After a few hours in Pisa, I boarded Trenitalia and made my way to the picturesque Cinque Terre (pronounced as “ching-queh te-reh”) and Portovenere. Really wasn’t sure what to expect, but as we were approaching the first village, Riomaggiore, we saw a glimpse of the sparkling blue ocean, the colourful little buildings, and terrains of vineyards and lemon trees from afar. Everyone on the train began cheering as we made our way to the last (and biggest) village, Monterosso.
The minute I stepped out of the train; lugging my massive luggage to the beach front, I knew I was in it for a treat. The atmosphere of Cinque Terre was laid back, happy and definitely had that “community” feel. Cinque Terre is a great place if you enjoy being part of a small village. There are no big brands there – only small independent shops selling local fresh produce, gelato, fried seafood, focaccias, local artisanal products, and more gelato..
The lack of corporate and commercial development definitely helps maintain the charm of Cinque Terre eventhough it brings millions of tourists a year (2.5 million last year!). People can only access and leave Cinque Terre by boat, trains and walking trails. There are cars too but car services in and around Cinque Terre are ridiculously expensive – I rather walk for a day!! This also helps protect Cinque Terre, a UNESCO heritage ❤
Cinque Terre, meaning 5 lands is made up of 5 villages – Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Cinque Terre is located in the Province of La Spezia and lies on the Ligurian Sea. I love how the local people have built terraces on a steep landscape to maximise the land they have to grow grapes for wine, olive groves and basil herbs. Besides maximising agriculture land, it also ensures that the plantations have sufficient sunlight and irrigation. These farmers have really thought it out well and boy, they must be really fit to be climbing up and down everyday.
I chose to go to Cinque Terre simply because of the beautiful buildings and the ocean, yup simply for those reasons. I wanted that Italian coastal experience. Little did I know, I was going to be exposed to the Ligurian cuisine!
Italy, being a huge supporter and living example of Slow Food, Italian cuisine is very much focused on using fresh, seasonal produce. So I wasn’t surprised that Ligurian food is made using ingredients local to the region of Liguria and in fact, it is the fresh local ingredients that make Ligurian cuisine well, Ligurian-ly tantalizing..
Being on a student budget, I kept my expenditure low and ate mostly local Ligurian street food. But I definitely did not stinge on trying Ligurian food.
My top 6 INexpensive local Ligurian food to try:
Trofie al pesto (5-10 Euros)
Trofie is a Ligurian pasta made with flour and water (and no eggs). It is rolled up into squizzly shapes and cooked with basil pesto. The basil pesto is especially famous because of the quality of the basil leaves grown in Cinque Terre. They say it’s the combination of the temperature, sunlight and water available there.
Make sure there is “Pesto alla Genovese” on the label to get the most authentic basil pesto!
Monterosso tart (3 Euros/slice)
It was and is one of the best tarts I’ve ever tasted. Monterosso tart is a pie like dessert made of short crust pastry on the outside, layered with a thin layer of sponge cake, followed by a bit of lemon or apricot jam then a thick layer of custard/creme patisserie and lastly, melted dark chocolate. It sounds sweet but the custard/creme patisserie was surprisingly not sickly sweet at all and the chocolate was bitter enough to offset the sweetness of the tart. I bought the tart only to try it for the experience but ended up having one everyday! Definitely a tart to re-create!
Monterosso tart is one of the many pastries that is baked by the local baker, Laura. Laura has been baking local pastries since 1966. No wonder many local people were worried that Laura’s bakery and her secret recipes would be destroyed after the 2011 floods. But thank god she reopened and rebuilt her little empire of local homemade, Ligurian pastries. Laura’s shop is called Pasticerria Ariagianale Laura in the historic center of Monterosso.
Limoncello (free tasting)
A lemon liquor that is usually consumed as a chilled “Digestivo”; a drink after dinner to aid digestion. Limoncello has a strong lemon flavour but does not have the sourness of the juice or bitterness of the peel. I’m not a huge fan of alcoholic drinks so a free sample was enough – yup, I was being a cheapskate!
There are lemon trees growing all around Cinque Terre. Almost every 100m I walked, there would be several lemon trees. I tried grabbing some during my hike but it was too far to reach. Too bad. Lemons are very easily grown in the warm climates of Cinque Terre.
Chickpea bread – Farinata (sold by weight : 2-3 Euros/slice)
Farinata – a local savoury specialty – is a chickpea flatbread baked in a wood-fired oven. It is the perfect healthy gluten-free snack when you’re craving something salty to munch on or for a light lunch. It should be crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. Some say it’s an acquired taste but for me, it was love at first bite! ❤
Focaccias (3-6 Euros/slice)
Fluffy flat Italian bread, similar to the texture of a pizza base. The most traditional ones are foccacias drizzled with olive oil and salt. Now, there arr many with different toppings like olives, caramelised onions, tomatoes and cheese with herbs and many more 🙂
The plethora of vegetarian/vegan foods available, I think is a huge reflection of the religious beliefs of the local people who are supposed to be Catholics and therefore, have meat-free days once a week or at least regularly.
Mixed seafood cones – Fritto miste (5-10 Euros)
Freshly caught seafood. Lightly battered. Enough said.
It was definitely 5 days well spent enjoying the seaside, hiking several times between each village and indulging in local Ligurian food. When you learn and embrace another’s country or province’s cuisine, you learn a whole lot more about their culture 🙂