Saturday, May 24, 2014



In picking places to travel on our journey, we wanted to
1. Dig deeper into places we had been before, and
2. Visit places that had been on our wish list for years.

The Cinque Terre (pronounced CHEEN|kweh TEHR|reh) is one we had been waiting years to visit, it translates to Five Lands.  Each of the five towns are little gems and when seeing each village up close or from the hillsides or from the water they are like nothing we had ever seen before.  A vigorous hike for about 4 miles up and down the stunning hills, a beautiful lunch overlooking the Mediterranean and finishing with some local vino before a bus ride back home. Italy is growing stronger in its pull on us and unlike some countries where you start to become less enamored with local habits, (see Random Notes) Italy gives you more reasons to stay. Amorevole Italia!!!


Note to self:  Do not drink 3 cups of coffee before a 2 1/2 hour bumpy bus trip.

A view of the city La Spezia, an historical Naval port and the entrance to the Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre

We were dropped off close to the city of Manarola, the smallest of the 5 villages.  

Since there is virtually no flat ground, you can see in the background the land is terraced so it can be farmed.  The Bell Tower stands in front of San Lorenzo church which dates back to 1338.

The primary industries are fishing, wine-making and of course, tourism.  The local wine is called "Sciacchetra" (pronounced "shack-eh-tra) - it is an ancient and legendary sweet wine made from naturally dried grapes.  Pictured are the cones of a variety of fish you can eat as you stroll the town (almost better than a gelato cone!).  I think we should start hiking....
Time to leave Manarola and head to Corniglia - our lunch stop!  Corniglia is the village above a cliff - we had to climb 365+ steps to get to it (one step for each day of the year).  
Whew.....really, I think it was more than 365 steps. 

Lunch was at Ristorante Cecio Camere.  We had a fish antipasti plate and linguini with a pesto sauce they are famous for (so we were told).  The pesto sauce had secret ingredients of potato and green beans.  It was delicious!!  
The region of Liguria is renowned for it's Pesto (where it is said to have originated) all over Italy.  Basil, the key ingredient of Pesto loves the climate of Cinque Terre.  
After the long walk, we were so hungry I forgot the picture of our fabulous meal or maybe we were just captivated by the view.....

View from our restaurant.  The village of Corniglia is 100 meters above the sea.  It is the highest and steepest of the 5 towns and the toughest to get to, hence not as many tourists.

Time to head out again to the village of Vernazza.  The hike is about 4 kilometers, so I will be ready for a gelato when we get there!

We are walking the trail and you can see Corniglia in the background - I'm in awe at this point... 

The view in front of us as we were heading towards the 4th village of Vernazza.  Normally 4 kilometers is a piece of cake - but the trail was like a black diamond if you are a skier.

Yay!!!......we finally reach Vernazza.  See that beach down there - that is where I am heading....

Happy Feet!!  Soaking your tired feet in the Ligurian Sea is refreshing!  The next leg of the walk will be much easier.

 Vernazza is the most picturesque of the 5 villages.  It has a town square that overlooks the sea - I didn't want to leave, but we knew there was one more city we needed to see.  We were done hiking for the day because the trail to Monterosso al Mare was closed due to extensive flooding and damage to the trails and village from a torrential downpour a few years back.  
We jumped on a train and one stop later we were at this magnificent beach.....
Monterosso is probably the most visited by tourists because of its beaches, this is also the largest of the 5 villages and one that has cars. (boo!)....

....still, they are known for their many lemon trees, white wine grapes, and olives.   If only I had room for the lemon honey, the lemon vodka, the lemon soap, all the pesto sauces, and the wine.....

...only room was in our tummies, so we have to eat our souvenirs!  Eating this delicious "Pane fritto" or fried bread with cheese was  so yummy it makes you crazy - just look at the baker.

Our day is about done - we jump on a boat and head back to the first city Riomaggiore, where we will end the day with a glass of wine before heading back to Florence.

We docked in what is known as the first of the Cinque Terre towns - Riomaggiore.  A stunning village that is famous for the white wine produced by the town's vineyards.  Unfortunately, we did not have time to fully explore the town (we were bone tired) but we did make the time to taste all the wine Riomaggiore had to offer!  

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one we recommend to all friends who love incredible views and own a good pair of hiking shoes!  
Ci Torneremo!!!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Wanda's Birthday Week In Italy

32 years ago the start of many family traditions began, including celebrating our May birthdays with as much gusto as possible. Swine and Dine International was also initiated and when you combine the two it creates a fantastic culinary month.  Buon compleanno!

Take out Food in Florence! 
Generous slices of porquetta, mushroom sauce (unbelievable sauce!), pomodoro and arugula with olive oil on a just-out-of-the oven foccaccia bread.  A much needed break after climbing the 400 steps of the Santa Maria del Fiore - Duomo!
 We read Calvin Trillin's book "Alice, Lets Eat" (a very good read) 32 years ago and live by many of its principles regarding eating while travelling, including when it is time to stop looking at monuments and start enjoying the local food. Thanks Mr.Trillin.

Yes, birthday celebrations for us are always longer than the day we were born - we usually stretch it out for the entire month of May since Richard's special day is in May as well. 

A visit to the Chianti region in Tuscany. 
 If the bottle of Chianti Classico you are drinking does not have the black rooster on it, it's not authentic.

Wine tasting in the Chianti Classico region.  
The longest established viticulture area in Italy marked out in 1716 by the Grand Duke Cosimo III de Medici.  The bottles are marked by a Black Rooster logo which sets it apart from standard Chianti.
I'm not sure if this is true of every winery here - we shared 3 bottles among 4 people, so we got more than a taste!

Jenifer and Jacopo of Colorado are honeymooning through Italy - 
Jacopo's dad is from Venizia -  so he looks right at home here.
Salute to your new life together!

Richard leads us all into La Toppa to end our wine tasting tour with more wine and food

Our wine tasting group enjoyed a TipicoTuscan meal of 2 types of pasta - penne with meat sauce and tripolini with pomodoro, sausage and Tuscan beans, pork loin and potatoes, topped off by my birthday cake of the best Tiramisu.  (Sorry, pictures of this wonderful meal were too blurry to use- I wonder why?) 
 Fellow Oenophiles were from Canada, Sweden, Australia, and USA

Grazie mille, Suzette and Carl!
From the Land Down Under- this delightful couple celebrating 40 years together shared a very special bottle of wine with us.  Felice Anniversario!

We were not expecting (but very happy) to be invited to dinner with Elena and Harpert.
 Richard Messina, a founding member of  Swine and Dine, and whom you may remember from our earlier Amsterdam post, introduced us. Richard was always good with pairings.

The Tuscan meal Elena, prepared for us was a Panzenella Salad, Pear and Gorgonzola Pasta,  fresh artichoke Frittatta, and for dessert Panna Cotta topped with a homemade blackberry sauce! 
Welcome our newest member of Swine and Dine International, Italian Chapter.
Harpert, a wine connoisseur, was saving his extraordinary 2003 Chianti Classico Riserva for a special occasion - well when he opened it,  he sure made us feel special!
(How did he know it was my birthday? : )

After a wonderful meal from chef Elena, we were ready for our Grappa lesson from Harpert.
We were feeling europhic at the end of the evening or I mean wee hours of the morning!
Grazie Grazie mille!!!

Thanks Richard and Renata!
I have to say this was one of my best birthdays - it was a great week and the month just started!!