Monday, May 10, 2010

Cinque Terre: Eat. Drink. Hike.

View from our apartment in Riomaggiore.
It has taken about a week but I think my calves, liver, and stomach are finally back to normal after our long-awaited trip to Cinque Terre, Italy. Some of you might not be familiar with this area of the world, but as soon as you become an expat in Europe, Cinque Terre is one of those places everyone talks about. It's right up there with Paris, Rome, Barcelona. Either they have been there and can't stop talking about how insanely awesome it is or it's high on their list of must-see places.

Cinque Terre is comprised of five cities lining the Italian Riveria coastline in Northern Italy. The five cities (Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore) are connected by hiking paths where tourists spend their days drinking, eating, and hiking their way through each town. If you were to walk from Monterosso (the "first" city of the group) to Riomaggiore (the "fifth" city), it's close to 11km and would take you a little more than half a day.

Enough geography lesson. This place was made for me. If I had to wrap up exactly the type of food I love to eat, the type of wine I love to drink, the scenic views I would never get bored of seeing, and then throw in a place that you can be active...this is the perfect spot for me. Hands down.


Being the Rosenthal that I am, I had already mapped out some restaurants in each of the towns to try. I do my research when it comes to eating. We have learned there is nothing worse than not knowing where to eat when you are hungry. And, we are in Italy! The best food in the world is here. I don't want to waste any bite on some just ok, tourist trap place in Monterosso. I want the secret hole-in-the-wall local joint in Manarola away from the foot traffic where the clams had been caught that morning by the owner on his tiny, two-person fishing boat.

Spaghetti alle vongole.
Fish stew.
Fish cartoccio.
Black pasta made from squid ink.
We ate SOOOO much. Both lunch and dinner of each day we spent eating pasta and seafood. I guess I hadn't realized the difference in food between Northern and Southern Italy. Northern Italy has lighter sauces, less meat, tons of seafood. You don't really see lasagna, but instead you order linguine with lobster or, my favorite, spaghetti with clams. I swear I could eat that stuff twice a day, every day, for four days...and, pretty much did.

Anchovies delivered fresh.
Menta e stracciatella.
Other very local things to eat here are the pesto, olive oil, anchovies, lemons, gelato. Never thought I would have an anchovy in my life, but we actually had them multiple times. One time wrapped around olives. Another time soaked in lemon juice. Gotta admit...not too shabby.

Oh....the food...


I can sum this up in three short words. Dry. White. Wine. This is another local specialty. There are vineyards everywhere. And, when a restaurant menu says "Vino della Casa"...that seriously means their house wine. Not like the random wine they have loads of in the back, but their actual HOUSE it is made from their own personal vineyards, comes with their own personal label. Awesome.

One funny fact. I don't think you could even order just a glass of wine. I don't think that was even an option on the menu. It's either a half bottle, or bottle, unless you are really lucky and they offer a liter. Somehow we drank a bottle at lunch and another bottle at dinner. Not sure how we were able to function, but it didn't kill us. Maybe it was the slow pace. You take 2-hour lunches, 3-hour dinners. Heaven.

Grappa (left). Sciacchetrà (right).
To top this experience off (like it needs to be), my favorite restaurant, Trattoria dal Billy in Manarola, leaves you with a couple bottles of the areas famous after-dinner liqueurs and two shot glasses. We were given strict instructions that the Grappa was for the man to drink and the Sciacchetrà was for the lady. Both packed a punch. Also, a must try is the Limoncino.

Oh...the wine...

Stop me now. I could talk for days on this topic. You are probably wondering how we didn't have to roll ourselves back to Zurich after all of that. Remember I mentioned something about hiking between cities before? More on that tomorrow.

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