Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Focaccia is my new favorite food.

Do you like...
  hiking  ✔
  pasta  ✔
  wine  ✔
  the sea  ✔
  gelato  ✔
  charming villages  ✔
  friendly people  ✔

Then, search no further for your next vacation spot...Cinque Terre is your heaven.  David and I took advantage of the extra, extra long weekend over Easter in Denmark and spent a few days saying "Scusi, non parlo italiano" and stuffing ourselves with focaccia as we hiked through Cinque Terre National Park.

The name means "Five Lands" and comes from the five small villages sitting along the coast of the Mediterranean.  The villages are surrounded by the national park, and there's no cars allowed through the small streets (like they would fit, anyway).

Stepping off the bus into Portovenere

We started at the southern end of the Cinque Terre region
Hiking around Isola Palmaria just off the
coast of Portovenere
in Portovenere with its tall colorful houses built close together to help fend off pirate attacks back when...well...back whenever pirates still attacked these villages.  The village isn't technically one of the "official" five lands, but it oozed plenty of charm (and Italian food) nonetheless.  We met Giuseppe and Donatella who made us feel so welcome at their restaurant/guesthouse despite them not speaking much English and our lousy attempts at speaking a (very) limited vocabulary of Italian.  We knew Giuseppe was a good chef when even I could say that I liked the seafood he cooked (in all honesty, I liked some but not really all of the seafood dishes, but I tried, ok?).

From Portovenere, the plan was to walked northwest along the coast and end up in Riomaggiore (the southernmost of the official Cinque Terre villages) for the night.  Well, we did end up in Riomaggiore for the night, but it was after about two hours hiking through a light drizzle, about 30 minutes hiking through some soaking rain, attempting to fuel ourselves with focaccia in Campiglia (the halfway point) but ultimately deciding to wimp out and take the bus/train the rest of the way, making puddles in the fancy restaurant that also was the only place in Campiglia to buy bus tickets, buying french fries from the McDonalds (I know, I know, don't judge) at the train station in an effort to get some warmth back in our bodies, and ultimately ending up in Riomaggiore as the clouds cleared and the sun returned (of course).

Looking back towards Portovenere and Isola Palmaria from
the trail...it's about to get wet
Starting the hike from Portovenere past the old
castle wall and towers

Waiting for the bus and trying to warm up

We found the trail into Riomaggiore that we
would have taken if we hadn't wimped out

Fortunately for us, the weather redeemed itself the next day as we made our way from Riomaggiore through Manorola, Corniglia, and Vernazza and ended up in Monterosso al Mare.  Cinque Terre knows how to do hiking: start in one village...hike a couple hours to the next village and eat some focaccia...hike to the next village and eat some gelato...keep hiking to the next village and break for some wine overlooking the water...then end your hike in the last village with a dinner of pesto and homemade limoncello.  As much as I enjoy PB&J while hiking, I think this way is my new favorite.  The trails wound through the villages and the vineyards that overlooked them, and I definitely got in my stairmaster workout for like...the entire year but all while enjoying breathtaking coastal scenery instead of looking at other sweaty people in the gym.

There was a lot of this...
...and then a lot of this

Most times, we go for a hike to get away from civilization, but here I think the villages only added to the loveliness of the place.  The tall, colorful houses, the narrow streets, the sense that the villages are about to tumble down into the water.  They served as very conveniently-spaced pitstops to fuel up on exactly the carb-loaded food I like.  Not to mention the generous, hospitable people who welcomed us into their hotels and guesthouses (and are lucky enough to live in this beautiful place).  Sign me up for that any day.

Finishing the last stretch before Monterosso
The only thing we managed to bring back to less-than-tropical Denmark from this lovely corner of the Mediterranean was a fresh lemon snagged from one of the ubiquitous fruit trees.  Well, the lemon and legs that ached for three days every time I tried to walk up or down stairs.

#5 of 5...The End!

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