Summer is the festival time in Cinque Terre, a collection of five colorful and beautiful towns in Italy along the rocky coast of the Mediterranean. Despite the towns being small in size and population, the spirit lives strong. On July 20th, the locals gathered in one of the towns and put on a show celebrating the patron saint, Margarita, with a massive firework show. The firework show, coming from a small town in Italy, impressed me, an American. Go figure.
During the summer I visited, Cinque Terre was hot, sunny, and busy. However, these generally negative characteristics took on a completely new connotation. The bustling streets, the smell of seafood, and the scorching sun only added to the charm of Cinque Terre and gave me the exact feeling I expected from small fishing villages in Italy.
Located on the water, each of the five towns has their own spot for swimming. The town with the biggest (and busiest) beach is at Monterosso al Mare, but as an adrenaline junkie, I spent more time swimming at the rocky town of Manarola, cliff jumping off giant rocks with some of the locals. Regardless, I took every chance I had to cool off a bit in the water.
Hiking Cinque Terre
Due to the rugged topography of Cinque Terre, there are no roads connecting the towns. Instead, you can either take a train running through the mountainside or hike along the coast. I tried both, and hiking is without a doubt an exceptionally better experience.
The hikes connecting the towns are no small feat. Generally, the treks lasted up to two hours and involve steep terrain, large portions of stairs, and narrow paths. Along the journeys, there are various different viewing points, which gave me a perspective of Cinque Terre’s towns which are simply unavailable elsewhere.
As an adventure seeker, I found beaten paths along the way which led to secret swimming holes or nice picnic destinations. Not only was it enjoyable to cool down with a mid-hike swim, but it was also relaxing to get away from the crowds.
Another bonus of hiking was the occasional otherwise inaccessible restaurant. There were only a few restaurants along the trails, however, they provided some of the best views Cinque Terre has to offer. Although I never ate an entire meal at these places, it was nice to stop for a drink and sit back.
Eating Well Cinque Terre
The food in Cinque Terre is divine. Seafood is the specialty for obvious reasons and it’s always fresh (but, like anywhere in Italy, pizza is also a safe choice).
One of the best meals I had the pleasure of enjoying was at a small restaurant on the cliff of the town, Vernazza. It was a bit of a hike to get there, but the view was well worth it. My family and I sat down at a table which overlooked the Mediterranean. As my steaming shrimp scampi arrived, the sun began to set over the mountains in the distance. Italian wine, fresh seafood, sunset glistening off the Mediterranean… I’m not going to say I shed a tear, but I was close. Pure bliss.
As for the rest of my trip at Cinque Terre, there were no meals that disappointed. Even the street food was amazing. Oftentimes the small vendors lured me in with their delicious sliced pizza, seafood baskets and more.
There are very few ways to cool down during the hot summers of Cinque Terre. Aside from swimming, there are ice cold gelato shops on every block. The gelato, which is very similar to ice cream, simply melted in my mouth after a long day of hiking in one of the most elegant places I have visited.