Beware of marrying an Italian man.
You’ll enter into a strange world.
A world with a mother-in-law who’ll try to iron your underwear, your socks, and your towels. And by the way—you’ll probably live with her, near her, or see her every Sunday. It’s just like that.
Your new world will also contain a constant consumption of alcoholic beverages, an ongoing dose of complaining about the government, and a morning ritual of sugary pastries and coffee while you fight for elbow room at the bar. And if you’ve never smoked in your life—don’t worry—you’ll probably start that too.
If you have a daughter, don’t let her travel to Italy—she might never come home. I call it the ciao bella condition. It’s a singsong phrase too powerful to resist. Caveat Emptor.
Approaching Riomaggiore by boat after a hike. Photo: Leela Cyd Ross.
My Cinque Terre Love Affair
I met my sweetheart in The Cinque Terre.
I had no idea where the Cinque Terre was. My friend suggested we go there to escape the heat of summertime in Florence. I diligently accompanied her as our train headed north towards the Italian Riviera.
If you’ve never been to the Cinque Terre, then drop whatever you are doing, including reading this, and book your flight immediately. Make sure it lands in the late spring or the early fall—those are the best times to visit. Tuck yourself into a simple but adequate family-run guest house and wander the five colourful villages. You’ll be cornered by grape terraces, the ocean, and steep cliffs. It’s a great place to get stuck.
And by the way, UNESCO has a crush on the place too: it’s a designated World Heritage Site.
Dinner of spaghetti allo scoglio. Photo: Leela Cyd Ross.
The most wonderful thing you can do in the Cinque Terre is nothing
By nothing I mean: stop trying to see Italy. Instead, try to feel Italy. It’s the best travel advice I can ever give.
At first, it’s hard to get over the guilt of having to “see things.” “Seeing things” is sort of a manic pastime in Italy—the pressure builds as you try to cram your art history class memories into your short vacation. In the Cinque Terre: don’t worry. Be happy.
You won’t miss any opulent palazzi, galleries jammed with art, or world renowned marble things. There aren’t any. Wealthy, artistic patronage passed these villages by. The Cinque Terre was built by weathered faces working the land and the sea—not going to the opera.
For the most part, the villages are car free—so you’ll be relying on your own two feet, the walking paths that connect the villages, and the trains. When you take traffic out of Italy, you breathe better. You think better. You wander more. To put it bluntly: it’s da bomb.
You can visit all five villages in one day, but why would you want to?
Instead, I suggest taking a few days. Or a few years. And I also hope you steal these ideas.
The Cinque Terre: Don’t worry–be happy. Photo: Leela Cyd Ross.
Your Cinque Terre Plan:
- Eat acciuge (anchovies) taken from the ocean you are staring at and sip white wine made from the land you are sitting on. There are plenty of open air spots serving this famous Italian Riviera food pairing.
- Spend an afternoon at the beach. There’s a swimming spot in most villages. Stop at the market before you go to grab figs, water, and a piece of focaccia. That will get you through a few hours of vegetating—Italian style.
- Adopt the religion of the aperitivo. It’s before dinner. It’s the right thing to do. Order an aperol spritz, a negroni, or a glass of prosecco. But not all three unless you wanna slur through your spaghetti allo scoglio.
- Walk the famous Cinque Terre footpaths. Unforgettable photos will be yours. Ask which trails are open when you arrive as the landslides du jour dictate trail accessibility. The sentiero azzurro is the most famous trail. If you are a wimp walk Monterosso to Vernazza. If you fancy yourself the rugged type, walk from Riomaggiore to Portovenere; it’s drop-dead spectacular.
- Go shopping in the city. Genova is an hour away. La Spezia is just a skip away. These are Italian cities that, refreshingly, don’t wanna be a postcard.
- Stay out past your bedtime. Walk Via dell’Amore in the dark. Sit on stone walls and stargaze. Eat gelato that you’ve ordered in Italian. Be a romantic. Strike up a conversation with someone you’ve never met. Laugh with reckless abandon. Feel like a better version of yourself.
Group tours for women with Italian Fix. Photo: Leela Cyd Ross.
I don’t care if you’ve never seen Florence or Venice or the Rome. Get your butt to The Cinque Terre and soak up some Italian Riviera goodness—you might not fall in love with a local, but I guarantee you’ll fall in love with the place.
I see it every time.
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Bianca’s Cinque Terre Cheat Sheet:
Getting There: Fly to Pisa or Genova | Sleep: I Limone di Thuli or Cinque Terre Residence (Riomaggiore) | Eat: Ristorante Belforte (Vernazza) or Cappun Magru (Groppo) | Drink: A Pie’ de Ma’ (Riomaggiore).