A Tribute to Cinque Terre

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Just a brief moment to reflect on these gorgeous seaside villages that have been devastated by recent floodings and mudslides…

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I find it hard to believe that no more than one month prior to the torrential rainfall which wreaked havoc on this UNESCO World Heritage site in late October, we witnessed the glorious beauty of Cinque Terre under perfectly sunny skies.
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For those of you who may not know about one of Italy’s most scenic destinations, Cinque (cheen-kweh) Terre (ter-reh) literally means five lands. Located on the rocky northwest coast along the Italian Riviera in the Ligurian region, it consists of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. Don’t ask me why but more often than not, the southern most village (Riomaggiore) is listed as the first.
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Arriving during la vendemmia, grape harvest season, meant a slight difficulty in finding room availability. After numerous Skype conversations in my embarassingly crippled Italian, I was put in contact with Emiliano, owner of Ca’ de Capun in Manarola. He welcomed us with his homemade limoncello and ushered us to our cozy room with a balcony overlooking the village. If you ever find yourself under Emiliano’s roof, you better know some Italian or communication is limited and the best part of traveling is interacting with the locals, right? Your only other option is Mandarin because apparently, this quirky man is fluent!

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Travel between the “Five Lands” is possible via train, boat or on foot. Of course there are some cars in the villages (mostly delivery vans that came and went) but it is not adviseable to drive yourself in. If I were to write a Dr. Seuss book about this I would start with “Cars are sparse you arse.” So don’t drive there. Park your car inĀ La Spezia and take the train.
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It’s perfectly possible to visit all five villages in a days worth but we allotted ourselves 5 days to bask in the Mediterranean sun. We opted to take advantage of the scenic hiking trails that connect each village, which in my humble opinion, is the best way to experience Cinque Terre…minus our first day of hiking.

With a minor major detour that led us down an apparently closed path due to landslides, we found ourselves caught inside thorny thickets, unstable hillside terrain and swarms of hungry hungry hungry mosquitos. In sheer denial that we may actually be on the wrong path, we trekked on until finally, we hit a dead end. Dead smack in-between Manarola and Corniglia, we were stuck. We had no choice but to back track through the thorny thickets, unstable hillside terrain and hungry, hungry, hungry mosquitos. Defeated and exhausted, we finally emerged back into town with dirt-smudged clothes, twigs in our hair, trails of blood dripping down his shins and not less than 50 mosquito bites on my legs and arms. A group of senior citizen tourists stared at us in shock and awe. We were certainly not the poster child for the hiking trails of Cinque Terre. (Note to self: Always check the current trail conditions with a park ranger)

Looking back, we can at least be happy upon our discovery of this nook and cranny where we ravaged charcuterie, cheese and a bottle of sangiovese.
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The rest of our hiking days redeemed the horrific first encounter as we weaved through the famous wine terraces, olive orchards…
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and relished the sweeping views of the Italian Riviera.
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Sadly, as I reminisce about our amazing adventures in Cinque Terre, those who inhabit this lovely region are desperately trying to bounce back from the massive flooding and landslides that swept through their villages. Read more about the devastation here.
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I was recently contacted by a group of people who set out to raise funds to assist with the relief efforts in Vernazza, which was left covered in 13 feet of mud and debris after the storm. I’m not usually one to solicit for much of anything (besides food) but I can’t turn my back on this cause. For us, the beautiful images of Cinque Terre have been immortalized through our photos and in our minds, but I would much rather ensure the quick restoration of this UNESCO World Heritage site for others to enjoy. If you would like to donate to the relief fund, please visit: www.savevernazza.com

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Or better yet, please visit Cinque Terre. No dot com. Just visit Cinque Terre. Period. Rumor has it relief crews are hoping to bring these villages back into full swing by Spring/Summer of 2012. Majority of the local income relies heavily on tourists and that means YOU!
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To leave on a lighter note, let’s not forget all the delicious meals we devoured during our visit. Two standout favorites, one of which is a charming osteria located on the hilltop village of Corniglia. Osteria a Cantina de Mananan is run by an endearingly grumpy man whose heart can easily be won over with a few attempts at uttering a few words in Italian. Abundant and fresh frutti di mare platters, homemade pesto (one of the Ligurian specialties) and the BEST panna cotta EVER.

The second is located along the steep hills of our homebase village of Manarola. Trattoria dal Billy offers postcardesque (yeah, I just made up a word) views of the colorful cliffside buildings at sunset while you munch away on fresher than fresh anchovies marinated in local olive oil and lemon juice.

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While in Vernazza, we couldn’t help but notice hoards of tourists carrying paper cones of fried seafood goodness. Tourist trap? Highly plausible. Delicious? Yes. Just follow the paper cone trail and it will lead you to the entryway of this take-out spot a few doors down from a very crappy pizza place.
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And back to our lovely Manarola, a bar (two stores from the sea) accommodated our inane request for two negronis for take-away. When I explained that we wanted to catch the sunset the bartender quickly placed two negronis (in real glasses!) on a tray, two complimentary dishes of olives and nuts, cocktail napkins and told me to pay afterwards. Can it get any better than this?
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Why, yes it can! Because I’m throwing in a recipe for pesto! In the spirit of the Ligurian specialty but with a Culinary Musings twist, I made use of the abundant kale at the farmers market. You didn’t really think I would post a blog entry without a recipe, did you?

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Ingredients:

1 bunch kale (roughly chopped and tough stems removed)
1/2 bunch parsley
3-4 cloves garlic
1 cup grated pecorino romano
1/2 cup toasted chopped pecans
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
salt & pepper to taste
  1. In a food processor, combine kale, parsley, garlic, pecorino romano, pecans and lemon juice. Combine until smooth.
  2. With the machine running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Add more or less for desired consistency.
  3. Season with salt and pepper.

4 Responses to “A Tribute to Cinque Terre”

  • Lindsay Says:

    great idea for kale! and *amazing* photos. hope this beautiful place is ready for tourists ASAP… i want to go visit!

  • Davette Says:

    Putting this at the top of my bucket list…..beautiful.

  • Nava Says:

    Vernazza is my favorite of the Cinque terre towns, I can not believe I didn’t even hear about this tragedy until now! So sad, I have to go back soon…

  • Nava Says:

    oH! and I never would have thought of a Kale Pesto… you’re a genius Dhale! I feel like pasta tonight…I’m gonna give this a go!

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