At this point in my blog series on our European vacation this summer you might assume we’re “Rickniks”, i.e. die hard Rick Steves’ fans.  We are indeed Rick Steves’ fans in that we adhere to his philosophies of independent travel, but if our itineraries were entirely composed of Rick Steves’ destinations and recommendations, that would run counter to his philosophy of independent travel, wouldn’t it?  Part of the thrill we enjoy in travel is the planning, the research, and the discovery.  Reading Rick’s books are certainly a big part of that process, but we like to think (at least) that we are doing some of our own discovery of “Europe through the back door”.  So while our next stop, the Cinque Terre on Italy’s Mediteranean coast, is one of Rick’s favorites, we opted for a slightly out-of-the-way corner of the Cinque Terre rather than Rick’s preferred destination.  The Cinque Terre (literally, “five lands”), you see, is an Italian national park encompassing 5 seaside towns clinging to the rugged cliffside.  Our destination was the southernmost town of Riomaggiore, while Rick normally heads to Vernazza, 3 towns up the coast.

Our train ride from Milan brought us down the coast line, zipping past the Cinque Terre on our way to La Spezia, where we changed to a local train and made our way back to Riomaggiore.  We picked Riomaggiore over the other (mostly) better known towns because it was a little more off the beaten path and because we were able to rent a couple of apartments directly overlooking the harbor.  Often you make these reservation decisions based on what you can glean from pictures on the Internet and you are disappointed or underwhelmed when you arrive.  In this case we weren’t.  Riomaggiore was beautiful and the people friendly and engaging, at least when you make an effort to connect with them.  One evening the harbor was decorated with a fishing boat made into a shrine and candles lining the path down to the harbor.  We asked a local what was going on and he gleefully explained that there was a wedding that day and part of their tradition was that the wedding party came to thank God for the gifts and livelihoods from the sea.  We hung around and saw the ceremony, a beautiful sight at night with the candles burning.

The Cinque Terre itself is the main attraction here, so our plan was to simply relax, get some beach time in, and have some seafood (and wine).  There is a small, very rocky beach just south of Riomaggiore, and easy walking distance from the harbor and our apartments, though with lots of wave action it was a challenge to actually get into the water.  It was a unique experience to say the least.  Our first night there we had good (not great) seafood and (per Rick Steves’ recommendation) we sampled the anchovies (not bad, but not really our thing I guess).  We also took the lovely walk along the water up to the next town, Manarola, an interesting walk with a covered path at one point (and if anyone knows, what’s up with the locks and stuff stuck into the fence?)  We also visited the market and stocked up on fresh cherries and croissants for breakfast, and cold Peronis for hanging out in the harbor.

The next day we took the boat up to Monterosso, the northernmost town of the Cinque Terre and the most touristy.  The Monterosso beach was much more of a typical tourist’s beach, complete with rental umbrellas and a beach bar; perhaps it was the readily available beer, but getting into the water at Monterosso was much less of a challenge.  On the boat ride back we hopped off at Vernazza and strolled for an hour or so; IMHO Riomaggiore is the right town for us, sorry Rick.

Dinner that night was at the restaurant on the walk to Manarola, I believe called “A Pie de Ma”.  It’s a beautiful spot looking over the water, and we had some terrific local fish.  It was a great way to cap our 3 days on the Cinque Terre and start thinking about the next leg of our trip.

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Up next…Florence.