by corinne iaia

July 15, 2015

A DAY ON THE MEDITERRANEAN

An early morning wakeup call is very rarely tolerable. But when Italian espresso is involved, I'm a little more than happy to be up and at 'em at just about any time. After all, time stops in Italy. How else could a culture foster such a dolce vita attitude?

Our last day in my favorite country was spent on a jaunt to the coast from Milan. And by "coast" I mean the Italian Riviera - where towns freckle the cliffs overhanging the Mediterranean as though they'd placed there by the sun himself. 

We hopped on our coach bus, espressos in hand, at 6am sharp, eager to make it to the seaside before the rest of the city did. (We used Viator for this tour, who made the treck to the secluded spot as easy as pie tiramisu.)  Our bus wove its way through the hills of Lombardy, into the land of cheese and ham in Parma, and down through Tuscan villages until we reached the Ligurian coast. I've always felt as though Italy was a country made to be seen only by bus or walking - no rolling acre or ancient building should be missed. Any other way would almost seem...insulting
We made our way into Poet's Bay in the port city of La Spezia. A bit industrial nowadays, the city is one used as a military base and is a popular trading port, as well as cruise ship docking spot.  
The bus hugged the cliff tightly as mopeds and cars rushed by, dangerously close to each other and the edge. But all I could think about was having a taste of the local white wine that our tour guide had spoke lovingly of the entirety of the trip. Oh, and this view. Which I'm pretty sure is enough to turn even the coldest of hearts into a romantic, don't you think
It's no wonder Lord Byron himself was repeatedly inspired by his time spent here. 

Just past the bay, we stopped off on the side of yet another narrow road to unload and catch the tram to Porto Venere. From there, we were to take the (very crowded) ferry to the famous five towns, or, Le Cinque Terre. But not before first exploring the town itself, which is, in fact a UNESCO World Heritage Site and National Park. And rightfully so, just look at it...
The pastel-hued town, whose Roman name was Portus Veneris in reference to a temple dedicated to the Goddess Venus that once stood right beneath this very church, dates back to at least the 1st century B.C. and was a fishing village during Roman times, before later becoming the base of the Byzantine fleet. 
It was a place known throughout the region for it's magnificent beauty. I could have spent days perched along the surprisingly quiet cliffs (quite a stark contrast from the neighboring crowd-laden five towns) getting acquainted with the Tyrrhenian Sea. 
Packed into a boat like sardines, we departed the town, and chugged along miles of undisturbed and quite rugged coastline. 
Our first stop was Monterosso al Mare (the largest of the five towns) where we traded our hiking shoes in for some beach chairs...
Not a bad place for people watching or a bit of daydreaming, eh? With little time to spare, some was left to sample the local fare and poke around some shops. We settled on a quaint and authentic restaurant where we sat under an awning behind misting fans. A much welcomed luxury in the heat of the day. We ravaged our meal of Calamari Fritti and Spaghetti al Pesto, both of which were perhaps the best I've ever tasted. I have to say, as someone who doesn't love seafood, the calamari was the most fresh, melt-in-your-mouth thing I tasted on the trip. It also went pretty well with the crisp, sweet, and refreshing local wine that the tour guide had tipped us off to. 
Bellies and shopping bags full, we hopped back on the ferry to Vernazza to see what all the fuss was about. The charming, dollhouse-sized town was filled to the brim with excited tourists, even more than I had expected to see. Some were spread out on rocks by the bay, some eating in the main square, and the others walking hand-in-hand pointing upward in awe. We stopped off for one last Mediterranean treat - Crema de Vernazza flavored gelatos from the Gelateria Vernazza - the best in town. The creamy, fruity delight made for the sweetest end to a beautiful and unforgettable day. Ciao for now...but, only for now.  
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