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Cinque Terre, Italy

Italy will always glow like a bright orange ember in my heart for its romance, because it was during my first trip to Italy with a college friend that I was just starting to date Walker. We spent every spare, and not spare, minute searching for (cringe) internet cafes, so that I could type wobbly letters to him, across an ocean, telling of our adventures through glass factories and marmalade pastries. Our stops included Venice, Florence, and the Cinque Terre, a huddle of five ancient villages reaching into the Ligurean Sea with their pastel hues and puzzle piece homes.

I've wanted to return, this time with Walker, for years, so when his mom suggested a trip there this fall, we jumped up and down (inside).

I'll write more of the beginning of the trip soon (starting in France!), but we arrived via train from Nice into Monterosso Al Mare, our home for the night and the largest of the Cinque Terre towns. The train slid between the sea into the little beachy town, 

and we found a cab to dive us the 10 minutes up the hill to our home for the evening, La Casa di Zuecca, a modern, just renovated B&B up an alley lined with a bakery and many vines. 

Our host, Stephano, welcomed us warmly, and we cooled off for a few minutes before heading back to the train station, through one of the many tunnels lining the mountains. I had memories of forgetting to validate our tickets, and we bought train passes to scoot over to another village, all within a 15 minute local ride.

We were aiming for some sunset shots later in the evening, so decided to head first to Vernazza, where we walked along the town to the port.  The trains pull right into most of the five towns in Cinque Terre, and usually it is just a short 100m tunnel walk into the head of each village.

All of the towns were so much more crowded than they were in 2009 when I last visited, which we had read was the case. I had thought we might escape a bit of that with the season, but the stations and towns were jammed, everywhere we went, with pilgrims of beauty like ourselves.

When I was last in Vernazza, my friend Alex and I watched the whole town stream and bustle down the streets following a bride and groom into the church, and we snuck in behind as the church bells filled the port with joy. I remember her dress was knit from wool, and the most beautiful I had ever seen. This time, it was a thicket of retirees, all marveling at the colors.

Vernazza's port is idyllic in Mediterranean charm; see?

After our whistle stop in Vernazza, we continued two towns down, via train, to Manarola, the most picturesque of the towns, and the one which likely looks a hint familiar. For good reason, yes?

We stopped for gelato at 5 Terre Gelateria, and then walked seemingly incongruously out of the town and up and around the other side up toward the graveyard for this view.

The sun's late autumn rays just reached out to the village stretched into the waters.

After sunset, we waited for the train to this view at the station,

and then traveled the 12 minutes back to Monterosso. Stephano had kindly  booked us a table at Da Eraldo and when we walked toward the village square where the local trattoria sat with its hallmark red check tablecloths, there was a line of people 20 long waiting to get in. Success for us! The antipasto was the largest and most delicious I've ever had, with heaps of fresh cheese, spiced meats and pickled veggies, like eggplant and zucchini. My massive fish stew was also beyond fresh, with langoustines piled off the edge of the plate. Sadly, too busy devouring for photos.

The next morning, we woke to a bare drizzle, and fresh cakes and yogurts on our B&B roof. Our goals for the day were to get on the water and take a short hike, so we started with the 15 minute train to the farthest village, Riomaggiore, where we luckily found a captain for the morning (more in the next post, as the views warrant lotsa space).

Our boat brought us along each of the villages back to our home destination, Monterosso,

where we lunched at L'Osteria at the town's entrance. We were in search of fresh anchovies, the town's signature, and found them baked with olive oil and dark olives.

We headed back to Manarola (again, by train, since we had all day passes), for an afternoon hike.

We ascended up over the roofs until the village looked like a miniature toy set,

surrounded by terraced olive and grape vineyards.

The sun was incredibly hot after a cool morning, so I felt a bit faint, but still very glad to have seen this panorama from above.

A few more snaps of the iconic Manarola, 

some with us and my in-laws,

and it was back for our last visit to home base, Monterosso. We collected our luggage from the train station (as the attended storage was closing), and finished our time in Cinque Terre with gelato from Gelateria Artigianale Fegina, and these views. Spot Manarola off on the cliffs?

Have you ever seen something so brilliant?!

More in the next post!