Sunday, September 9, 2012

Five Times the Fun

When Jon was in high school, he came across an article in the travel section of The Seattle Times. He was intrigued by the Italian locale described, and as he clipped the article, vowed to one day visit.

Fast-forward to 2005. One of his good friends--who pretty much knows everything there is to know about food and wine--asked if Jon would like to accompany him on a trip to Italy (important side-note: said friend is Italian-American). Jon wisely jumped at the chance and his dream of visiting the Cinque Terre was realized.

The Cinque Terre consists of five coastal towns on the Italian Riviera. Due to the rugged landscape, buildings have been constructed very creatively and carefully into the hills.

The area is not very accessible by automobile, instead relying on boats, trains, and good old hiking boots for transportation. Despite this (and thanks to Rick Steves), the area is very popular for tourists. For good reason. Not only is it beautiful, it is also home to some amazing white wines and is the birthplace of both pesto and sciacchetrà dessert wine. We indulged extensively in all three.

Because I missed the 2005 trip (I was invited but instead went to Paris with a dear friend--totally a first-world problem), I knew that I wanted to visit someday. And someday was this summer.

Jon did an excellent job planning our time in Cinque Terre, both relying on his memories from last time and some additional research. We stayed in the town of Manarola, which is the second-most southern town. If for no other reason than because it was "our town," it quickly became our favorite.

After checking into our hotel, we walked around town (which took an entire five minutes) and climbed up into the vineyards a bit before heading to a sunset dinner. I am definitely a fan of the three-hour dinner tradition, and since the wine kept flowing, we ate pesto through sunset and well after dark. At which point taking a dip in the Mediterranean seemed like an excellent idea.

The next day, we settled into a comfortable routine of hiking, eating, hiking, drinking, hiking, swimming, eating, and drinking. What else do you really need?

We first walked the leisurely Via del' Amore to the southernmost town, Riomaggiore. After strolling through town, we caught a boat that took us past Manarola, past the center town Corniglia, and into Vernazza. We were, of course, famished by this time, so stopped for lunch before hiking for real.

Jon was so excited to see the Mediterranean again that he walked into the water, only to quickly realize that his rash decision led to soaked shoes that had no intention of drying. A true problem-solver, he remedied the situation by becoming "that guy" who hiked from Vernazza down to Corniglia barefoot.

I think he did it just as much for the reaction as anything else
Very thirsty after our hike, it was imperative that we find some wine. This was not a difficult task.

It was lovely to sit on a bench overlooking the Mediterranean, drinking wine from the bottle (we're classy people). Being too soon for dinner, we decided to go swimming, so we headed back to Manarola. When I say swimming, I really mean float around. While I can swim just fine, I was content to float in the bay watching people jump from one of the rocks jutting out of the sea.

By the time we rinsed all the salt off, it was time for dinner, so we caught a train to Monterosso (if you're keeping track, we visited all five towns in the first day) for a delicious dinner of risotto del mare. If you've known me long, you would be shocked to see all the fishy (double entendre) things I ate, and even more shocked to know I enjoyed them.

The following day was a much more serious hiking adventure. We once again began in Vernazza but this time headed north into Monterosso. I am so thankful that our luggage arrived with us (as opposed to last year's vacation) so I was well-equipped with my hiking boots and Italian-tourist-cliché floppy hat. The sun was hot and the climbs were at times steep, but with views like this, it was totally worth it.

Added bonus: stopping for pictures allowed us time to rest
Once we arrived in the next town, we stopped for some much-needed (and deserved) lunch. We needed to fuel up for an even more challenging hike in the afternoon. Thus far, we had hiked on the picturesque seaside trails. It was time to take it into the mountains.

I felt like I was either justifying or making amends for all of the delicious food and drink I had enjoyed by hiking up some pretty steep hills. As we hiked through the hillside vineyards, we got to meet close up some of what would become that amazing wine.

We finally returned to Manarola sweaty and tired, yet triumphant. We rewarded ourselves with yet another swim in the Mediterranean before dinner in Riomaggiore.

On our final day in the Cinque Terre, we skipped the hiking to take care of some travel business. We had one leg of the trip remaining, so we headed into the larger town of La Spezia to purchase tickets for Switzerland on the following day. After all of our errands were completed, we returned to Corniglia for lunch, which was pesto, of course.

We knew that we wanted to take some Cinque Terre wine home with us, so while in Corniglia, we went to do some wine tasting at an enoteca we had stopped at earlier in our stay. The proprietor was so kind as to not only describe what wines we were tasting in English, but she also wrote everything down so we would have a record to take home. It should come as no surprise that a bottle from her shop came home with us. In fact, we purchased two, one of which was the incredible dessert wine sciacchetrà that the region is known for.

We capped off our trip to the Cinque Terre with an amazing multi-course dinner event, reflecting on the lovely time we'd had. Several glasses of wine will have anyone waxing poetic. It truly is a beautiful place, and I'm glad that Jon not only fulfilled his dream of visiting the Cinque Terre but also fulfilled mine by returning.

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