I hope Cinque Terre always stays a little bit under the radar. That it remains in that "Italy's best kept secret" category.
So, I figure, what better way to keep things secret than to go out there and publish a 1,000 word blog post raving about it.
Cinque Terre means "The Five Towns" in Italian. Each town has, maybe, a few thousand residents. To go from London (8 million people), then Rome (over 2 million people) to Venice (261,000) and then Florence (382,000), this dramatic drop in population alone felt like a major change in pace. Now add in some incredibly steep cliffs, narrow roads, and some intense hiking, and you've got a truly unique stop on the trip. The Five Towns are a sweet little place that can hold their own against the big names of Rome, Florence, and Venice.
The houses and buildings in Cinque Terre look a little bit like Venice, but instead of everything being built on the water, these homes are literally built into a cliff. Everything around you feels like you've entered into the Instagram/Pinterest Hall of Fame. The whole place is a postcard with these little pastel colored houses side by side, all looking like they're one rockslide away from falling into the Mediterranean sea.
The weekend we were there, we had access to four of the five towns. One town was shutdown. Why? Because Morgan Freeman and Richard Gere were stopping by. In Venice, Lady Gaga couldn't even shutdown Harry's Bar. In Cinque Terre, the voice of Visa and the dude from Pretty Woman can close off an entire village.
We walked down a steep hill going into the first town. As I was walking down, it was kind of like the Grand Canyon, you can't help but think, "Uh oh, I have to go back up this next time around."
Cinque Terre, like everywhere else in Italy, is very much a foodie destination. The five towns are known for their seafood and the region itself is secretly the birthplace of both Foccacia bread and pesto. We went into a little bakery where two women in tank tops were dancing behind the counter. They were singing along to some Italian pop song blasting over the speakers. They'd sing and dance and pull new breads out of the oven.
One thing that I want to get off my chest real quick: I don't think Pizza Hut gets nearly enough credit for their breadsticks. Pizza Hut's breadsticks essentially are a thing of Focaccia bread cut into five slices. And while yes, the Foccacia bread from the singing ladies in Cinque Terre is better than Pizza Hut's, the margin is closer than you might think. It's kind of like a No. 1 vs. No. 8 seed game in the NCAA Tournament, it's a tight game that ends up being 72-66. The Italian version of Coach K comes to the podium afterwards. "Look, Pizza Hut gave our guys all that we could handle out there. Gotta give them credit."
And, speaking of fast food, Cinque Terre has their own version of a $5 fill-up. It's like a fresher version of Long John Silver's. I went into this little store where they had mostly fried seafood options displayed similar to how you'd see the different types of popcorn showcased at Garrett's. For five Euros, the lady behind the counter scoops a mix of calamari, shrimp, mussels, anchovies and dumps them all into a paper container that kind of looks like one of those birthday cone hats. I think they call this option the "Ashley allergy special."
There were so many better classier food options on this trip, but man, just like the nasty-on-paper-but-secretly-really-good cow's stomach sandwich I had in Florence, this $5 fill-up was right up there with the best meals of the trip. I ended up getting one of these per day. I also ordered an anchovy pizza later that night; which was really good. Incredibly salty, but good. I don't think I'll order the Pizza Hut equivalent to compare notes.
It didn't matter what you ate or how much you ate in Cinque Terre because all those calories (and then some) would be burnt off during the hikes. Cinque Terre is a place that you feel as much in your knees as you do in your stomach. Along with the up and down climbs going in and out of towns, we also did one of the hiking trails. At the end of it we found out on our phones that we had scaled the equivalent of 127 floors. We essentially hiked the Sears Tower.
The meal after that hike was one of three lunches in my life where I feel like I really earned it.
Number 1: Potbelly sandwiches midway through moving day last year.
Number 2: The chicken fingers at Cedar Point after I volunteered for six hours straight in the strobe light heavy "body bag" room of their haunted house.
Number 3: The lunch we had post-hike in Cinque Terre. You just can't get the same level of fulfillment from a PB&J + Sun Chips midway through a work day.
Our waiter at the restaurant would walk out singing and wearing a different hat each time. Why? Nobody knew . It was just kind of his thing.
That's what stood out to me about Cinque Terre: everyone was just doing their own thing. Loving their jobs. There were the women dancing and serving up Focaccia bread. There was the waiter singing and wearing different hats. There was a guy whistling "Con te Partiro" while painting an incredible mural on the side of the train station. Cinque Terre is a funny little place. The hikes were hard. The constant climbing was exhausting. The drives in and out of town were intense and scary, but the message of Cinque Terre was really pretty simple: just relax. Enjoy whatever it is you're doing. Sing, dance, eat some greasy seafood.
"Life is meant to be pretty fun." I think that's Cinque Terre's best kept secret.
We are on the final final lap of the Medium Rare Trip to Italy series. On Monday, I will have the grand finale chronicling our days in the little underrated town of Siena. If you missed any of the previous Medium Rare Trip to Italy posts, here they are:
Here or There (Included in ChicagoNow's Best Posts of October)
Roman Colosseum, Vatican, and Pope on the Slopes (Included in ChicagoNow's Best Posts of November)
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Filed under: Travel Advice
Tags: best Foccacia bread in Italy, Cinque Terre, Coach K, Duke, Florence, Foccacia bread, Instagram, Italy, Lady Gaga, Morgan Freeman, NCAA Tournament, Pinterest, Pizza Hut, Pizza Hut breadsticks, places to go in Italy, Pretty woman, Richard Gere, Rome, Sears Tower, Venice, Visa cards