Leaving Tuscany, we made our way to the Cinque Terre. But on the way, we couldn’t help but detour through Modena for lunch (as if we could miss out on the home of Balsamic Vinegar). We stopped at Trattoria Bianca, on a recommendation from Gourmet Traveller magazine. The restaurant is seemingly in the middle of nowhere, opposite a big car park, but inside you are transported to old world Italy, with wooden tables and white linen.
Oh, and did I mention Modena is also the home of Ferrari, and Luciano Pavarotti?!
We had a lovely waiter with great English, and he took the time to explain the details of every dish we selected. We both felt very special at Trattoria Biance and had a lovely long lunch. The food was really good, but not amazing. I would still go back though, for the food but more so the vibe of the place.
A highlight was a plate of cold meats, which came with these amazingly light and delicious fried puffs of pastry (still warm), and a locally made cherry jam that was rich and almost savoury in flavour, but with a hint of sweet cherry.
We also went for a quick wander around the streets of Modena, and found it to be quite a nice town, with some beautiful buildings and lots of streets with cobble stones and multi-coloured buildings.
After lunch and our walk, it was time to go to the Cinque Terre!! I’d heard so much about how lovely the place was, but wanted to see it with my own eyes.
The name Cinque Terre refers to the region, made up of 5 villages set into seaside cliffs. They are really quite amazing, with farms built up and down the cliff faces. You can’t quite believe it until you see it, but they must be very fit and healthy farmers, going up and down and around the hills all day.
A very fit farmer tending to his vineyard.
We were staying in Volastra, a ten minute bus ride (or half an hour walk up a lot of stairs) from Manarola, which is one of the 5 towns that make up the Cinque Terre. Our B&B, Niria, was lovely and we had a wonderful time there, with incredible views of the sea from our breakfast table.
The lady running the B&B was so lovely and friendly, and would chatter away to us in Italian – amazingly we managed to understand a lot of what she was saying (I suspect she was using Italian for children), and we got along really well. She loved to feed us more and more at breakfast, and once she realised we couldn’t eat any more or we’d pop, she’d give us a paper bag to take away the rest to eat during the day.
Wandering around the Cinque Terre is basically like living in a postcard, it is so ridiculously photogenic.
The multi-coloured houses in the villages are beautiful and seem to defy gravity at times, sticking out on the edge of these huge cliffs. Each of the villages is special in its own way, and each is worth stopping by to wander around and take in the atmosphere.
The area is also known for its beautiful hikes, and we did three, one from Volastra to Manarola (basically just a huge set of stairs but it felt like a great achievement once done!), one from Volastra to Corniglia (the best and most beautiful hike I’ve ever done), and a coastal walk from Monte Rosso to Vernazza.
The most famous walk is the lovers lane, from Romaggiore to Manarola, but after landslides a few years ago that track closed and has not yet been re-opened.
But no matter, the walks we did were absolutely incredible. Breathtaking views, challenging but very achievable inclines and distances, and a real sense of achievement at the end of each.
On some of the walks, we were in between vineyards, and walking through people’s front gardens – it must get tiring for them with tourists tramping past all day every day! We were very happy to pay for the privilege of walking through these people’s properties (its about 7.50 euros per day to hike in the region).
There is also a train that connects the villages, and wowee does Manarola have the best view of any train station I’ve ever been to!
Food wise, we had some great seafood. The standouts being a ceviche followed by a lobster pasta at Trattoria dal Billy in Manarola, and a very cheap cone of SUPER fresh and perfectly cooked mixed seafood in Riomaggiore (Il Pescata Cucinato). The fried calamari melted in my mouth, and I don’t really like calamari but I kept going back for more! It was possibly the best calamari I’ve ever had.
The real standout for us though, was Trattoria Gastronomia l’Arcobaleno in Volastra where we were staying. We went twice, and ordered the same meals the second time around, because we’d loved it so much the first time. There are only 2 restaurants in Volastra, and the other one was ok but not great.
Dan had a scampi and clam pasta, which he says is the best seafood pasta he’s every had, and I had a local pesto pasta. The pesto in the region comes with green beans and soft potatoes (although in the pasta pictured below, the green beans were substituted with zucchini), and it is the best pesto I’ve ever had – nutty, creamy, bright green, fresh and just delicious.
Finally, the Cinque Terre has some lovely beaches and swimming areas. We discovered the free beach in Vernazza, through a hole in a cliff, and spent an afternoon stretched out on a rock like lizards sunning ourselves!
The beach is pebbles not sand, and I am PATHETIC at walking on stones, so it took me forever to get in and out of the water, but it was worth it for the warm yet refreshing water.
Another day we paid for a sun bed at the beach at Monte Rosso, and that was really lovely as well, with black sand and pebbles.
I was very sad to say goodbye to the Cinque Terre, and will definitely be back.