The five fishing villages that make up Cinque Terre are surrounded by some of the most breathtaking scenery in Italy and are famous for the tunneled railways and cliff side hiking trails that link them together. We arrived in the 5th Cinque Terre village, Monterosso late Thursday afternoon. After spending days absorbing all of the history that Rome and Florence had to offer it was nice to find ourselves in a town that was not so much about history and more about the food, wine and beaches.
We set of on a pre dinner stroll to explore the village famous for its lemons and anchovies and discovered that Monterosso is split into two parts the old and new linked by an underground tunnel. We were staying on the new side complete with clear blue beaches and seaside bars. The old town was noticeably different with its uniquely decorated churches and a hilltop castle overlooking town.
Coming to Cinque Terre and not hiking is like going to an Australia Day BBQ and not eating lamb so the next day we set of on the 12km blue trail that was once a mule path linking the 5 villages. The path although difficult at times with its endless stairs and narrow cliff side walkways had absolutely beautiful scenery. As we wound our way through vineyards and olive plantations we often stopped to admire the bright blue water and the distant cliff side villages.
Less than 2 hours after leaving Monterosso we arrived in the next town Vernazza where after a short walk around town we continued our journey onto the 3rd village Corniglia. At this point we discovered that the final two sections of the hike were unfortunately closed due to a landslide. Disappointed (but also slightly relieved) we decided a large meal of carbs was in order followed with some gelato (as always). Then it was time to climb the 377 steps to the station where we caught the train back to our village Monterosso and spent the afternoon on the beach.
Living our fantasies
The next day we were back on the train this time heading inland to the town Parma. Most people haven’t heard of Parma and ask why bother? Well it was no accident that we ended up in this part of Italy, we had come to this town for two reasons to eat tasty food and drive a Ferrari.
The nearby town of Maranello, the birthplace of Ferrari is only 30 minutes away from Parma. We visited the museum where we learnt about the history of the Ferrari and had a look at a variety of different models including classics, racing cars and some newer makes. Just looking however wasn’t enough for Matt who decided that driving a Ferrari in Maranello wasn’t an option but a necessity so we went next door to choose a car. The F430 Spider was selected and after a very brief orientation and safety talk, he was off (unfortunately initially on the incorrect side of the road… Australian Drivers, what can you do…) Marco quickly corrected him and it wasn’t long before he had the hang off it. Driving Ferrari’s isn’t a cheap activity so 20 minutes later Matt returned looking relaxed and driving like he owned it after taking the spider for a spin on the Highway (where in Italy speed limits appear optional).
Cars might be Matt’s passion but cheese is Hannah’s and this was the other reason why we based ourselves in this town. As the name suggests Parma is home of Parmesan Cheese or Parmigiano Reggiano as the locals refer to it. Balsamic Vinegar and Parma Ham also originate from the area so Hannah’s “Ferrari Ride” was going to be a dinner to remember. After a short stroll around town to take in the few but beautiful sights Parma had to offer a restaurant was chosen and we sat down in anticipation for the feast ahead.
Although it might sound like a simple dinner our mouths water just thinking about this meal as it was incredibly tasty. We started with a plate of local Parma ham and cheese which was accompanied by local Salami, prosciutto and freshly baked bread complete with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The main course was beef lasagne made with spinach infused pasta for Matt and a cheesy balsamic risotto for Hannah, both washed down with ample amounts of local wine…. of course.
Milan (Prada and The Last Supper)
The next morning we continued North for a quick one night stop in the City of Milan. When many people hear Milan fashion runways and Prada stores come to mind and although correct there are many other qualities on offer in this ever changing, modern city.
Milan’s Duomo is our favorite cathedral in the country. Construction started in 1837 with pink marble in a gothic style but as construction progressed slowly eventually gothic went ‘out of style’ as it was deemed too French and hence the plan had to be adjusted. The final touches were finally applied in the 1960’s and it was worth taking all that time. The finished product rises into the sky with extravagant detail. Complete with a gilded copper Little Madonna statue on top, the city’s traditional protector, a ceiling that appears carved but is actually painted and high above the altar is a nail said to be the one that impaled Christ’s right hand on the cross.
Down the road from the Duomo stands the church: Chiesa di santa maria delle Grazie. Hidden away on one wall of the adjoining refectory, Cenacolo Viinciano is Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. Words cannot describe what we felt when we finally laid eyes on this masterpiece. Due to the sensitive state of the mural only 30 people can view The Last Supper at one time and once inside are only allowed to spend 15 minutes. Our 15 minutes flew by and while photographs were not allowed this is one memory that will stay with us for a long time. The Last Supper is without a doubt the number one artwork that we have seen in our travels.
There is not much that could top an afternoon consisting of the milan Duomo and The Last Supper but we tried our best. Walking past endless Prada and Gucci stores we found ourselves looking down at a mosaic image of a bull with a rather absent patch where his manly appendages should appear. The legend says if you stand on the bull’s bullocks with one heel and spin three times you will be blessed with everlasting luck. Obviously we gave it go, however if we have everlasting luck is yet to be established.
Our short stay in Milan ended with the Milanese happy hour, known as aperitivo. Aperitivo is the best version of happy hour invented. Basically you pay $6 for you first drink and get access to an all you can eat buffet consisting pasta, salads, pizza, hams, cheeses and olives. Cheapest dinner ever, a backpackers dream!
The setting for the tragic love story of Romeo and Juliet is the Italian town of Verona. Thankfully our short visit wasn’t very dramatic but a rather peaceful afternoon spent strolling around the cobblestone streets and taking in the few but interesting sights on offer.
We started with the pink marble ampihitheatre built by the Romans in the 1st Century AD which these days is used as Verona’s open air opera house still used for performances. We then wandered along the streets until we arrived at Casa di Giulietta. Although Romeo and Juliet are fictional characters romantics still insist on visiting the 14th centuary house with it’s balcony that resembles the one from the play. A bronze statue of Juiliette stands out the front and supposedly if you touch her left bust it will bring you new love.
Finally when exploring Verona’s many Piazzas we stumbled across a large whale’s rib hanging high above an archway. Legend has it that the first just person to walk under the rib will cause it to fall. Matt walked under the arch several times but much to his surprise nothing happened. This was hardly surprsing as even the pope has walked underneath it.
Our time in Italy was coming to an end and what better place to spend our final two days then the city built on top of a lagoon: Venice. Our first afternoon was spent not in search of the well known sights but wandering around the narrow lanes and exploring the squares. The evening was filled with visits to the various wine bars hidden around the city to taste the local bubbly white wine, procesco.
Our final day in Italy was not to be wasted, we began with a visit to Venice’s famous St Mark’s Square with the 15th century bell tower and breathtaking Basilica di San Marco casting shadows across the numerous tourists and pigeons that congregate there. After taking some time to admire the architecture we continued on to find a gondola that would take us on a tour around the various canals and waterways of Venice. We spent an hour on the water enjoying the sunshine and the sights including the famous Rialto bridge. After this it was time for our final Italian Gelato, how depressing. Our sweet-toothes had become rather used to the daily mouthwatering hit of Italian ice cream but unfortunately all good things must come to an end.
In keeping with that theme it seemed appropriate that we make our final meal in this delicious country count so that night we feasted on bruschetta, pasta and local wine. A brilliant way to end an amazing few weeks in what has become one of our favorite countries. Thanks for the good times Italy, we know we will be back one day soon.