Friday, November 18, 2016

Tuscan Road Trip Part 2

After leaving Florence, we travelled to Cinque Terre, via Lucca.  This delightful walled town has a charming circular piazza filled with shops, restaurants and houses.
sunset Levanto Beach
After a quick wander around the streets, coffee and a lovely lemon syrup cake we set off for our final destination. Cinque Terre, as its name suggests consists of 5 towns all perched on the western edge of the province of Liguria  overlooking the Mediterranean. This rugged section is reminiscent of the Cornish smuggling villages, where access is limited and the coast treacherous. This time we decided to stay in Levanto, not strictly in Cinque Terre but where the local train starts from and where walking tracks also commence. Access is much easier to Levanto and it is easier to get accommodation without booking - at least in October. In the height of the season I wouldn't recommend arriving without a reservation for accommodation anywhere along this region.
Levanto from the walking track to Monterosso
Fortuitously we managed to get accommodation in a little B&B called Marco's. Marco is a very friendly guy and was a mine of information, from the best places to eat and drink and the best towns to visit and which walking tracks to take. The local tourist bureau was also helpful and it was from here that we bought our two day cinque Terre pass. This allows you to use the train, buses and walking trails in the national park for no further charge. Invaluable when you have had enough of walking - you can just hop on the train without queueing up for a train ticket.
Our first morning in Levanto we were wandering along the foreshore contemplating tackling our first mountain walk when from around the corner of a building out popped Sue and Pete.  Talk about coincidence - twice in a week in different parts of Italy.
After arranging to meet up for drinks, we headed off on the walking trail to Monterosso. This part of the track wasn't subject to fees and after walking for about 30 minutes we understood why.  It was very steep, not that well maintained and quite challenging. We decided to turn around and catch the train and use our energy walking through the towns.
Riomaggiore was the first town we visited. It was easy to see the charm of these towns and why they have become so popular with tourists. Steep pedestrian streets lead down to quaint harbours. Due to it being the end of the fishing season most boats had been hauled out of the water and were being cleaned before being covered for winter.
Manarola doesn't have such an easy harbour for boats to get in and out of the water and so many of them are hauled up with the rope and tackle seen on the photo below. We had a very casual lunch here of Fritto Misto - locally caught seafood battered and deep fried and served straight away. Lovely with a squeeze of juice from the local lemons. As well as seafood, grapes and olives, lemons are a staple here - squeezed over seafood and risotto, lovely lemon syrup cakes and, of course, limoncello.
Typical Street Monterosso
Of the five towns, Monterosso is the flattest and is spread out a lot more. The old and new towns are separated by a strip of beach and a tunnel. We journeyed here on our second day and arrived just in time for lunch. We picked a popular looking restaurant and had a lovely authentic Italian meal of a seafood platter and a local pasta delicacy.

Next we went to the smallest but most popular town of Vernazza. Every photo that you have ever seen of Cinque Terre features this village.  It is so iconic with is sheltered harbour, colourful fishing boats and main street running right down to the water's edge. The breakwater that juts out from the harbour is a popular fishing spot and a place for tourists to sit and soak up the ambience.

Cactus growing over the cliff below Corniglia
The last town we visited was Corniglia. This is the only one on Cinque Terre without a harbour. It sits proudly on the clifftop overlooking the Mediterranean and has vistas in both directions of other towns  in Cinque Terre. The train deposits you at the foot of the town and you can either catch the bus to the top or climb a seemingly endless set of steps. We decided to get our exercise for the day by climbing the steps. Our reward was a panoramic view over the area, and a well needed coffee in the piazza. The rail that you see in the photo on the right is actually a mini train line that takes the grape growers to their vines on the perpendicular slopes. This enables them to tend the vines much more easily than if they had to walk up and down the rows - definitely mountain goat country.

View towards Monterosso
Lake Como with snow capped Alps
After leaving Cinque Terre we returned to Strasbourg via Lake Como. We decided to break the journey here and to potentially meet up with some of the rich and famous. Traffic into Como itself was horrendous - it was lunchtime - so we deviated to Cernobbio not realising that this is where George Clooney has a villa. Well we didn't see George Clooney or any other famous person but we did see Harry's Bar, the home of that renowned cocktail, the Bellini. This was made famous by the other Harrys Bar in Venice. We also had probably the best meal on this holiday in Italy at a little Enoteca called Vino and Affinity. The food we had there was definitely served with love.
Overall I would have to say I was disappointed in the choice of food in Italian restaurants. It may sound strange but it was too Italian and not that good in some cases either. If you didn't like it then there wasn't anything else to choose. Apparently some mayors won't allow restaurants to serve anything other than Italian food. There is only so much carbohydrate -  pizza, focaccia and pasta - that you can eat. After seeing all the delightful vegetables in the market it was really disappointing to not be offered them in restaurants. Next time we go back we will have to book a villa with a full kitchen so that we can cook our own meals using the amazing fresh market produce.

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