After Pisa, my friends and I headed to Cinque Terre in Northern Italy. It is hands down one of the most beautiful places I have ever been in my life. Parts of it reminded me of Arizona-think cacti!-and other parts of Hawaii. Our first glimpse of the beautiful blue/aquamarine water was on the train through the mountains from La Spezia to Riomaggiore-the first of the 5 towns. My friends and I literally gasped-frightening the passengers nearby. When we got to Riomaggiore a few minutes later, the view was spectacular. We were in a cove that had cliffside homes on one side and an undeveloped mountain on the other. We went to our hostel which was awful. I won’t bore you with the entire story, but do NOT stay at Cinque Terre Holidays. It shows up on Hostelworld, but it is a pit and the owner yelled and cussed out me and my friends. I understand that we were canceling last minute (upon finding a nicer and cheaper apartment), but that is no reason to lose it and yell at customers. He basically held my friend’s passport hostage until we paid for the first night. It was awful. So moral of the story: don’t stay there, I have the name of a great place to rent from instead that is in a perfect location and is in wonderful shape. Despite the mishaps of the first night, I’m glad that we switched because it was much more relaxing to come back to a spacious apartment with a balcony at night then a cramped place. Do your research and find apartments to rent, they are really worth it and can be cheaper.

The first day we hiked from Riomaggiore to Vernazza, the fourth town. We walked the coastal foothpath which began as Via dell’Amore, a paved path along the coast to an uphill hike on gravel and rocks. It was absolutely rewarding and every turn in the path provided a new and spectacular view of the area. The beaches are rocky and people tend to lie out on the rocky bottoms of the mountains poking into the ocean. Some beaches have slabs of concrete to get into the water-which are most likely used to launch boats as well, or did at some point in time. We went to the beach just before Corniglia, the 3rd town, which is partly topless/nude. At first it was a little strange, I’d never been to a nude beach before, but it really didn’t bother me at all. There were people in all states of dress just laying out and soaking up the sun. The water’s current was really strong! I went in and kept getting pulled back, so needless to say after a few waves hit me, I went back to sitting on the beach, with just my feet in the water as it hit the shore. The water was almost clear at some points and the rocks lining the bottom were easily visible. It was amazing to see the giant rocks from above (on the trail) because they looked like pebbles, although we knew that they were giant.

Each town had it’s own character and charm. Riomaggiore and Monarola were small towns built on the side of a hill, with the main area on the bottom and a long, steep street up. Monarola seemed to have more of a boating community, with small boats lining the street to the sea. Corniglia was on the top of a hill. You have to climb 382 steps to reach the town which was the sleepiest of them all. Vernazza is a fishing community at sea level. There were hills along the outskirts of town but it was mainly on the water. Monterosso, the 5th town, which I went to on Sunday by train, was the largest and was a beach town. I think my favorite was Vernazza but I also enjoyed Monterosso and Riomaggiore. The hike from Vernazza to Monterosso is supposed to be the most difficult and longest (time-wise) section of the coastal path. We just missed our train to Vernazza (where we planned on starting)-Trenitalia was actually on time!-so my roommates and I decided to just go to Monterosso and hang out so that we wouldn’t rush through the hike and be exhausted. Our two friends did hike it-they are also much faster than us-and really enjoyed it. It’s just another reason that I’ll have to get back to Cinque Terre one day.

The food was pretty amazing there. Pesto is the speciality of Liguria-the Italian region that Cinque Terre is in-so needless to say we ate a lot of pesto. At dinner I had Pesto Lasagne-the basil was incredibly fresh and flavored to perfection. It’s lightness made the thick lasagna noodles taste divine. The pesto was a little creamy with hints of olive oil and other spices. We also shared a grilled fish plate-we couldn’t eat dinner in a fisherman’s town and not get seafood-that had a whole fish, some crawfish (I think) and shrimp. It was all delicious. The only seasoning that I could taste was some olive oil, maybe some butter. It was just a simple grilled fish that really let the natural flavors come to the foreground and shine. It was all white fish and was not too heavy. The crawfish (for lack of knowing what it truly was called) reminded me of crab in a way, and I wish that I had those crab/lobster utensils to eat it! It was probably one of the best dishes I’ve ever eaten. For dessert I got an amaretto cream layered with white cake. The amaretto’s almond flavor combined with the whipped cream made the dessert light and refreshing. My roommate got a lemon swirled cake of some sort which was absolutely delicious. Lemons are grown locally, so the flavors were bursting out of the cream, since the produce was just picked. I drank white wine, another speciality of the area, which was probably the best white wine I’ve ever had. It was a little sweet, but nothing like a dessert wine, and went down so smoothly. It was the perfect drink with the fish as it was not too heavy or overpowering.

All in all, Cinque Terre was amazing. I’d recommend it to anyone in Italy. I would have loved to stay one more night there and complete the hike, as well as explore the trails that were more inland, and sit on the beach under a bright umbrella in Monterosso. Here are some of my favorite pictures from the trip: