5 Reasons Why Italy’s Cinque Terre Region is a Foodie and Road Tripper’s Dream
You need to go there...
Boasting some of the planet’s most dramatic coastal scenery, the five medieval fishing villages of Italy’s ‘Cinque Terre’ (or ‘five towns’) are a breath of fresh air for the soul and the senses.
Throw in some of Italy’s best cuisine and award-winning wines, along with meandering mountain trails, rugged cliffside walks and the windiest of roads and you’ve got yourself a foodie and road tripper’s dream destination.
Situated in the Liguria region of the Italian Riviera - just north of Tuscany, these five picturesque, pastel-painted villages were once linked only by mule tracks and an antiquated 19th-century railway. However, since being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, the area has become hugely popular, with thousands upon thousands of day-trippers visiting the region, dropped off by endless flotillas of Mediterranean cruise ships and overcrowded trains that serve the masses throughout the summer.
But fear not, although cars are banned from entering many of the villages’ narrow cobbled streets and harbourside hamlets, the roads linking the villages and the surrounding area offer some of the best driving in Europe - assuming that is, you like your roads curvy, with sharp hairpin bends, spiralling hill climbs and awesome cliffhanger scenery that make you feel like you’re shooting one of those fantastically smug segments your dad watches on Top Gear.
It’s not just TV and movie crews who find this glorious region of Italy so endearing - the likes of Shelley and Byron loved it too. He’s our five reasons why you should visit the Cinque Terre…
Italians love their food - and we love their food too. We’re not just talking pasta and pizza (although these are as good as you’ll get anywhere).
The sea breeze and the mineral-rich soil of Cinque Terre ensures that the region produces some of the most delicious, fantastically fresh fare this bountiful country has to offer. Think super rich and creamy soft cheeses, amazing olive oils, porcini mushrooms, pestos and breads (you’ll have the best Focaccia you’ve ever tasted here) - and the fish and seafood is not to be sniffed at either. Legend has it, Italian classics ‘Ravioli’ and ‘Minestrone’ were first invented here.
WATCH A VIDEO OF THE COASTAL AWESOMENESS HERE
Herbs, such as basil and rosemary are particularly abundant - so if you fancy getting your hands just slightly dirty, we recommend attending the ‘Pesto Experience’ at the Nessun Dorma restaurant in the cliff-hugging town of Manarola where they’ll teach you how to make your own pesto, using the very best, locally sourced ingredients.
They’ve been making wine in these parts for over 2000 years, with some of the vineyards dating back to Roman times. It’s worth getting up early to beat the crowds and take a stroll along at least one of the many cliffside trails that link the five villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia Vernazza and Monterosso to appreciate just how difficult a task it is to grow the vines in such a rugged and uniquely challenging environment.
Everything is still done by hand, just as it has been for centuries - and it’s possible to join various local tours that allow you to have a go at building and repairing the ancient dry stone walls and vines and even ride one of the many gravity-defying monorails that are used to ferry rocks and grapes up and down the hillside - though be warned; with 300 foot drops and little in the way of safety measures, this is not for the fainthearted.
If you fancy something a little less energetic, we’d recommend a visit to Castel Del Piano, a beautifully restored hotel in the heart of the region that boasts a handful of excellent rooms, a pool, amazing gardens and some of the best food and wine the area has to offer. Husband and wife team Sabina and Andrea ditched corporate life a few years back to live the dream and produce their own wine - and now make it their mission to ply visitors with the some of the best locally produced food and wine the region has to offer.
Did we mention the scenery? From the mediaeval stonewalled vineyards that traverse the windswept cliffs and the ancient forests and trails to the colourful streets and harbours of the five towns themselves - this region is a photographer’s dream come true.
Whether you’re driving, hiking or cycling - you’ll be snapping more selfies and panoramas than at your best friend’s wedding.
Getting back to nature
All that amazing food and booze will definitely put inches on your waistline, which either means investing in loungewear with elasticated waistbands - or better still, getting out there and back to nature.
You could of course just wander the cliff tops and pretend you’re auditioning for the next series of Poldark, or you could head to Agriturismo Montagna Verde and stay overnight in an authentic medieval settlement.
Known locally as Apella di Licciana Nardi and dates back over 1000 years, was originally a stop off for weary pilgrims and as well as some meticulously restored rooms, now features a pool and restaurant specialising in Lunigiana cuisine. The village itself is surrounded by hills and centuries-old woodland and you can hire electrically assisted mountain bikes if you fancy exploring the beautifully diverse countryside or just want to amble along the Taponecco river foraging for porcini mushrooms.
Alternatively, you can see how the delicious honey is made at the honey workshop, or even learn to make your own crostini using locally grown ingredients. If you like your animals friendly, there’s also an educational farm on-site - alternatively, local tour guides can take you deep into the wilderness - just be on the lookout for wild boar and even wolves who also have a soft spot for this area.
For many, driving on holiday is a necessary evil that can be as fun as the M25 on a Friday afternoon. In this part of Italy however, it really is something special - and with public transport a bit hit and miss, you really should hire a car (we pootled around the cost in the Ford Eco Sport, and we heartily recommend) and explore the area for yourself.
Whether you hug the coastline or head inland up into the mountains, you’ll witness some of the most beautiful vistas on the planet and find yourself smiling whilst you’re driving - something which I’m guessing you haven’t done for quite a while.
MTV Travelled With... Ford Eco Sport. You can find flights from all major London airports to Pisa take around 2 hrs and 15 mins.
By Jeremy Wells