Cinque Terre: Monterosso al Mare

I’ve just returned from a staggering three-week trip to Croatia (part of my education in taking long holidays, European-style), another dream come true. But I can’t move on to my next travel series without sharing this last piece of Cinque Terre with you.

On my last morning, right before I had to catch my train to Pisa and flight to Amsterdam, I hopped on a ferry to Monterosso al Mare, the one town among the five terre with the most accessible and swimmable beach.

Arriving in Monterosso, the first thing that caught my eye were the rows upon rows of brightly colored beach umbrellas. Well, make that the *only* thing that caught my eye, because I just couldn’t take my eyes off them!

Monterosso Cinque Terre colorful striped beach umbrellasMonterosso Cinque Terre orange striped beach umbrellas
Monterosso Cinque Terre bright yellow beach umbrellas

I took tons of photos. To me, these images are just brimming over with summer, happiness, and good memories. Just looking at them now, over two months later, makes me smile—and I think they always will.

Monterosso Cinque Terre orange and green umbrellas and lounge chairs

It was a mad dash made enjoyable thanks to the company of a few new friends—Lisa, Nikki and Christina from the Dreamathon workshop. We spent the little time we had in Monterosso swimming in the sparkling Mediterranean, sifting through the pebbles on the beach, and talking ideas, creativity, dreams and action.

Monterosso Cinque Terre crystal clear turquoise water

Mark my words, this will be and Marlon someday. I hope we’ll still be able to visit places like Monterosso together when we’re old and gray.

Monterosso Cinque Terre old couple sitting on beach

If you’re coming into Monterosso al Mare from any of the other towns in the Cinque Terre, I highly recommend the ferry for a short but memorable and highly photogenic trip. 

Monterosso Cinque Terre colorful rows of striped beach umbrellas

And of course a gelato (or three) while strolling along the main promenade never hurts too!

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Cinque Terre: Sunset cocktails in Vernazza

Vernazza Cinque Terre

How do I like to celebrate my arrival at a major bucket list destination? With a drink, of course! I spent my first evening in the Cinque Terre enjoying an Italian aperitivo (an early evening, after-work drink) with the best view of the charming village of Vernazza.

Vernazza Cinque Terre sunset swim

I didn’t get to explore Vernazza, but if I’d had more time I would have loved to go swimming at the marina.

Vernazza Cinque Terre sunbathing

Unlike Riomaggiore’s options of rocky beach or cliff diving, the marina at Vernazza has a dedicated swimming area where one can climb safely into the water via ladders fixed to the rocks, or by walking down a concrete ramp. The latter is also a great spot for sunbathing.

So, back to that sunset cocktail.

Head to the cliffside bar Nessun Dorma, which is near the marina of Manarola, and follow the seaside path to the end of the point called Punto Bonfiglio. From here, take the stairs leading up to Nessun Dorma—and to this stunning sunset view.

Vernazza Cinque Terre golden buildings at sunset

At Nessun Dorma I had an honest-to-goodness “pinch me” moment as the sunset lit up the entire cliffside, bathing the houses of Vernazza in its golden glow. It looked absolutely unreal.

Vernazza Cinque Terre sunset view

Golden sunsets like these (and those palm trees!) remind me so much of home. Maybe many of us travel to find something different, something completely other, but after eight years of living in the otherness I can’t help but search for a piece of home wherever I go.

I tucked this memory among my collection of memorable sunsets: SantoriniBudapest, El Nido, Prague, and of course, Boracay…

Vernazza Cinque Terre twilight

… and watched the lights of Vernazza twinkle to life in the blue twilight.

Mille grazie to the all-knowing Bianca of Italian Fix for leading us to this gorgeous sunset view!

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Cinque Terre: Postcards from Riomaggiore

Cinque Terre Riomaggiore view of town from commune

We all have a place that we’ve always dreamt of visiting. What a feeling it is when the fantasy finally becomes a reality!

Cinque Terre has been one of those places for me since I first heard of it almost 10 years ago. I was at a backpackers’ hostel in Granada, and everyone seemed to be either en route to, or coming back from, these mythical cliffside villages by the sea. Everyone but me!

Many years and many other trips later, I discovered that one of my absolute favorite bloggers, New York Times bestselling author Justina Blakeney would be holding a creative workshop this summer in Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre. I closed my eyes, handed over my credit card details and signed up within 48 hours.

I’ll save my takeaways from my Italian playcation for another post, but from these pictures you will see that I have. Absolutely. No. Regrets.

Cinque Terre Riomaggiore flowers and houses Cinque Terre Riomaggiore colorful buildings closeCinque Terre Riomaggiore laundry hanging from windows

Should you be visiting Cinque Terre—particularly Riomaggiore—for the first time, here are a few travel tips you might find useful. More gorgeous eye candy and hidden gems after the jump!

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Cooking class in Tuscany: Lessons from an Italian kitchen

To end our Tuscan trip, I had planned a special treat for Marlon: a one-day cooking class in Tuscany, in a real Italian kitchen.

Cooking lesson in Tuscany

It’s no secret that in our home, Marlon rules the kitchen and I am mostly useless merely his lowly assistant. I knew he would love learning the secrets of a real Italian kitchen hands-on, from a real Italian mama. I may be bad at cooking, but I’m great at finding things online! So, after searching for a one-day class that would fit our schedule and budget, I found Max&Me: Tuscany Cooking, run by Eugenia and Massimo from their home in Sesto Fiorentino near Florence.

The plan was for me to babysit Tala in Eugenia’s lush herb garden—which by the way contains the happiest, healthiest rosemary I’ve ever seen in someone’s home—and keep her entertained…

Cooking class in Tuscany Tala in the herb garden

not to mention happily fed with the occasional snack of prosciutto…

Tala eating prosciutto

while Eugenia and Marlon worked on our four-course lunch.

Cooking lesson in Tuscany near Florence

And, boy, did Marlon work. “I’m a little scared of her,” he whispered to me before I took Tala out for a walk. Well, if there’s anyone who can intimidate a big man like this, it’s an Italian mama who is the queen of her kitchen! You should have seen his face when she told him that the onions he’d been furiously dicing just weren’t diced finely enough.

But that’s precisely the great thing about doing a cooking class like this. While Eugenia has generously made her recipes available on her blog, there’s no substitute for hands-on learning. How a ball of pasta dough feels in your hands when it’s just right; how long to let the flavor of a ragu develop (or even what “fully developed” flavor is); what the freshest, top-quality ingredients really taste like; the little hacks and tricks picked up over a lifetime of cooking—these are things you just can’t pick up from a Youtube video or blog post.

I like to think Marlon absorbed some of Eugenia’s personal standards and stories that day. All of it just inspired him to cook even more. Some of the techniques he learned have found their way into the other things he makes at home, even dishes like Indian curry or Filipino kaldereta.

Oh, and our onions are really, really finely diced now. They’re practically invisible.

But enough about that. You want to see the food, right?

Cooking lesson in Tuscany roast pork with guanciale and potatoes

Let’s begin. Buon appetito!

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Day trip to Lucca

After spending most of our recent Tuscan trip in charming little towns, doing a day trip to Lucca was a refreshing change. It’s a city, but nothing as big and complex as Florence, making it manageable for families like ours, who are traveling with a baby. Renaissance-era walls enclose the Cittadella, the historic heart of Lucca, marking an easy target for day-trippers and reminding me strongly of Manila’s own Intramuros.

The real highlight for us was getting to take a walk along Lucca’s city walls. If you imagine treading carefully along a narrow, crumbling brick wall, take a look at this picture and think again.

Lucca city walls park

Lucca’s formidable walls have been transformed into a wide, tree-lined city park for walking, running, cycling, and just relaxing in the Tuscan sun.

Lucca rooftops from city park

Taking a long afternoon stroll with Tala here made me feel as if we had slipped into the real, day-to-day life of the city—even for just a little while. It’s also a unique vantage point from which to see Lucca—peering into gardens, walking by laundry lines, looking out over rooftops.

Lucca Torre Guinigi

Speaking of rooftop views, all the guide books will tell you to climb Torre Guinigi for the best city views. But we discovered something better…

Lucca rooftops from Sant’Alessandro Maggiore

… which is to climb the tower of the Chiesa e Battistero de San Giovanni e Santa Reparata. (Try saying that 10 times fast.) With 110 steps, it’s an easier climb than the Torre Guinigi’s 230 steps. Plus, you actually get to see the Torre Guinigi from here. Kinda like going to the Top of the Rock, not the Empire State Building, for the best views of New York.

Lucca Sant’Alessandro Maggiore archaeological site

San Giovanni also has ornate ceilings, a small chapel to St Ignatius (of interest if you’re Jesuit-educated, like myself) and a multilayered history. This 12th century church was built on top of a church from the earliest days of Christianity, which was then built on top of a Roman temple, which was then built on top of even older Roman houses. Still with me? The entire archaeological excavation is on display for your viewing pleasure.

Here are a few other highlights from our day in Lucca, the walled city.

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