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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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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Jurmala: Summer by the Baltic Sea

Jurmala Latvia sunset at Majori

For my summer as a choir groupie, I had the choice of watching my friends from the Ateneo Chamber Singers compete in either Latvia or Spain. I always jump at the chance to scratch a new country off our scratch map, so we picked Latvia. My research led me to the resort town of Jurmala, which boasted an 11-kilometer stretch of white, sandy beach just 20 minutes from Riga. I thought: “Perfect!”

Okay, the Baltic coast isn’t quite the same as the Costa Blanca. And maybe I did feel a twinge of envy seeing my friends living it up on the blindingly sunny beaches of Spain. But I have no reason to regret our visit to Jurmala.

I found Jurmala quiet, lovely, and relaxed—a formula for the kind of vacation that doesn’t make you need another vacation just to recover from it. (When school holidays begin in August, maybe not so much.) Beautiful soft golden sand, plenty of space to share, liquid gold sunsets and cocktails on the beach? Meets my basic requirements for a beach. I’ll take it.

Jurmala Latvia grand old wooden house by the beach

The most unique thing about Jurmala are its 19th-century wooden houses. From grand old mansions to weather-beaten cottages, they add a touch of old charm to the seaside atmosphere.

Jurmala Latvia charming wooden house

To attract its wealthy Russian neighbors, Jurmala is seeing an upswing in luxury boutique hotels and low-rise residential condominiums. Many of the old houses have also been turned into tourist accommodation.

Jurmala Latvia wooden house window

But plenty of families still live here, especially outside the main town of Majori, and because of a strong local community, there’s much authenticity to be found.

Jurmala Latvia old wooden house

These cutout panels remind me of the callado details in old Filipino colonial homes. Love.

In this relaxed little town, we enjoyed a wonderful three days of family time in the sun. These are the moments you treasure.

Jurmala Latvia Gingersnaps

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