22 June 2011

Best Things: Monterosso al Mare

The Old Town of Monterosso

The Cinque Terre (Five Lands) of Northern Italy are truly spectacular. Each of the towns -- Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarolo, and Riomaggiore -- are places I feel so lucky to have ever seen. I've now been there twice, and could probably go again if I went with someone who likes hiking (more on that in another post).

Vernazza gets mentioned quite often as the most picturesque, and recommended to all as THE place to stay. And, I will admit, the first time I went to this area, I tried to book a place there. Those that I wanted had no vacancy, so I ended up in Monterosso al Mare. Now, looking back, I am so glad I did!

This guy was just hanging out
Monterosso is the northernmost of the towns; it is also the only town of the five with a "sandy" beach, and also quite a few hotel options. We stayed at the Albergo Pasquale, an ideal hotel right on the crux of the old and new towns. I cannot imagine a better location. And, if I may for a moment...we were so lucky with this hotel. Our room for the three of us was huge -- it had a king bed (which we probably could have split if we thought about it -- and a little side room with a twin bed and its own TV. And, while all the rooms have ocean views (the hotel is kind of built into the side of a hill), we scored one of the rooms with a balcony. It was awesome. They also provided one of the best breakfasts we had on all of our trip. It included a full spread of bread, cheeses, salami, cereals, whole fruit, fruit salad...AND, eggs to order. Plus, they had possibly the best cappuccino I ever had. The cappuccinos in Italy are something else, really. Perhaps because they use real, whole milk instead of the non-fat I would usually get here, or perhaps because they are made with a little something extra. I dunno...the one here was awesome.

Monterosso is a great start to the Blue Trail...I will say it is quite a challenging hike from here to Vernazza, it is absolutely lovely. Most maps seem to have you starting at Riomaggiore...which I guess makes sense if you want to end in a larger town with more dining and drinking options. But, if you are staying in Monterosso, you can just hop on the train back and eat and drink to your heart's content.

Of all the towns, Monterosso has the most options to keep busy, especially in the evening. There are many restaurants and little bars in the older part of town, and due to the resorts, there is a lot going on in the evening on the newer side, as well. It has a very relaxed vibe, and I think even if it were very crowded, there is enough space in the city where visitors won't be on top of each other...the other towns are much smaller and I can see the crowds being off-putting. Also, if you want to try some delicious focaccia and pesto al gnocchi...this is your place (the best pesto I've ever had, I think, was at Ciak...my steak was also delicious. The others with whom I was dining were more indifferent about their meals there).

Sunset View of the "new" side of town
Monterosso is very accessible. Most of the trains going north and south seem to stop here (both the locals and the regionals). It's especially helpful when you are exhausted after a day of hiking and just want to get home! From Milan, we took a train directly here; this option is also available from Pisa. I wouldn't recommend driving to the Cinque Terre in general -- the roads seem rather treacherous -- but taking the train is simple and extremely scenic (especially if you get to go through Genoa).

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