Destination: Santa Margarita & the Cinque Terre
Number of Days Spent: 2 days
Where we stayed: Nuova Riviera - 65 Euros/Night (no breakfast or wifi), the Italian Riviera is expensive...but the room was immaculate and we had our own huge private terrace to sip wine on in the evenings!
Best restaurant: A Lampara - We had our favorite meal in all of Italy here. The calamari was fresh and perfectly cooked, the pasta all homemade - the pesto excellent and the ravioli swoon worthy! YUMMY! A bit expensive, our bill came to 45 Euros with the cover charge and a half bottle of wine.
Best of: The hike between the 5 towns was stunning!
Worst of: There isn't much not to like in this beautiful place. If we had to pick one it would be that the beach is very rocky compared to the white sand beaches we are used to.
Most Memorable: Absolutely gorgeous views from our hike!
We dropped off our rental car at the airport in Pisa and hopped on the train to Santa Margarita, the beginning of the Italian Riviera. We decided to base ourselves here for the famous Cinque Terre trail a short train ride to the south.
Santa Margarita proved to be a pleasant surprise of a town. We were expecting somewhat of a commercial town but discovered a charming city. It's a little touristy and evidence of expansion is everywhere - streets are ripped up and scaffolding is everywhere. Behind the metal barriers lies finely painted pastel colored buildings, boutique shops and an upmarket feel. Right in the heart of town there is a beach, albeit a bit on the rocky side. After picking up some wine (I don't think we went anywhere in Italy without vino!) we hit the beach with the crowds for an afternoon of R&R.
The next morning we arose bright and early for the Cinque Terre Hike. A short hike by trail standards, only about 10km's from end to end, the Cinque Terre trail is the stuff of legends. Rick Steves calls this his favorite spot in all of Europe and it's easy to see why. Named after five towns along the coast, the trail takes you up hills for majestic overlooks and back down to the seaside villages with natural harbors. Along the way, you pass pillboxes (reminders of WWII and Italy's Mussolini dictatorship) as well as vineyards, cat sanctuaries and loads of other people (it's a popular destination now). The first half of the trail (if you start at the northern end) is the hardest so after completing the first two legs, we sat down with a couple from Houston and polished off a bottle of the local Cinque Terre wine to reward ourselves.
Words do not do the place justice so we will let the camera lens tell the rest of the story here.
And now the best part, the scenery!
And lastly, via del amore aka lovers lane! Couples will come here to put a padlock on the fence, thus ensuring their love forever :-) Corny, sure but you see it all over Europe!
Exhausted from a hard day's trek, we washed up and treated ourselves to a nice restaurant. Thus far we had be doing Italy on the cheap (will as cheap as we could) but decided to splurge. At Lampara, we were not disappointed. With melt in your mouth homemade pastas (ravioli without a doubt the best we have EVER had), fresh calamari and a great 1/2 bottle of wine (trying to wean off the vino addiction!) it was the best meal we had had in a long time.
With our muscles still a little sore the next morning, we packed our bags and headed to Florence for some more Renaissance fun!