Contributor: Adrienne Sharon
Dates of Travel: June 2016
Activities: Bajeico La Bottega de Pesto, Portovenere
There’s probably no other Italian destination that has burst on the travel scene more dramatically over the last two decades than Cinque Terre. I remember first hearing about these five secluded, cliff-hanging towns when I was studying abroad in Europe in the late 1990s. Scores of college students were strapping on their oversized backpacks and hiking the trails that link the towns. They were in search of adventure, culture, and unspoiled coastline…I think they found it!
Exploring the Cinque Terre is much more family friendly than years ago. You can still hike the trails if you desire but I opted for riding the train that runs along the coastline and links the five towns to each other. The rides are literally between 2-10 minutes depending upon where you hop on and off. By taking the train, you could easily visit all five towns in one day. My son and I didn’t feel the need to rush so we spent 3 nights in a darling AirBnB in Riomaggiore.
The towns are quaint and colorful, the seafood is exquisite, the shops are charming…but the summer tourist hoards are staggering. I must say the large amounts of poorly mannered young American travelers detracted from my enjoyment of the Cinque Terre. It wasn’t until we hopped aboard the ferry to Portovenere that I relaxed into seaside Italy.
Portovenere is exactly what I wanted my summer vacation in Italy to be. The crumbling castle and lookout at the mouth of the harbor piques your interest as soon as it comes into view. You wonder its age, you wonder what trouble it has endured, and you wonder what living in it must have been like several hundred years ago. You then enter the harbor and the picturesque town immediately draws you in. The buildings are colorful and well maintained. People are lounging in the seaside restaurants, strolling the promenade and perusing the shops. Children are splashing in the water and parents are relaxing on the small beach and taking in the sun. It’s an incredibly enjoyable setting and I couldn’t wait to partake.
My son and I disembarked from the ferry and headed straight for the gate to the old city. The cobblestone street was lined with artisan shops and handmade crafts. We spotted a fresh pesto shop called Bajeico La Bottega de Pesto. The owner prepared a simple sandwich of fresh focaccia bread, olive oil and his secret pesto recipe. It was seriously one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. We continued on up to the old castle and church with its stunning lookouts. This path ultimately brought us back to the promenade and the harbor. I only had a few hours in Portovenere but I could have spent an entire summer there.