Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Vintastic Voyage: Cinque Terre, Italy

View from the Cinque Terre Hike
A few short years ago I visited Italy with my then boyfriend, Aaron, and a couple of friends, Sakura and Gio. I planned the whole trip start to finish, which was a whirlwind trip that included visits to: Rome, Rimini, Venice, Cinque Terre, Florence, and Chianti Classico in Tuscany. Today I’m going to tell you about the Cinque Terre (CT) portion of our trip. When we went to CT, I hadn’t heard much about it. A couple friends on Facebook said it was a “not to miss” spot, but otherwise, we didn’t know what to expect. I decided to take a chance and add CT to our itinerary, and boy am I glad that we did. CT is on the Northwest coast of Italy in the Liguria region. Cinque Terre actually means “5 lands” and is named such, as it is made up of 5 distinct villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. The villages are connected via train. You can also boat to each town or take an arduous hike on the cliffsides through each town.

We arrived in CT in the village of Monterosso and stayed at a quaint place called Manuel’s Guesthouse. Manuel lives in this house, and rents out the other rooms to tourists visiting CT. It was adorable. You had to go up about 150 stairs (everything in CT is built on a cliff) to get there. They had a lovely communal patio overlooking the Mediterranean, and I don’t think we paid more than 100-120 euros per night.

The cuisine in CT is outrageously delicious. If you don’t like seafood, you’re pretty much screwed. Like most Italian places, they are big believers in eating and drinking the local bounty. We found a wonderful restaurant called Ristorante Ciak. Ciak is the name of the chef, who we watched one morning cooking in his restaurant kitchen. According to his website, every morning he harvests fruits/veggies from his garden and shops in the local market to get the best of the day’s ingredients. He has a popeye outfit that he wears while he cooks. From the street you can look into the window of the kitchen (there’s no glass) and see Ciak cooking up a storm. A couple of local cats even sit in the window and wait for him to throw them each an anchovy to enjoy!

Patient kitty in front of Ristorante Ciak
The local cuisine that CT is known for includes: anchovies, seafood, pesto, and focaccia bread. Here is some of the food we enjoyed at Ciak and at other local CT spots.

Seafood Risotto

Seafood Fritto Misto

Focaccia with Onion and Herbs
The day following our arrival, we decided to take the famous Cinque Terre hike. You essentially hike through the cliffs and go from city to city. It is about 7 miles or so and is quite arduous in the Summertime sun/heat. By the time you reach the end, you just take the train back to where you started and pretty much collapse for the night.

The hike was a tough one. Not because it was particularly “difficult” on the scale of hikes, but because we went during the midday sun in the hot month of August. Plus, I don’t even think we brought enough water…..definitely amateurs.  Along the hike, we saw some of the most beautiful views I have ever seen in my life. The picture at the top of my post is a view from the hike: gorgeous Mediterranean waters and the distinct colorful towns of Cinque Terre.

In addition to lots of local foods, Cinque Terre is known for wine. Cinque Terre actually has DOC status. DOC stands for: Denominazione di Origine Controllata. DOC is one of 3 quality levels that is assigned to Italian food and wines that guarantees that the food or wine product is in fact from that specific region and of a certain quality. Some DOCs or DOCGs also give restrictions for how the wine can be made (i.e. the wine has to sit on oak for “x” amount of time or the wine can only be made with certain grape varietals). DOCG is the most strict, then DOC, and then IGT.

Terraced vines in Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre DOC is known for crisp, light, refreshing white wines. The DOC was assigned in 1973. All Cinque Terre DOC wines must be made from these three grape varietals: Bosco, Albarola, and/or Vermentino. They are best drunk with the local cuisine. How about some fried anchovies? Or a plate of pesto pasta? The Cinque Terre DOC wines have notes of green apple and hay and a distinct minerality that coastal vines give. The minerality comes from the marine influences in the soil. This large body of water is a big influencer in what gives Cinque Terre wines their flavor.  Also, because Cinque Terre is built up on a cliff, and so are the vines, the ocean water continually sprays the coast and that includes the vines. The vines are built on steep cliffs and sometimes terraced so as to allow easier access to them. Because of the steep orientation, all labor in regards to the grapes (i.e. harvesting, pruning, etc) needs to be done by hand.

Back to our story. We’re on the hike, between two towns and we see an old white-haired man in the distance. He’s got longish white hair and looks a bit weathered (because of his age and because he presumably spends a lot of time outside and in the sun). If I lived here I would too. He approaches us and speaks not a lick of English, but does introduce himself as Angelo.  He waves us along, and we follow him. Why not? There aren’t serial killers along the Italian Riviera, right? We walk a bit and before we know it, we are entering his patio area where he has a long table and a couple of benches. He makes us hold on for a second and brings out an old, rustic board with a loaf of what looks like fresh bread, a clear bottle of white wine with no label, and some modest, small tumbler glasses.

Leading to Angelo's Patio
View of Angelo's house from his patio
Fresh bread and wine!
A much needed break from the Cinque Terre hike
We then realized that he wanted us to take a load off and enjoy this snack. He was the sweetest guy and kept talking to us in Italian, and we didn’t understand a word the other one said. We did appreciatively enjoy the break though. It fueled us to finish off our hike with a fun memory of a story. Stuff like that doesn’t happen every day. But in my head, as I romanticize Italy, yes, yes it does…….but only in Italy.

Grapes above us in a pergola on Angelo's property

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