I just arrived in Europe for another busy guidebook research trip. My first stop: Italy’s Cinque Terre.
Approaching in a stiff wind, Genoa’s little airport provides a hard landing — both on the runway, and out at the curb, where I cram into an overstuffed bus for the trip into the train station. A jet-lagged zombie, I somehow survive the ride and make my way onto the right train…where everyone in my compartment is toting the same guidebook. The Cinque Terre truly is Rick Steves country.
At the Monterosso train station, I step out into invigorating sunshine and follow the beachfront promenade to the Old Town and my hotel. It’s still April, but people are already out at the beach…luxuriating on the fine pebbles. A few little kids are brave enough to go for a swim. Even in the warm sun, I shiver vicariously.
While the New Town beach is open for business, the Old Town beach is still preparing for the coming season. Two burly bulldozers are clearing sand and pebbles, creating a path for where the village’s underground river empties into the sea. After their devastating 2011 flood, Monterosso knows to take the power of nature seriously.
Checked in and showered, but still not quite fully “in Europe,” I stroll through Monterosso. Kids are out playing soccer on the piazza in front of the church. The waterfront restaurants are starting to fill up, even though at this time of year, you can’t see the sunset from here. Sore-kneed hikers — with their shorts, sporty backpacks, and hiking poles — are trickling down the steep steps from the clifftop trail, just having hiked over the bluff from neighboring Vernazza. Periodically, a train rockets through town on the elevated tracks, briefly —but only briefly — shattering the serenity.
It’s breakfast time at home and dinnertime here, but either way, I’m starving. Choosing a seaview restaurant without a reservation (one of the many benefits to traveling in shoulder season), I settle in for a meal of all the Ligurian classics: anchovies prepared a dozen different ways…but none of them really all that good. A big dish of trofie — the dense, chewy, slightly potatoey local pasta twists — with vivid-green pesto (which tops everything here, from pasta to bruschetta to foccacia…another local specialty). And for dessert, biscotti dunked in the sweet local wine, Sciacchetrà.
Travelers get into routines. And as I enjoy this meal with this view, it sinks in that this is just the beginning of my trip. For the next several days, I’ll be enjoying these same flavors and these same views as I explore Monterosso, the four neighboring towns, and the rugged trails, train rides, and boat rides between them…living a lifestyle I think of as “La Vita Cinqueterre.” It’s good to be back.