This morning we left Florence and headed west towards the Mediterranean. Our final destination was Monterosso al Mare, in the Cinque Terre, but we made two additional stops on the way.
The first stop was just a half hour outside Florence: the Florence American Cemetery. This cemetery was for all service men and women who were killed during WWII, from Rome north. Most people know nothing about this cemetery and Angel, our guide, really stressed that that was something that needed to change. We’ve been having a very special experience on this tour and this stop was a great reminder that without all of those men and women who fought, it would be a very different world than it is today.
We were all in a somber mood as we re-boarded the bus and set off for our second stop, Pisa. We arrived midday and had a few hours to explore the Campo dei Miracoli which includes the duomo/cathedral, the baptistery, a cemetery, and of course, the famous leaning tower. Make sure to be in the baptistery on the half hour to hear the amazing acoustics.
Thanks to Sarah, Tara and I got last minute tickets to climb the leaning tower. Well worth it to experience the leaning sensation and see the panoramic views from the top.
We left Pisa mid-afternoon and drove to Levanto, where we caught a train to Monterosso. The terrain along this part of the coast is very hilly and the road down to Levanto had a few very narrow blind corners. Sauro (our bus driver) slowed way down and laid on the horn before he cautiously went around the corner because we definitely took up the whole road. Everyone got very excited when we caught our first glimpse of the Mediterranean. This region of Italy has its own special olive oil and the terraced hillsides were covered with olive trees. Sarah pointed out that they were getting ready to harvest some of them because they had these orange nets bundled up under the trees.
Our train ride was very quick and immediately upon exiting the train station we were greeted with a jaw dropping view of the Mediterranean.
Due to size constraints, our group was split between two hotels. We were at Hotel Villa Steno, up the hill and with an amazing view of Monterosso and the water. The Cinque Terre, like the name suggests, is made of up 5 towns, Monterosso being the northern most.
After settling into our rooms, we all gathered for a pesto making demonstration (highlight for me!) and dinner. The handmade pesto was so much more flavorful than any I’ve made at home. I have a lot to learn! Dinner started with a small caprese salad followed by a white lasagna with pesto on top. The main course was sea bass, so flavorful and skillfully cooked I even ate the skin. With white wine of course. We topped off dinner with a bit of dessert wine and a delicious frozen dessert.
Mom and I felt like lottery winners at this point in the trip. The Cinque Terre had captured our heart, eyes, and tastebuds!
We started our free day in the Cinque Terre with a leisurely morning, enjoying the sounds of the town waking up and the waves crashing on the beach.
The 5 towns of the Cinque Terre are connected by train, trail, and, if the waters are calm, boat. The Cinque Terre train card was provided with the tour so we had lots of options. I was itching to get out and hike to see more of our surroundings so we left Monterosso and headed for Vernazza via the trail. It was so fun to meet other travelers from all over the world on the hike and share tidbits about our journeys.
We finally found Vernazza!
In Vernazza , we walked down to the waterfront and enjoyed sitting on the pier for a bit. We ran into three other couples from our group while we were there so it was fun briefly comparing notes. I was hoping to do more of the hike but Mom just wasn’t quite up for it.
Everything in the Cinque Terre is so bright and cheerful. You can’t help but feel happy surrounded by the beautiful blue water, the bright colored umbrellas and boats, the warm terracotta, yellow and pink buildings, and the variety of greens in the hillsides.
From Vernazza, we took a very short train ride to Manarola, two towns south. I believe all five towns used to have rivers running down the middle of them with many bridges connecting cross streets, but now the rivers are hidden beneath paved main streets. The towns have suffered greatly due to landslides, but have rebuilt to themselves, likely largely funded by the tourism in this area. After a bite to eat, we explored Manarola and found a perfect viewpoint high on the hill.
With each passing day of the tour, we were finding ourselves more tired at the end of the day so, wanting to make the most of the days remaining, we started to expect less of ourselves. While we wanted to push to see more, it was important that we didn’t do so at the cost of our enjoyment. It’s not impossible to go back to do more!
We took the train back to Monterosso and did a bit more exploring before heading back to the hotel to get cleaned up before dinner. We’d taken Sarah’s recommendation and, thanks to Norm, had a reservation for the 5 of us (Norm, Mariellyn, Tara, Mom, and I) at beachfront restaurant known for their seafood dishes. We’d all enjoyed our days differently so it was interesting to hear what everyone had experienced. In the spirit of our surroundings, we tried a couple different anchovies!
No one wanted to leave the Cinque Terre, it really felt like a vacation from our vacation!