Photos are the only way,
To hold on to what you knew,
Because the moments they show never change,
When the people in them do. - E.H.
<Note: My travel posts are a detailed account of my experiences. I’m tremendously grateful for every opportunity I have to visit somewhere new….in fact, I cherish it, which is why I write these for my friends and family, but also for myself, as I want to have a place to record these memories. Not in the mood for lots of photos or a play-by-play of my travels? Ciao!>
After our visit to Tuscany, I didn’t think Italy could get any better….
And then it did.
Two hours west of Florence is a seaside strip of villages, each seemingly in competition with the other to see which can be the most colorful and charming.
Welcome to Cinque Terre.
We arrived just in time for what would end up being one of the top three dining experiences of my life.
La Ruota sits on a cliff in Moneglia, a town just north of the Cinque Terre villages with panoramic views overlooking the Italian riviera. It doesn’t feel like a restaurant….it feels like your sitting in Eduardo’s house. In fact, it is his former home and he was actually born in the same room where we dined.
Eduardo inherited the restaurant from his father and now acts as owner, chef, waiter, bartender, driver (he picks you up and drops you off), and officially the most entertaining person I met in all of Italy.
There’s no menu. You simply pay a fixed price for seven courses and Eduardo works his magic, bringing out dish after dish of whatever was fresh that day from the water just a short walk down the hill. In fact, if he notices that you particularly like a certain dish, he’ll bring out a second helping just because.
There’s also a wine pairing, which typically means you drop a lot of money to taste a bit of wine. This is not the case at La Ruota. For €7 each, Eduardo presented us with a different local wine per course, leaving the bottle on the table to refresh as we wished. Following the meal, he rolled out a cart overflowing with liquors and suggested we taste some. And by ‘some’, he meant pouring us six different glasses.
Just as Joel and I decreed this one of, if not THE most memorable dining experiences of our lives, Eduardo showed us a little article…
Turns out the New York Times food critic agreed and hailed her meal at La Ruota as one of the best of her life, too. As she noted, “price and prestige have nothing to do with the meals I remember best.”
You can read the whole article here.
Four+ hours later, just after 1am, Eduardo drove us back down to our hotel and we said goodbye and until next time…
Our hotel was Abbadia San Giorgio, a former monastery inhabited by Franciscan monks in the 15th century. Today it still exudes the same historic and spiritual atmosphere.
We awoke at 6:30am to the sound of the first bell tower chimes. It is, after all, an abbey. After the fourth or fifth round (it rings every half hour), we made our way through the oasis to an elaborate breakfast spread prepared by two older women who we communicated with via our hands instead of words. I knocked out a couple hours of work and chowed down on meats, cheese and focaccia, the latter of which Eduardo had explained was the ‘local breakfast’ as it’s the perfect balance of sweet and salty.
Following another one of Eduardo’s recommendations, we made the scary venture to isolated Guvano Beach nearby the Cinque Terre town of Corneglia.
This blog shares the haphazard directions, but essentially, the trek to get there is just as exciting as the cove itself, including a 1/2 mile walk through a former train tunnel in pure darkness.
This is the entrance, but for the following 15 minute walk, a flashlight is necessary to make your way to the other end.
If the pitch black wasn’t enough to frighten you, just think about the noises….including the train sounds on the other side of the wall that can be mistaken for coming directly at you.
We made our way through and were greeted with this…
The Guvano Beach photos stop here because it’s a nude beach, a first time experience for both Joel and I.
You only live once and, as the saying goes, when in Rome….or anywhere in Italy, I suppose.
Village #1 - Vernazza
This was the busiest of the five towns, although it certainly wasn’t the biggest. I’m also inclined to say it felt the most touristy. One afternoon was plenty of time to dig into some seaside risotto, hike the narrow stairs and take in the view from the center point of the five villages.
Village #2 - Monterosso
Not only is this the biggest of the five villages, but it’s also the only village with a real beach vs the rocky terrain that occupies most of the coast.
We strolled along the boardwalk, another “only-in-Monterosso-ism” before settling in for dinner at Trattoria Ciak La Lampara, where they took the seaside theme very seriously.
Village #3 - Riomaggiore
If there was one village that I’d skip, this would be it. However, it is the most southern of the group and a good starting point for the full hike, which is exactly what we had in mind.
Village #4 - Manarola
Absolutely my favorite of all the Cinque Terre villages. We dove off the cliffs, sprawled out and baked on the slabs of rock and tasted the daily catch with views for days at Billy’s.
Village #5 - Corneglia
This is the sleepiest of the Cinque Terre villages and unlike the other four, it’s located at the top of the cliff, not down by the water. Once you reach Corneglia, it takes another 20+ minutes just to ascend to the top where you’re met with all the houses and only a handful of shops, restaurants, etc.
About 20 minutes north of Cinque Terre is Portofino, another colorful harbor village, but one that felt like it just had a brand new fancy coat of paint. It was definitely the snazziest, most “jet-set” spot on the coast.
While the Cinque Terre villages were filled with visitors from all over the world, Moneglia was full of Italian vacationers. We finally took advantage of a real sand beach and some of the best people watching of the trip, including one epic photo of beach vendors carrying their wares on their head, which has gone missing.
With one final pasta, we said ciao, ciao to Italy…and immediately began plotting a return visit.