Monday, June 14, 2010

Le Cinque Terre

Ok, guys, finally time for a new posting. I have to admit that I've been extremely busy this season juggling my time between the wine tours, the restaurant and the brand new wine school in Siena.

But since the kid's school is out, we finally found time for a week-end out. And, I'm almost embarressed to admit this, but finally (after 15 yrs in this country) I've got around to visiting the natural reserve of Le Cinque Terre - the land of the 5 towns: (from South to North - arriving from La Spezia:) Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso.

This is the land of pesto and fish (not necessarily together, if not anchovies). On the menus, very commonly you will find Lasagne either classical "bolognese" style or with pesto on the menu. Anchovies are also really common, and of course fish, fish, fish. So expect grilled or oven-baked sea-bass, branzino, orata and what not fresh from the sea (check menus for fresh fish).

Wine??? Well, the 5 Terre has it's own DOC - Cinque Terre DOC in which the grape vines Bosco, Albarola and Vermentino are allowed (the latter which is really famous in Sardegna) the other two rather local.

To tell you the truth, we were not utterly impressed with this wine. Maybe we weren't the luckiest in finding the best producers?!

The most famous wine from the 5 terre is the Sciachetrà (you must drink it to be able to pronounce it - LOL!). It's a naturally sweet dessert wine, produced with the same grapes as the Cinque Terre DOC, but obtained by drying the grapes prior to the fermentation (appassimento - a typical procedure to obtain Italian dessert wines like e.g. the Tuscan Vin Santo).
There's a little wine museum dedicated to this type of wine in the second town, Manarola, for those particularly interested.
For the curious, the bottle of Schiachetrà can run from the 20 euros a bottle that gives you an idea of what this wine is about to around 70 for the best ones...
We're talking half bottles, of course :-)

However, take a look at this picture and see how the terraces of vines are steep - all work here is done by hand (and is dangerous?)

So, it was an early Sunday morning in June...
The June sun rises really early in this part - especially on Sundays, it seems! You think you might have the chance of sleeping in one morning, but - alas - that's probably not going to happen if you have kids. In fact, we were up by dawn. Not even the local cafes had started serving breakfast by the time we arrived. Not that Italians have a great deal for breakfast - it's usually reduced to a cappuccino or caffe latte with a brioches (plain pastry or with cream, jam or chocolate).

We only had this one day to roam around which turned out to be sufficient to get a taste for the area. We resided in Manarola and took the boat from the one end to the other - from Riomaggiore to Monterosso - in the early morning. After a quick dip in the water on the only beach in Monterosso, we backtracked with the train, taking a stroll in each town. We encountered many an enthusiastic hiker and considered doing one of the tracks, but we kept our energy for roaming around the towns.

Lunch was in Corniglia - the only town that requires a hike anyway - more than 300 steps even if you take the train from town to town. However, it was well worth it. It proved to be a little less touristy and we ended up in a great local osteria called Cantina di Mananan, where the food and service were straight forward in true Slow Food style!

All in all, our 5 TERRE trip was a great experience both for big and for small. I would highly recommend a side trip from Florence out there to anyone visiting Italy.