After a couple of days in hot hot Venice, we needed some water…and in Northern Italy, there’s no better place than the Cinque Terre in Liguria.
Probably one of the most instagram-able places ever, the Cinque Terre is a beautiful stretch of coastline just past La Spezia, on the way to the south of France. It hosts five different towns (literally ‘Five Lands’), all of them with their own pros and cons. We tried to get accomodation in Riomaggiore, the most popular of the five, but when we couldn’t find anything, we holed up in a BnB in Corniglia a couple of train stops away. This turned out to be a blessing – when we visited Riomaggiore for half a day, it was absolutely swimming with enormous tour groups as ferry upon ferry of tourists arrived at the beach for a day of photographs and swimming.
It’s definitely beautiful, and grabbing a cheeky paper cone full of crispy fried calamari, cod and anchovies from Tutti Frutti was the highlight. The beach is unfortunately brought down by the sheer amount of people, and the super rocky ground that makes it really difficult to get into the ocean. Once you’re in though, it’s amazing.
So, we spent our time in Corniglia. If you’re heading there, the first tip: Be prepared for stairs.
There is a 2 Euro shuttle bus from the station to the top of the hill…definitely worth it if you have luggage or don’t fancy walking up 400 steps.
Up the top, the town is beautiful; tight alleyways full of mismatched houses, gelato shops, delis and small bars with terraces overlooking the vineyards and ocean. This is view that has to be seen to be believed. We lucked out with an amazing balcony, way up the mountain.
Our 4 days here are filled up with 3 things – swimming, eating and stairs. So. Many. Stairs.
About 700m down the hill from us is the most amazing marina – concrete steps and rocks leading into crystal clear, bluer-than-blue water. It’s salty, it’s fresh and, again, it’s unbelievably clear. The rocks below you feel like they’re a couple of metres down, but most of the time you can’t even reach them by diving down as deep as you can.
The food in Liguria is based around 2 things: The sea and the mountain. The hills are covered in vines, olive groves and gardens growing the most amazing, naturally shaped, enormous seasonal vegetables. Olives and capers are famous here, and they preserve them better than anyone. Whether it’s simply packed in salt, brined in vinegar or marinated in oil, herbs and chilli. Every vegetable I bought from the markets was irregular in shape and size, plucked fresh from the dirt. No supermarkets out here.
The other prized product of this region is the anchovies. Miles away from the stinky brown mush we get back home, these little fish are meaty, delicate, lightly marinated in salt, oil and vinegar and an absolute pleasure to eat, whether by themselves or on top of a lightly grilled bruschetta with fresh local tomatoes.
We had a kitchen in our apartment so I opted to cook a couple of meals. Firstly, a simple but amazing dish or pasta pomodoro (tomato, garlic and basil) with a crazy local pasta called croxetti – coin sized discs individually stamped with beautiful designs.
Next I threw together my version of a Ligurian salad…potato, tomato, zucchinis from the lady across the road, with those amazing local white anchovies, capers and olives. The lady at the market said it was completely wrong and NOT local (every village has it’s own opinion around here) but for me, it’s delicious, it’s simple and it makes the best of what the town has to offer.
We see out our time in Corniglia dining in a mountaintop restaurant with amazing views but disappointing food – this is bound to happen every now and then as a tourist, but a crispy glass of local Garganega wine and a sunset over the ocean makes it all okay.