine at the station to make a purchase with a credit card. The machine had directions in English language and took US credit cards. No trouble there and no shady characters approached me either. The ticket did not mention the name of the platform but many screens with train numbers and associated destinations were available to find the necessary one. The train came on time and I was off to Cinque Terre. The ride was lovely and only took four hours. When it comes to Europe I am a train convert now!
Monterosso al Mare, a charming beach village and the fifth of Cinque Terre, welcomed me with sunny weather. After being super cold in Rome, it was a welcome change as I pushed my luggage uphill to the B&B. I have most definitely overpacked and my bag rolled heavily on the cobblestone streets. One word of advice: research the town in Cinque Terre you are going to make your home base. I lucked out with only a short walk and no steep climbs to the house. As I have learned later, things could have been far worse in Corniglia with 33 flights of stairs climbing up from the train station! Research is key for I would have most certainly collapsed from exhaustion!
After settling into my room at Il Giardino Incantato, it was time to explore the sights before it was too dark. Monterosso is the westernmost of the Cinque Terre and is divided into the old town and the new town, connected by a small tunnel open to pedestrians and a few cars that run in town. Old town is a scenic patch of land, rich in small restaurants, cafes and family-owned shops. The beach, the only extensive sand patch in the Cinque Terre, runs on the coast line. In October the beach was abandoned but is known to be mobbed by tourists in the summer time. Monterosso is truly a magical town filled with color and character exclusive to old fishing towns. The old Torre Aurora, or Dawn Tower, provides breathtaking views:
After a brief walk around, I got a call from my friends, who arrived a few hours later, and it was time to go to dinner. Cinque Terre consists of five small villages, or towns, that are connected by a small railroad. The towns are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. There are two ways of getting around – take a short train ride of 5-10 mins in between each village or pursue a scenic hike looping around the mountainous ridge. We had a hike planned for the next day and, since it was getting dark, off to Da Eraldo we went. Da Eraldo, a small family owned restaurant was the best food of my entire trip. It was so good that I begged and stomped my feet to return there the next night. The food was delicious and abundant and the staff, for having us wait an extra 15 minutes, has treated us to free house wine and limoncello. I love limoncello!
Upon awaking I had breakfast at our host’s enchanting garden and, let me tell you, it was amazing! The hosts Fausto and Mariapia take pride in their garden of lemon trees and colorful blossoms. Each evening they treat their guests with a homemade limoncello and each morning provide a full breakfast of omelettes and fresh baked pastries. Everything I tasted was delicious and set a happy mood for the rest of the day.
Armed with comfortable shoes I walked down narrow alleys in full bloom. Every corner exuded cozy charm and it was easy to see why Cinque Terre is one of the most sought-after honeymoon destinations. It literally radiates romance!
Here is a photo of our hike from Monterosso to Vernazza. It was quite an adventure as it started raining mid-hike and we have underestimated the time we would need to walk to Vernazza by a good hour!
As we arrived to the beautiful town, covered in mud and swearing off hiking for the rest of the trip, Cinque Terre’s reputation for the mind blowing beauty finally made perfect sense. If Pinterest and Instagram had a baby, it would look like this:
And what better way to celebrate than a cold Italian beer and a delicious bruschetta on the beach. And I am not even a beer drinker!
Monterosso and Vernazza are the towns with the most attractions. There are cafes, restaurants, shops. The three other towns are smaller in scale and charming but I do play favorites. I prefer old town charm to pure raw scenic beauty – no question about it! We took the train for the rest of the way, climbing the 382 steps to Corniglia and finding not much to report. Manarola we skipped altogether and moved on to the last stop – Riomaggiore.
Riomaggiore is also a small village but what it lacked in size it compensated in charm! It is where the famous Via dell’ Amore hike begins and connects with the neighboring Manarola. In retrospect, we should have done this hike instead of one connecting Monterosso to Vernazza. You can read about the history of Via Dell’Amore here.
Insisting on continuing the food crawl through the villages, I indulged in local ‘fast food’ from Tutti Fritti. Literally translated as ‘all fried’, Tutti Fritti is a seafood lover’s dream featuring the local catch of the day (squid, octopus, shrimp and fish) fried in light batter. I had to try it since it was so adorable in its little cone!
As the day sadly came to an end, it was time to go back and pack. Florence was calling my name! And so was my last dinner at Da Eraldo.
Roscioli Caffe Piazza Benedetto Cairoli, 16, 00186 Roma, Italia +39 06 8916 5330 http://www.rosciolicaffe.com/
Salumeria Roscioli Via dei Giubbonari, 21/22, 00186 Roma, Italia +39 06 687 5287 http://www.salumeriaroscioli.com/
Da Eraldo Piazza Agostino Poggi, 19016 Monterosso al Mare, Italia +39 366 3388440
Tutti Fritti Via Colombo, 161, 19017 Riomaggiore SP, Italia +39 0187 760010