It must be said that Italy is officially my favorite country that I’ve had the pleasure to visit. Mind you, I can practically count on one hand the countries I have been to besides the one I live in. Six. Six countries. One hand plus one finger. So of the 190+ something countries on the planet, I’ve been to only 3% of them so far. But of that 3%, Italy stole my heart! I am confident I could live there for a year (or more) finding plenty to do and see and fill my belly with. (There’s a very long bucket list just itching to try to compete with Italy’s greatness though!)
For our last adventure together, I scraped together every hour of vacation time I could and went to Nick’s side of the pond where we decided not to spend the entire two weeks in England and to venture out a bit. We decided (I decided) that the lavender fields in France were a must and therefore July would be the perfect time to plan the trip. Nick was less enthusiastic about it than I was. So we decided that maybe 9 days in the lavender fields would be overkill and that we should add more to our agenda. Italy seemed like a nice fit since it is close and drivable to France and Nick loves it there. I had heard from some reliable sources that the Cinque Terre was an incredible place to see. Then one day, I saw a photo of Manarola and texted it to Nick telling him this was the place we just had to go see. We nailed down the details of the trip; dates, places to go, places to stay, transportation… And then neglected to do much more planning other than that. It made for a more spontaneous trip than our usual jam packed adventures. It felt more like a vacation than a shooting trip. We enjoyed too much food, siestas almost every day, hiking in the blazing sun and sleeping in each morning. An absolute treat! And I’m only sort of regretting not getting up to shoot any sunrises. I talked myself into only shooting in the evening because the light hitting the villages along the Italian Riviera was oh so sweet. Swoon. We really didn’t get any blazing sunrises (I almost always peeked) or sunsets in Italy. Fortunately the villages themselves were enough to knock my socks off. A sweet colorful sunset just would have been the icing on the cake. Or the cherry on the gelato! Come on, we’re in Italy after all! By the way, I ate my body weight in gelato. That in itself was worth the airfare.
I happen to not speak a lick of Italian. But I did take a few years of Spanish in high school (which was a thousand years ago) and a couple of Spanish courses as an adult to try to relearn something other than English. I have been told that Italian and Spanish are similar enough to figure it out. I will put my foot down right there and politely disagree. They are not nearly close enough for someone with very poor language skills to figure out. Like me. Luckily Nick is incredibly talented and although not fluent in all the languages, can get by on several. Italian being one of them. So while he was chatting in Italian to people I was standing there with nothing but Spanish words running through my head and zero words coming out of my mouth. Not. Helpful. At. All. But it did make me want to learn Italian. And we decided that if we ever have children that we will definitely force them to learn the Italian language. I hear forcing kids to live their parents dreams always works out really well. Anyyyyways...
We booked our place to stay in Manarola. It was a blind booking on Airbnb and we had no idea which of the villages would be the best for us. Since I liked a photo I saw of Manarola, I was happy we found accommodations there. It turned out to be absolutely perfect for us. Not only was the place we rented gorgeous, with air conditioning (thankfully!!) and a stunning view (that meant hundreds of stairs to climb), but Manarola itself was just lovely. It seemed to be one of the more quiet towns of the five which made us happy as we appreciate the quiet at night. We spent most of our time in Manarola since we were staying there and therefore got to know it better than the other villages. It is located in a valley shape that is surrounded by terraced hills that are covered in vineyards and lemon trees. This is what makes it heaven for me, folks. Vino, vino, vino all around us! Prosecco actually. We had the sweet taste of prosecco hit our lips on the first night and we were hooked on it for the rest of the trip. There is nothing better than crisp, cold, bubbles on a hot summer night! We hiked from Manarola to Volastra one afternoon in an attempt to make it to Corniglia. It nearly killed us both, but it was goooooorgeous and well worth the several near heart attacks. Needless to say, we did not make it all the way to Corniglia. We passed a gentleman on the trail of stairs while we were hiking up and he was going down. He told us there was a fountain in Volastra when we arrive which added a little spring to my step. At 11am it was already hotter than the sun outside and I was dripping in sweat with the 100% humidity. The fountain was my golden goblet! We arrived in Volastra, which is tiny even in comparison to the other Cinque Terre towns, and could not find this fountain to save our lives. We walked up and down the one path through the village looking for it. After picking up some sandwiches at the market we spotted a tiny spigot poking out of the wall along the path. There was the “fountain" that I had imaged being some giant lake sized spectacle! It still felt good turning it on and sticking my head under it even if it wasn’t as big as a lap pool.
The village to the south of Manarola is Riomaggiore. On our second night we headed that direction for late afternoon to eat and decide if that was a good spot for sunset. We didn’t enjoy much about Riomaggiore. It was chalk full of people, it was dirty and it smelled like low tide. We ate because I was hangry and couldn’t possibly wait another second to eat, we checked out the bay (which was really beautiful, but too smelly to stick around) and then we high tailed it out of there to do sunset in Manarola. I’m sure this is a lovely town and we wished we had checked it out in the morning when it wasn’t so busy or gone back to give it another shot.
We took the train to Vernazza and immediately fell in love with this energetic little village. It was just a little more lively than Manarola and full of beauty (and no funky smells). We spent two of the four evenings here during this trip. Vernazza also had great restaurants and a wonderfully lively square full of energy. We ate at a few restaurants here and enjoyed a few gelatos (of course). It was from Vernazza that we hiked to Monterosso along the coastal trail. All of the other links were closed during our trip which was quite a disappointment, but we were happy to at least get one of the legs of coastal hiking trails in. We started mid-day instead of first thing in the morning (we don’t learn) and it was quite hot. We sat at breakfast discussing if we should go or not and how hot it would be. We decided that we needed to do it no matter the heat because we were here. And because I threw a small fit and was going no matter what. So we sunscreened up and hit the trail. It was absolutely worth enduring the heat. The views of the Mediterranean sea and the villages were absolutely stunning and will be cherished for a lifetime.
Once we arrived in Monterosso, we stashed our goods under some rented chairs and jumped into the bay. After our hour of rented time expired, we explored the old part of Monterosso a little bit. It was much more incredible than I expected. I was under the impression that it was going to be rammed with people and chaotic, but the old area was quite lovely and full of delightful stairways and roads that looked like magic from every angle. We enjoyed an afternoon cocktail and some more gelato before heading back to shower.
This fantastic piece of Italy was magic to me in so many ways. I loved that there weren’t any cars. Only some delivery trucks in the morning. The streets are simply too small. I loved trying to figure out how someone would buy a new sofa or remodel their apartment when every single item has to be hand carried up hundreds of stairs that are so narrow my luggage was tricky to get up. I loved the languages that surrounded us. I loved the locals that would sit out on their steps at night chatting to each other. I loved the scruffy cats that were so hot they would lay about in the middle of the roads. I loved that all of the buildings were stacked on top of each other. I loved getting anywhere we needed to by foot or by train. I loved that the boats were just pulled up on the streets and parked in front of peoples houses like car parking spots. I loved so much about this incredible and tiny spot in Italy. I can’t wait to return! And I especially can't wait to return in cooler weather!