June 27 – 29, 2015
Choosing a Town and Hotel
Each of the five towns is charming. I personally thought all were picturesque and would make a perfectly fine base, although the flatter beach town of Monterosso I found less charming than the others. If, however, you are looking for a sandy beach this is your only option. All the towns except Corniglia offer the possibility to swim in the sea, and Riomaggiore and Manarola have the best rocky shores for swimming. We chose Vernazza, a Rick Steves pick, and stayed at a hotel up above town.
Vernazza – l’Eremo Sul Mare
This inviting B&B is located a hard 15 minute climb from the train station – tough with luggage and at the end of the day, but worth it for the quiet and atmospheric setting. The best room has a lovely private terrace.
We, however, were in the dormer room which was perfectly comfortable if you don’t need to stand much. The balcony just outside our door was a great place to hang out in the late afternoon when it is shaded from the hot sun.
The charming hosts, Fabio and Angela do not speak much English, but enough to get what you want. Breakfast, included in the price, is good if you like sweet cakes and pastry, not so great if you don’t. They do have a nice unsweetened bread but otherwise everything else is sugary. Their coffee is excellent and they serve a great hot chocolate – the thick rich stuff.
Eating and Dining
Lunch in Corniglia at Café Matteo – Located on the main square behind the WWI monument, they serve a great cold smoked fish plate.
Lunch in Riomaggiore at daù Lila – Has a lovely setting just above the harbor, but expensive for the portion sizes. The food could have been better. The mussels were too salty and the red mullet pasta had nice flavor, but was on the small side without much fish.
La Torre is located above the town about five minutes along the trail towards Corniglia.
Great views! However, the food was hit or miss.
The Tian Vernazza, a local specialty with anchovies and potatoes was tasty, but the squid with peas was lots of canned peas and rubbery morsels of squid.
Gambero Rosso has a crowded but comfortable setting on the main harbor front square. We loved the polpo (octopus) and potato warm salad. It was honestly the most tender octopus we have ever eaten.
The whole bream (fish) was perfectly cooked and served with roasted potatoes. We also tasted the pasta with fresh anchovies – great if you are an anchovy fan.
Ristorante Belforte is claimed to be the nicest dinner spot in Vernazza.
Located just above the harbor, the views are stunning. The food is good, but we were more impressed with the food at Gambero Rosso (see above) on the harbor. The two restaurants have very similar menus.
For the second night in a row we started with the octopus and potato salad.
We then tried the fish soup for two, which was heavy on crustaceans and light on fish. The broth was flavorful but a bit salty. The evening we were there there were lots of Americans on the small roof top terrace. It was fun to swap travel stories but this is not a place where you will rub elbows with locals.
The local Cinque Terre white wine is crisp, dry and lovely on a warm summer evening.