Grant, of Grant's Prague Bike Blog, returns today with a guest post from his trip to Italy (with bad captions by Brewsta):
High above Vernazza, on Italy's Cinque Terre coast, on the narrow trail to Corniglia, is a restaurant called La Torre. It's only a 10-minute hike out of the village, but the entire route is up steep stairs and trails, and that seems to be enough to discourage many of the tourists flooding the tiny streets below from overrunning the place. (Or maybe it's the restaurant's unpredictable hours.)
At a small table overlooking the Ligurian Sea, glittering in the early evening sun, Daisy and I ordered a carafe of the house white wine and a plate of anchovies.
Now, anchovies -- or acchiughe as they are called -- are thought to be an acquired taste, like Tori Amos. Almost everyone, when anchovies are mentioned, thinks of those salty little fish on top of pizza, as in, "Hold the anchovies."
A visit to the Cinque Terre quickly puts all such thoughts out of mind. In Vernazza and the surrounding villages, the anchovies are served fresh from the sea and raw -- first butterflied and then drizzled in olive oil and lemon juice. They are slightly salty, a little tangy, and totally delicious.
They're also delicious fried or stuffed with herbs and bread crumbs.
And the version at La Torre is as good as they come. (A plate will set you back around 8 euros, or around $10.75 In fact, it seems almost every appetizer or entree in the Cinque Terre seems to be 8 to 12 euros or so.)
Daisy and I spent three nights in May hiking and eating in the Cinque Terre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The five villages are, in order from east to west, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare.
You can read more about our hiking adventures here. This post is all about the food and the restaurants of the Cinque Terre. The nice thing about eating in the Cinque Terre is that you feel you've really earned your food and drink because of all the hiking you've done.
Culinarily speaking, the Cinque Terre and the surrounding Liguria region is known for, among other things:
- Its dry, crisp white wine, the grapes for which are grown on the steeply terraced hillsides that surround the five villages.
- Pesto, because basil is said to grow especially well in the soil and climate of the region.
- Trofie, a type of pasta unique to the area that is first rolled, then twisted and which goes very well with pesto. It's a little like gnocci.
- The olive-oily flat bread known as focaccia.
- The honey-flavored gelato in Corniglia (miele de Corniglia)
- And, of course, fresh anchovies.
- Lemons. GIGANTIC lemons. Used in the local limoncino liqueur (only liqueur from the Amalfi Coast can be called limoncello).
There are dozens of restaurants in each of the five villages to tempt you with all of these offerings, and many other dishes.
It's difficult, though (or at least we found it so), to steer away from the crowds and eat where the "locals" eat. The villages are so small, and the restaurants are all pretty obvious. The locals, it seems, are either at the next table or cooking at home.
We've been to the Cinque Terre twice now, and I can say we've never had a bad meal.
On this trip, we splurged on spaghetti with lobster for two at Il Moretto di Barbados on a tiny piazza in Monterroso al Mare, the largest of the villages, which has a lovely and vast waterfront.
I enjoyed a wonderful bowl of mussels and sweet baby clams and herbs at Gambero Rosso, on Vernazza's cozy harbor front, beneath the village church's noisy bell tower.
We shared a giant plate of Parma ham and juicy melon at a restaurant in Corniglia whose name I have lost (ask me and I'll tell you how to find it).
I cannot begin to describe how exquisite this honey gelato is, how subtle and tantalizing. It's made from honey, but it's got a special something that could be because some of the local honey is made by bees who have visited the flowers of the local chestnut trees. I'm not sure. I only know that it's in my Top 10 All-Time Taste Memories.
For one of the best sandwiches you'll ever have, stop by the train station in Monterroso al Mare. There's a little sandwich shop underneath the station, facing the sea. Order the focaccia with tomato and mozzarella. The tomatoes are juicy, the bread is heaven, infused with olive oil and slightly salty. It's heaven.
It's a great place to grab a sandwich to go as you're taking the train back to Milan, as we did.
As they say, all good things...
Bar Ristorante La Torre
Via Carattino 64
Ristorante Gambero Rosso
Piazza Marconi 7
Ristorante-Pizzeria Il Moretto di Barbados
Piazza Colombo 1 e 3
Monterosso al Mare
* Grant wrote more about Cinque Terre on his blog.