A whole “semester” gone already; it’s hard to believe that five whole weeks have flown by in Italia. I could go on and on about the goodbyes I had to say, but none of them were truly goodbye. The amazing thing about this experience is that the people I got to know and become great friends with are people who live in the same city as I do; this was a mere opportunity to get to know one another in a different place. So to those reading this from our summer abroad program, I will see you all very soon!
Enough with the goodbyes, and onto new places! After finishing classes on Thursday, my parents and I whisked off to Pisa for some lunch and a visit to this leaning tower I had never heard of before (kidding). But this was only a stop in our journey to Monterosso, part of the Cinque Terre region. With plans of hiking along the coast on Friday, we were in need of some good Ligurian food to get us in the coastal mood! Basically every menu you look at is seafood and pasta, I definitely won’t complain. So for our first meal I had lightly breaded and grilled calamari! Unlike many of the calamaris we have back home, this was fresh from the sea and they use the bulbous tops of the squids that are cut open and are the majority of the meaty part. It was delicious! I can’t get over how light and fresh all the ingredients were, each of the town’s main ingredients from their respective farms make for the ultimate garden fresh atmosphere. Having hiked through the towns on Friday, we got to see up close and personal so many of the grapes, tomatoes, lemons, and limes that it’s no wonder they are on every menu.
The hike on Friday took us from Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, and finally to Manarola. For those looking into doing the trek themselves, the first two hikes weren’t particularly long or difficult but the last one leading into Manarola did get significantly harder and longer. The lower trails were closed because of the landslides from previous rainy seasons so the only trails are the longer ones that venture farther into the hills rather than directly along the coast. The views were beyond spectacular, but without a good pair of shoes, I don’t know how one could do it. I could also go on and on about the hikes we did, the views we saw and all, but I’ll leave you with a picture because I can’t do it justice. If anyone has the chance, the hikes were well worth it, especially when a delicious coppa di gelato and lunch are waiting at the other side!
The area of Cinque Terre is also known for their pesto coming from their vast amount of basil grown in the area. The pestos I had tried in various bruschette and pastas were all really really good, but the special basil I got to try was in the form of gelato! Naturally I had to at least give it a try, and I wasn’t disappointed. It doesn’t sound like an appropriate flavour for gelato, but in a cold scoop the taste is incredibly refreshing but not overly basil-y. What I mean by that is the basil taste was quite subtle, maybe because it’s frozen, but it just leaves a hint of the taste in your mouth rather than filling it with a flavour that is just too strong. After having hiked for a couple hours, this was exactly what I needed to tie me in until lunch.
My personal favourite meal in Cinque Terre was probably in Manarola after our hours of hiking through the hills and along the coast. Possibly from exhaustion, but I don’t think that’s the only reason. I had a dish of gnocchi with fresh tomatoes, olives, and olive oil with half a lobster (definitely caught in the very recent past). I had never broken up a lobster on my own before so that in itself was interesting. The handmade gnocchi were very rich in flavour and contrasted by the acidity of the tomatoes. Like many of the things I have eaten here, the texture definitely plays into the overall composition of the dish. In this case, the lobster was used to counteract that dense gnocchi but because of the simple ingredients, the flavour of the lobster was still very unmistakeable. Definitely going down in my books!
After lunch, we got to swim in the little bay of Manarola and jump off some of the rocks jutting right out into the central swimming area. Although I am a good swimmer and never really have problems with heights, I’m not a huge fan of jumping off rocks at any height into water; but I conquered my fears and went for it! Just to prove myself wrong I went a second time.
After our exhausting day, we visited a restaurant that was suggested to us in the old part of Monterosso for dinner. The food was great, but what struck me most here was the wine. Probably being one of the best wines at a restaurant so far, it was truly a unique and special bottle to indulge in. The waiter let us know that only 900 are made every year, and although a white wine, it should be drank at a temperature of 16°C to let the diversity of flavours to fully develop; the colder it is, the less boldness of flavours there are. So with some testing at different temperatures, we agreed that the wine was really good and refreshing. A Montorosso fave!
Not to sound too pretentious (come on, I’m on vacation!) we started our day in Cinque Terre, driving up the coast for lunch in Monte Carlo and will be finishing our day in Nice. France, here we come again!