Beppe picked us up at 8:30 this morning to take us to Cinque Terre.
I was really excited for today. Everyone said that I HAVE to see Cinque Terre because it’s absolutely gorgeous. Turns out that’s a huge understatement. (Hence the 8 million photos in this post.)
On the way to Cinque Terre, we passed a lot of hilltop towns. The towns were built this way as a defensive advantage. (If someone attacks, it’s much easier to flee downhill. “Run away! Run away!”)
The mountains in Tuscany and Liguria look like they’re capped with snow.
But that’s not snow. They’re actually marble quarries. The very quarries where Michelangelo got the marble to carve David. This is also where marble rye bread comes from.
On the way to Cinque Terre, we passed through a port city called La Spezia.
It looks more industrial than a lot of the cities we’ve seen. It’s right on the water though, so I obviously liked it. It’s a lot like Baltimore, except that there’s mountains and everyone’s Italian and there aren’t any skyscrapers and it’s on another continent.
To get to Cinque Terre, you cross over the mountains from La Spezia. As soon as you get to the other side, the view is stunning.
Cinque Terre (meaning “Five Earths”) is a string of five towns along the rocky coast of Liguria. It looks a little bit like the Big Sur in California. But the mountainside is terraced – a lush staircase of vineyards, leading down to the sea, and the villages of Cinque Terre.
We first stopped in Manarola (Meaning “Man Roll.”) (Okay, maybe I made that up.). We got some espresso. But then found out that the Giro D’Italia had followed us to Cinque Terre and the road connecting the towns was going to be closed. Damn Giro D’Italia. They always ruin everything. So we spent 20 more minutes in Manarola before heading off for Riomaggiore. Plenty of time for pictures:
(These guys said “you must be good photographers because you have good taste for taking our picture. Just don’t show it to our wives”)
Then it was off to Riomaggiore. Riomaggiore is amazing. The houses are built on the mountainside, leading all the way down to the sea. At a glance, it almost looks like they’re leaning on each other so they don’t tip over.
To get to the water, you go through a little tunnel. When you come out the other side, there’s blue as far as the eye can see. (Or, if both eyes are open, as far as the eyes can see.)
The beach in Riomaggiore is actually a rocky sort of pier thing, where people were enjoying picnics and sun tanning.
(In case I haven’t mentioned it, the girls in Italy are SUCH an eyesore.)
After visiting the beach, we headed back up for lunch. Beppe made us a reservation at La Lanterna, an outdoor restaurant overlooking the water. It may have been the best meal I’ve ever had.
Cinque Terre is known for its seafood. So we left the order up to our waiter, knowing that he could do no wrong.
He certainly knew how to make an entrance.
He rolled a cart to our table and proceeded to lay out a tasting of 8 different seafood antipasti.
I’m honestly not sure what they all were, but they were amazing. I’ll make a poor attempt to identify them:
Sardines, butterflied and served with lemon, olive oil and parsley.
Tomatoes topped with sliced bay scallops, parsley, maybe chives and olive oil.
Butterflied anchovies with olive oil, parsley and capers.
This one I really don’t know. It was some sort of smoky seafood carpaccio. If I had to guess, I’d say it was salmon or tuna, but I’m really not sure.
No clue. It was a small, darker fish filet topped with diced Roma tomato, parsley and olive oil. If we were in the US, I’d guess bluefish. But I don’t know if they have bluefish here.
Again, I really don’t know what kind of fish this was. It’s a white fish, (Let’s call it “Fred”) pickled with a kind of sweet and sour thing going on. It was tossed with carrots, celery and onion and served chilled.
Swordfish carpaccio. I think.
This one was a fried crab claw. It was sooooo good. I could eat a whole bushel of these.
The main course was a huge roasted sea bass with rosemary, olive oil and lemon, and a side of roasted potatoes.
Our waiter filleted the fish and we split it between the three of us. It was perfect. I’ve never had a more succulent fish.
Dessert was a basil-scented panna cotta, dusted with confectioner’s sugar.
It was really different. The basil gave it a really fresh, clean taste.
After dessert, the waiter brought out a bottle of a special digestif liqueur that they make in-house and gave us each a taste. Beppe said that it’s made with roses. It was definitely an interesting. Though kind of hard to describe because the alcohol burned off my taste buds.
After lunch, we took a short walk along the mountainside trail that joins Riomaggiore with Manarola, called Via Dell’Amore or “Lover’s Walk.” (I told Beppe not to get any ideas.) The view from the path is amazing.
Here are some other random pictures from Riomaggiore:
Afterwards, Beppe took us for a quick visit to Forte dei Marmi, a beach in Tuscany, so we could see how different the beaches are just a short drive to the south.
It’s pretty amazing actually. The beaches there are sand, and the landscape totally flat with the mountains off in the distance.
Forte dei Marmi reminded me a lot of Santa Monica. Very very wealthy with lots of expensive shops. Although there were far fewer boob jobs.
We stopped at a pizzaria where Beppe bought us a bag of these bread things.
I can’t remember what their name is, but I think he said the name means “punched down” or something like that. They’re kind of like silver dollar pizza crusts. Still warm, sprinkled with coarse sea salt and really, really tasty.
After a fantastic day at the beach, we hit the road to head back to Florence.
(These are the remains of an old Roman Aqueduct that we passed along the highway. It was built around the time when Romans built aqueducts along the highway.)
Back in Florence, we made a bold decision and decided to go to dinner. We ate at Osteria di Academie, around the corner from our hotel and on the piazza by Michelangelo’s Academie. Hence the name. (“Osteria di Around-the-Corner-From-Our-Hotel” would have been a stupid name.)
Antipasti was fava beans with pecorino cheese and a pear.
It was sooooo good. The textures and flavors complimented each other really well.
I also had a tortellini con funghi.
Also terrific. The homemade pasta was delicate, and the dish had a really strong mushroom taste. Not sure how they got the flavor that strong. They might have used mushrooms, or the soaking water from the dried mushrooms in the pasta dough.
And of course, since it was my Dad’s last night, we had to get gelato.
Mint chocolate chip and Panna Cotta (one of the best flavors of the trip so far).