Cinque Terre, The Home of Focaccia

Sitting on the balcony of our tiny apartment in Cinque Terre admiring the open sea, the birds flying free over it, the waves crashing against the ancient rocks, the sun slowly and patiently setting on the far horizon, holding my husband’s hand on one side and a glass of wine on the other, has been one of the most inspiring and calming experiences of my life. I felt alive. 

We arrived at Cinque Terre after a stressful ride from Genova to La Spezia where we parked the car, loaded our suitcase with bottles of wine, and took the train to Rio Maggiore. This, we had read, was the easiest way to get to the Cinque Terre villages, and the best way to ensure a parking spot. On the train, we wondered if we could open one of those bottles to drown our nerves after our first encounter with the Italian way of driving on a narrow highway composed of bridges and tunnels. 

A quick train ride to Rio Maggiore through, yet another, tunnel with round openings where we could see the bright turquoise sea and the resplendent sun for seconds at the time, increased our giddy excitement. Rio Maggiore is the first village from the south {or last from the north, you choose your orientation}, it has a marina, and around from it a rock beach against a tall cliff that echoes the waves pushing the rocks, back and forward; a supernatural experience, especially at night, with closed eyes, and the cool breeze brushing against our bodies like the whispers of spirits. 

We arrived early in the afternoon and eager to enjoy that little balcony we have dreamt about since we booked it months before. The owner welcomed us on the bottom of the hill and kindly said, “follow me,” as he turned the corner to a set of steep rock stairs to the guts of the village. We had decided to bring only one bag, the bigger bag, and Scott looked up at the stairs, hugged and lifted the bag, and up he went. I walked behind him hoping I didn’t have to catch him if he tripped or fell. 

After a few turns and stairs I was losing hope of an ocean front view, as we kept going more into the village. Our guide stopped right outside a small door that led to an even smaller set of insanely steeper and narrow stairs, just wide enough for the suitcase. At the top of the stairs he opened another door to a dark room, he scurried to the French doors protected by storm shutters and swung them both open. There it was, the endless world right outside our window. 

Our apartment hanged above the ocean, above the crashing waves, in front of the façade of the village, and we didn’t want to leave. But when hunger strikes an ocean view isn’t going to fill you, {well, maybe ones’ soul but not the belly} so we trekked back down to find a quick snack. To our luck, or thanks to the universe {not sure}, we found a small store selling local specialties like focaccia, marinated calamari and octopus, olives, pesto, and artichoke hearts, plus produce and other specialty items. We stocked up on all of it and ran back to our corner of heaven, where we sat until the sun had said its last good night. Later, drunk with joy and wine, we went down for a gelato. 

The Hike
Up early the next morning, we walked to the train station to buy a train ticket. The day before we had asked the shop attendant about the train schedule and the hike in the Cinque Terre National Park, we told her our plan was to go to Monterosso al Mare and then hike back to Rio Maggiore, to which she suggested, “Take the train to Corniglia, because the trail is close through Manarola due to a rock slide, and hike to Monterosso, it’s easier, then take the train back” she said that the hike on the other direction was arduous and steeper.

In Corniglia we stopped at a Focacceria for a quick snack before the hike. Focaccia is a specialty of the region of Liguria, and there are focaccerias everywhere in Cinque Terre. We ordered a focaccia topped with pesto, also native of Liguria {actually Genova}, tomatoes and mozzarella, together with two fruit smoothies and a pleasant morning breeze.

The hiking trail took us first into the mountain through a thick and lush path. The silence of nature took over and we kept quite to not ruin its speech. Once in a while the movement from a leave or the chirp of a bird called our attention away from the rocky steps as we began climbing. It was still early and even the sun was just waking up. Still fresh. Calm. Peaceful. 

The path opened to the sea below as we approached our first stop, Vernazza. The majestic view dazzled us with its vibrant colors, and the sun was finally up, spicy and alert. Closer to Vernazza we ran into more hikers going the opposite direction, and some giving up after a strenuous beginning. We continued on our path to snack number two, a walnut-caramel tart with a cortado on a small café on the main plaza of the village in front of a small beach where children played with sand and tourist took selfies with the waves crashing against the dock.

After a well deserved break, we continued to our final destination of Monterosso al Mare. It was late morning and the path was crowded, the sun relentless, and the steps steeper and abundant. And so were the views, abundant. Every other switch back a more beautiful landscape stopped our hearts. “How could a place be so beautiful?” I asked.
Nearing the town we began our descent, an almost straight up incline for those coming the opposite direction, just as the shop attendant had told us. We sang her praises as we cruised down the steps and sharp rocks on our way to the beach, but stopping first for a farinata {a chickpea pancake} with pesto, a focaccia topped with caramelized onions and olives, and campari soda. 

~ Paula


6 thoughts on “Cinque Terre, The Home of Focaccia”

    1. 186 steps! oh dio mio 🙂 i don’t know how many stairs we did but i think we gained some leg muscle the few days we were there. It is a wonderful place, i look forward to going back!

  1. I adored Cinque Terre, funny I don’t remember any focaccia…its been a couple decades though. Your photos are breathtaking, I agree all perspectives of the seaside paradise are mesmerizing. They have got to be some of the healthiest folks with inclines and descents to tackle daily.

    1. We also thought the locals must be the most in shape people around with all of those inclines and stairs! it’s such such an unbelievable place, and the focaccia, we saw a Rick Steve’s special on cinque terre before we visited and he talked about the focaccia so it was front in our minds so we saw it everywhere, and ate it everywhere, too 🙂

  2. Your visit to Cinque Terra has inspired us to try and visit some time. I had been chatting to Jodie’s partner whose surname happens to be Cinque about the Cinque Terra just days before I read your blog, so thanks to you and Marco I am more informed about the area. Happy trails.

    1. I’m so glad! It’s an incredible beautiful place, you both would love it 😍. I Look forward to the pictures and stories from your future visit. 😘

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