The second portion of our Italian adventure takes place on the rolling sea-side hill towns of the Cinque Terre. After getting stuck in a 3×4′ elevator for 10 minutes at our Milan hotel, we quickly made our way to the tram that took us to the metro that took us to the train station that took us to Manarola, Cinque Terre. One steep, windy hill and we made it to the lovely Casa Capellini. Our host, Gianni, came to the balcony when we rang the bell and proceeded to guide us up three flights of narrow stairs. She and her husband live on the second floor of this fabulous accommodation that offers, I think, the best view in the town. Our beautiful bright room had a lovely balcony that sat high above the town offering a perfect combination view of vineyard, Ligurian Sea and colorful stacked houses.
After we settled in we made our way to a path that wanders through the rolling vineyards. The land is divided into plots which are owned by the residents of the town and on which grow a variety of grapes and other Mediterranean fruits. Aptly named, the “Vineyard Walk” offers some of the best views of the town and sea. At it’s highest point you can see the train station of Corniglia, Manarola’s neighboring northern town. The houses of Manarola are stacked like a box of bright crayons, their facades only changing in luminance as the sun moves throughout the day.
Manarola is one of the sleepier towns of the Cinque Terre and we loved it because of this. By day, tourists would flow in and out of the tunnel that lead to the train station, but by supper time only the residents and it’s overnight guests were left to soak up the magic of the sunset. By nightfall everything was silent, including the large bell tower that sat atop the hill and, right outside our window. At 7 o’clock, though, the bell would announce the day’s arrival and just like that, little car engines would start, laundry was pulled in from the balconies, old men would congregate at the local fish truck, and kids would ready themselves for school. I was reminded of the Busy Town of Richard Scary — the bustling by day of the towns citizens and, just like Busy Town, Manarola had need for only one of everything – a single grocer, one little post office, one church, one fish truck. By the second day we were already recognizing people about town and loved it.
And so, we would rise with bell toll and make our way down to da Aristide for a yummy cappuccino and the most melt-in-your-mouth chocolate pastry (I don’t know what it is about being abroad that makes Nutella a breakfast staple, but I’m totally okay with it).
Most of our meals in Manarola consisted of salami, ciabatta, fruit and “un etto” of some unknown delicious cheese. The local grocer would kindly lend his corkscrew so we could enjoy our meals and the sunset with some red wine.
The Cinque Terre is known for the hiking trails that connect the five towns, the most popular route being Trail 2 which stays near the coast. The portion that connects Manarola with Corniglia was closed, so we took Trail 6 which went UP AND OVER instead of gingerly along the sea. We had the first portion of the hike to ourselves (a sign that most people took the train instead), and meandered through vineyards, backyards, up hills, up stairs, up rocks, through olive groves until we reached the most magnificent views and our Busy Town of Manarola became a little dot down by the sea. We took a break in the quaint town of and then made our descent to sleepy Corniglia, the trail busy now with a variety of people. I’m not going to lie, you guys, I was a little negative Nancy when I realized that we had to rinse and repeat the incline/descent from Corniglia to Vernazza, but once we arrived and refueled with some gelato and white wine (in that order), it was totally worth it.
After our 5 hour/6 mile/incline/decline adventure, we enjoyed our first Italian restaurant. We sat, street-side near the window and dined on pasta and caprese while watching the daily tourists make their way from the sea to the train. Afterward, we had the sun and the sea all to ourselves as they slowly came together and we sat, wondering how in the world it could be that we were really there. That night we both awoke and stood on the balcony as the crescent moon hung directly over the point where town sloped to meet vineyards and the horizon line completed the upside down triangle. Not a sound, just the two of us and the stars and the moon and the little Ligurian Sea-side town that we didn’t want to leave.
The following day was spent sans-camera by the sea. Manarola’s boat ramp turns into prime beach front property as visitors recline all the way down the s-curved concrete entrance and onto the dark rocks that line the perimeter of the swimming hole. Our legs were grateful for the time off; we swam and watched giant men with killer handlebar mustaches dive-bomb into the refreshing water.
We love everything about you, Manarola.