Last night (Thursday, May 13), here in Vernazza, in the Cinque Terre of Italy, after writing you, we went to dinner at a place recommended by our new best friend, Rick Steves.
In his guidebook he recommended a small restaurant on the main (and only) street of Vernazza, called Trattoria da Sandro. Because of the storms and cold weather, we ate inside. The back of the restaurant had a natural stone grotto (part of the cliff) with water dripping. It was sort of romantic. Sort of …
Our meal began with a delicious Caprese salad (fresh ripe tomatoes, fresh handmade Buffalo mozzarella cheese, over grilled bread and drizzled with sea salt, extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkled with fresh basil.
Our primi patti (first course) was a ravioli (pan sotti) stuffed with spinach and ricotta and covered with a walnut cream sauce. – a local special Barb says it was the best ravioli she has ever had. More on the ravioli in a moment.
Our main course, believe it or not, was an Angus steak from Irish beef. Unique. Irish beef in Italy. We also shared a bottle of red wine hand-made in a local vineyard which was delicious and very inexpensive.
And, our desert was the single best tiramisu we’ve ever had. The ladyfingers were huge and the cream between the layers was light, sweet, and decadent. We almost ordered a second, but we were stuffed.
The importance of the ravioli as a signpost event for us is based upon the fact that Barb has not liked ravioli since 1978 when we were in students and studying in Europe. We traveled from city to city in a VW mini-van and always bought our food, in the can, based upon the pictures on the can (since we could not read most of the labels).
We could recognize the pictures of ravioli the most easily, so we ate a lot of canned ravioli that trip – thus birthing Barb’s aversion to it.
But, last night’s wonderful meal brought her back into the world of first-class, hand-made, fresh-today, ravioli. She’s hooked and we’re going back there tonight for seconds.
After dinner, we walked to the breakwater, watched the storm chopped surf and then retired to our wonderful little apartment overlooking the harbor. The surf was so rough, and the air so chilly, we had to close our window and shutters, but still feel sleep to the sounds of the turf. Our sleep was deliciously restful.
We set no alarm, but the church across the town square from us did.
The church of Vernazza
So, we threw open our shutters and let in the fresh sea air and the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. The sounds of small children laughing in the square, and the smell of fresh-baked bread from the bar below us wafted up and in our window.
View of the small harbor of Vernazza from our apartment
What wonderful sounds and aromas these were that greeted us during our quiet times.
So, we began today, Friday, May 14th, with a cantata from the church bells at 7 am. We had a great shower and both enjoyed it and then were off for our relaxing day.
We started out with chocolate croissants and lattes at a harbor side bistro and then headed to the only public laundromat in town. As we started our clothes, a heavy rainstorm began and we ran up the street to a breakfast bar.
There we were surprised to see three women we had met on the train from Milan yesterday (two sisters and a daughter, from Oklahoma – wonderful ladies all). We enjoyed a reunion over fresh-squeezed orange juice (the regular style) and another latte.
After the rain stopped, we took our laundry back to the room and caught a train to begin our tour of the other towns in Cinque Terre.
We started at the most western town, Riomaggiore, a small town built in an extremely deep mountain canyon. In fact, real estate is such a premium in these five towns, that the river running through the town is covered and paved over. The main street is literally over a river.
Although a disappointment from the train station, after walking through a tunnel, we landed in a fascinating tangle of pastel homes leaning on each other like drunken sailors. An assortment of shops of every type was great entertainment.
The tiny v illage of Riomaggorie on The Cinque Terre
You can see from the sun dial on one of the street walls, that we had gotten off to a late start. But – why not? – we’re on vacation!
Sundial in Riomaggorie — documenting our late start
The entire Cinque Terre is a national park and is crisscrossed with dozens of very popular trails. The most popular, the seaside trail, was closed because of the recent rainstorms. However, the trail from Riomaggiore to Manarola was open.
This trail is called the ‘Via dell’Amore’ (pathway of love) because lovers from the two towns would meet on this trail to meet and court. Nowadays, couples come from all over Italy to become engaged on this path.
Along the trail we saw hundreds of small locks on wires, cables, and railings, at romantic spots and overlooks. Closing a padlock with your lover at a lovey-dovey spot is the current craze in Italy. In fact, at the start of the path is a small shop where you can buy a lock from a huge assortment of options. (and, no, we did not)
Hundreds of padlocks, each symbolizing an engagement, on the Via dell’Amore’ (pathway of love)
We arrived in the slightly larger village of Manarola and enjoyed not only exploring the town, but visiting their parish church (St. Lawrence) that dated from 1338. The bell tower for the church was used as a watchtower when pirates raided these shores in the 1400s and 1500s.
We then took a tour through the vineyards that are terraced up the steep hills. We enjoyed lemon trees in full bloom, along with blooming valerian, irises, and rosemary. What a delight.
Back in town, we stopped in at the Rick Steves’ recommended Trattoria Il Porticciolo where we enjoyed the best bruschetta we’ve had this trip. The shrimp cocktail (a combination of prawns, shrimp, and scampi – they all looked and tasted different) was delicious, enjoyed with a local handcrafted beer and a margherita pizza.
The slightly larger village of Manarola – but not much
After enjoying some art and craft shops, we hopped on the train to the 3rd of the five Cinque Terre cities, Corniglia, the smallest of the towns with only 250 residents. But, since becoming part of the national park, the town has learned how to become a little tourist town.
We enjoyed some wonderful gelato (dark chocolate for Barb, coconut for me) and gorgeous vistas. You can actually see four of the five towns from here and it is the highest of the five.
On our way back to the bus stop, Barb attracted the attention of some of the locals …
Barb with the “young men” of Corgnilia – she made their day!
For those of you who attend Little Log Church, note Steve Dail’s brother
… and then, we took a bus down from the high cliffs of Corniglia and a train back to the town of Vernazza.
It was a wonderful day here in Italy and we’re looking forward to another wonderful dinner at Trattoria da Sandro and then another day, tomorrow, in Cinque Terre. Maybe Monterossa? Maybe Portofino? Maybe Carra (where the famous marble comes from)? Who knows?
So, from our apartment overlooking the harbor of Vernazza …
Here’s the entire series:
Dr. Walt and Barb’s Italian Adventure — May 8-25, 2010
If you’ve ever wanted to go to Italy (or even if you have in the past), you’ll want to come along with us and enjoy the sites, sounds, food, and art.
Hopefully, this blog will stimulate you to put visiting these amazing cities on your to-do list. Just click on any of the days or cities you want to visit with us.
We’ve hoped you’ve had fun accompanying us on this trip to Italy, and that one day you’ll be blessed to experience and enjoy her yourself.