Monterosso al Mare, a coastal treasure

There’s always that place you’ve traveled to where you’ve thought, I will never forget this for as long as I live. Each city I visited in Italy was unforgetable, brimming with history and charm, but nothing could quite compete with the striking beauty of Monterosso in  the vibrant district of Cinque Terre.

The village of Monterosso greeted us with a vivid palette of coastline scenery; it was as if someone had splashed giant cans of paint along the entirety Ligurian coast. The pastel homes reminded me of Easter eggs. They clung to the cliffside as though they might tumble into the sea at any moment.

Until the construction of the railroad in the 19th century, the five fishing villages of Cinque Terre were relatively isolated and inaccessible. Now, it is a popular travel destination that rivals the Amalfi Coast. A walking path connects the towns and tourists often take the ferry, but the steep and narrow roads deter the use of cars. The towns and their natural surroundings are recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and as a national park.

After climbing one hundred and thirty steps up a stone staircase, we reached Manuel’s Guest House, a Bed & Breakfast perched on one of the highest points in the town. It offered a stunning overlook of the mountains and sea. Our first night in Monterosso happened to coincide with the celebration of St. John the Baptist, and we enjoyed eating a pizza on our balcony while a processional band wove through the streets under a sky of fireworks.

On the second day of our stay, we hiked the footpath to Vernazza, which is the closest neighboring town to Monterosso. The steep, three mile trail has a total of seven-hundred steps (needless to say I worked off the pizza from the night before). The single file path snakes between vineyards and over the mountaintop, allowing visitors to experience the full view of the Ligurian Sea. Vernazza was equally picturesque, if not a bit more crowded. Weary and sweaty from our hike, we opted to take the train back to Monterosso.

We never had to look far for to find an inviting place to eat. The town is famous for its seafood (try the squid ink pasta, if you dare) and focaccia bread. The shops boast a variety of foods- pesto, limoncello, cheeses, olive oil-and I struggled to decide how much of these items could be brought back home in my suitcase.

I looked forward to spending my afternoons on the pebbled beach, laying out a towel under a sky that never showed signs of rain. One of my favorite memories in Monterosso was renting a motorboat and cruising down the coast to see nearby towns including Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. My family was surprised that you could rent and drive your own boat just by handing over an ID.

Although I wasn’t ready to trade the vineyards and mountains for cornfields and bluffs, I returned to Wisconsin feeling very grateful to have experienced the incredible Monterosso al Mare, certain to never forget it as long as I live.