I bought a wonderful book at the Frankfurt book fair in 2017: it is called “Wanderlust” and presents the most amazing hiking trails in the world. One of the easiest trails of the book is located in Italy in an area protected by the Unesco called “Cinque Terre”; a natural reserve I – at this time – had never heard of before. I was immediately flashed by the beautiful pictures and the text that said that the food was supposed to be amazing (I mean, duh, it’s Italy!). Five seconds after I finished reading it was decided: the next vacation was going to be all about hiking and eating at Cinque Terre!
Arriving in: Milan
The two airports closest to Cinque Terre are Milan (although Milan actually has two airports) and Florence. Since I had already been to Florence I decided to book a flight to Milan (there are multiple very budget-friendly connections from Frankfurt each day, by the way). I went to Milan without much expectation since everybody had told me “It’s just an industrial city with a focus on high-class shopping” – but: after a little research I found a couple of nice places that seemed to be worth a visit.
- Milan Cathedral: Of course you have to see it. It is huge and beautiful and worth a visit even if you have visited hundreds of churches before.
- Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli: A cute park that is close to the central station.
- Riso e latte: A small 60’s style restaurant that serves authentic Italian cuisine from this time. Book a table upfront, they are always busy.
- Cofficina: A cute little coffee shop in a nice neighborhood.
- Orsonero coffee: Another very cute coffee place 15 minutes from the central station. The owner and barista is from Canada and very friendly.
- Radicetonda: Finding vegan food is not easy in Italy. This little restaurant close to the Central Station has a variety of vegan dishes that you can combine according to your gusto. They also squeeze fresh juice for you and let you try vegan crackers very generously.
If you are looking for a good resource for sustainable food or “green” activities in Milan I can recommend www.milanorganica.com.
Hiking, eating and marvelling in: Cinque Terre
We took the train from Milan to Monterosso al mare – a convenient and not-too-expensive three hour ride – where our B&B was located. The B&B was called “Il parco” and I can highly recommend it! Not only because of the great view from its elevated location on a hill overlooking the ocean, but also because of the affectionately prepared breakfast with the excellent coffee and the lovely garden surrounding the facility.
Monterosso al mare is the first of Cinque Terre’s five little villages and a great spot to stay if you don’t want to switch your accommodation every day. From there you can easily explore the other villages – the distances are very short, at least for experienced hikers. Unfortunately, most of the coastal walkways between the villages were closed (due to maintenance) when we were there – forcing us to take the rather strenuous hiking trails up in the vineyards. But oh what a delight it was to wander up in the hills overlooking the ocean always spotting the next beautiful little village from afar! In the end I was really happy that we did not join the masses of tourists down by the water but invested the effort to climb thousands of stairs and rocky pathways in order to enjoy the wonderful views from above:
Although I am sure that Cinque Terre is great all year around, I would recommend to go in spring (or even earlier) rather than in summer. First of all, it might get unbearably hot in the summer and second of all, there will be so many tourists that you will not be able to enjoy the place. Cinque Terre is not an insider tipp anymore – there are people from all over the world coming just to visit this area in Italy. We went there in the first week of May and had a nice warm climate that was perfect for hiking.
How long should I stay?
In order to visit the five little villages properly three days will be sufficient. We actually visited the first three villages in one day and the last two in another – and believe me, we did not walk hastily without taking our time to drink a sufficient amount of cappuccinos and take tons of pictures. This is also why we made additional trips to La Spezia and Pisa in our one-week-vacation (read on about that!).
Any special recommendations?
Let me just say first that the food was great everywhere we went to! So was the coffee, by the way. It is really hard to give any special recommendations when I spent hardly a single day during the trip without a food coma, but I will try:
- If you have time to visit La Spezia, then you simply must book the awesome food tour offered by Veronica and Sara via Air BnB Experiences. Each and every food-stop on this 3,5-hour-tour was excellent and we were so stuffed at the end, that we could barely walk back to the train station.
- There is a very nice little wine bar in Riomaggiore called “Fuori Rotta” that serves excellent coffee and has a pretty terrace overlooking the village and the sea. I suggest you stop there after your hike from Manarola and enjoy the scenery for a while.
- In Monterosso you can find “Wonderland Bakery“, a place where all your dreams come true if you are a lover of baked goods (as I am). Not only do they have great focaccia, you can also get “charcoal croissants” – very dark croissants that are actually vegan and taste amazing.
Daytripping to: Pisa
If you have a day left to spare I suggest you take the train to Pisa. It’s a 90-minute train-ride that takes you right from Monterosso (or any other Cinque-Terre-train-station) to Pisa’s central station and will cost you about 30 Euros. In Pisa you can see more than just the leaning tower – although the tower is pretty spectacular itself. Even more spectacular to me was the richly ornamented cathedral right next to the tower called “Battistero di San Giovanni” at the Piazza del Duomo, check out the picture below. Also, there are some other nice places I can really recommend:
- If you are looking for lunch or dinner please do not go to one of those tacky tourist-restaurants with pictures of the food they are serving on the menu – instead go to “Pick a flower“. This traditional Italian restaurant not only serves delicious homemade pasta but is also very cozy with the most friendly service (we got a free Crodino each and a small plate of homemade cookies for dessert). I have never eaten better pumpkin-tortellini in my life!
- Good coffee and great cakes for very fair prices can be found at “Filter Coffee Lab“, located very close to the leaning tower.
- If you are looking for some peace and quiet you should visit Pisa’s botanical garden. It is just the right size for a relaxed afternoon-stroll, offering unusual views of the leaning tower (see below) and featuring a small museum where “…visitors can admire 17th-century portraits of famous botanists [and] a collection of objects used for teaching botany at the university”.