Friday, October 21, 2011

Vernazza to Monterosso and back

(We're in Siena now, at the time of posting, and the hotel has wifi, but it's *extremely* sluggish. So while I'll do my best to get up to date with the Cinque Terre posts and accompanying photos, it's not going to happen right away. Oh - and I added a few photos of Genova, so please refer back to that post if you're interested).

Today was our first full day spent in the Cinque Terre, and the weather was awesomely perfect. After 8:00 AM coffee, orange juice (freshly squeezed - not the usual syrupy Tang style so prevalent in Europe!), and pastries from Il Pirata, we set out for Monterosso via the gloriously picturesque trail.

 In my opinon, the hike between Vernazza and Monterosso is the most beautiful of all the Cinque Terre paths, filled, as it is, with precariously narrow, winding, and sharply steep trails, that offer dramatic views of the villages, the brilliantly teal Ligurian sea, and the steeply terraced vineyards that litter the hillsides. It’s also the most physically strenuous path. For those who haven’t experienced it yet, you ascend a steep trail that takes you out of Vernazza, half of which consists of rough steps made from weathered, jagged stones wedged into the ground. The path snakes its way through the hills, with lush foliage all around, punctuated by dramatic views of the sea. At about the halfway point, you see a picnic table with a bunch of cats lounging around. These cats apparently live here, and locals come by to feed them. This morning they were very loud and chatty, as they apparently hadn’t been fed yet. When you get to Monterosso, the path gives you these majestic views into the crystal clear sea below. The whole hike takes about 90 minutes if you go at a more leisurely pace and take in the scenery.

 Leaving early in the morning had the benefit of there being fewer people on the trail. Most people we saw were coming from the opposite direction, from Monterosso. Before you get to Monterosso, you descend a steep and seemingly endless series of stone steps. Looking down at them can almost give you vertigo. When you’re going down them, the thought of trekking back up is painful, and actually seeing the faces of all the people making their way up the steps doesn’t change that. Then, when you get down towards the sea as the descent takes you closer to Monterosso, you can’t help but be struck by how amazingly clear and vibrantly teal the water is.

We strolled through Monterosso (both the old section and the new), had more coffee, found some good and cheap focaccia slices (one pesto/tomato, one funghi/sausage) for lunch, scoffed at how expensive everything seems to be there, and feeling re-energized, we hiked back to Vernazza.

Monterosso is, in my opinion, the least visually striking of the five villages. It’s mostly flat, it’s the only village with a real beach, and it doesn’t have the dramatic and precarious natural setting that the other villages have – ie, it doesn’t spill over into a steep, seaside ravine. Sure, it’s got a cool byzantine-striped church and lots of quaint, old apartment buildings, but it just doesn’t have the kind of breathtaking quality the other villages give off in spades. It feels more like kind of a posh riviera town.

Tackling the gazillion steps toward the beginning of the hike back to Vernazza was not nearly as bad as we thought it would be. In fact, we breezed right up, and had an awesome hike back. It almost felt easier than the ascent out of Vernazza.

Once back to Vernazza, we rewarded (well…) ourselves with some mediocre gelato from Gelateria Stalin (it had tiny ice-chunks – a cardinal sin! The gelateria closer to the harbor is definitely better), washed some clothes in the sink (our balcony has clotheslines and pins), and used Il Pirata’s WiFi to get back in touch with the real world.

For dinner, we had some pretty good pasta (spaghetti with shellfish and trofie with pesto) and a lousy baked anchovy dish at Trattoria il Capitano. The pastas weren't mind-blowing, but they were good, while the anchovies were made mushy and unappetizing by the acidity of the tomatoes that they were baked with. Tomorrow we have reservations at Cantina de Mananan in Corniglia, where I feasted on some of our cousins from the sea back in 2007.

Oh, and while the weather was beautiful, sunny, and warm today, as soon as the sun went down, the temperature dropped rapidly. I went from basking in the sun in a t-shirt, to needing to put on three layers of shirts, a sweater, and a jacket in a matter of minutes!

Tomorrow, we hike to Corniglia and Manarola. 

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