Tuesday, July 30
Today was almost 10 hours of train travel from Avignon to Cinque Terre: Avignon to Nice to Ventimiglia to Monterosso to Manarola. The last two trains were not reservable in advance but we had little trouble at the windows. In Ventimiglia outside the train station, we ate sandwiches packed from Avignon’s baker. Blanka and I walked down to see the ocean and bought everyone our first gelato in Italy.
From Ventimiglia to Monterosso, the first village of Cinque Terre, we played gin rummy and drank a bottle of wine to pass the time.
Once we finally arrived in our village (the fourth one down), we walked up giant hills with our bags in tow to our hotel, Ca’d’andrean.Cal & B stayed on the third floor and we stayed on the first floor. The rooms were clean, simple, but most importantly, cold! After much needed showers, we ventured around the town just as the sun was setting and captured beautiful pictures.
We ate dinner at Il Porticciolo. Sean ate seafood, Cal ate all the mussels in the entire restaurant, we split the Caprese Salad as an app, B had squid for dinner and I had lobster ravioli. It was all very good and we were starving by this point! The Cinque Terre white wine was perfect and later I bought a bottle for only 10 euros that I managed to get all the way home. We played cards on our deck and drank the other red wine from France. It was a long day and another late night! We all slept very well!
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
We woke up at 7am to begin an action packed day of hiking and the beach. We had a few snags: nothing was open for breakfast before 8am, so just as we got to the train station, we missed the 7:30 train, not realizing it was the only one for another hour. Then the 8:30 train was delayed until 9:45. Not a good start. Only one stop later, we arrived in Corniglia, the third village. We climbed the 100+ flights of switchback stairs to the top. Let the Incredible views begin.
Once on the trail, our quest began for the Secret Beach Sean researched for weeks. We hiked about 30 minutes before we found this sign:
The decent was tricky in some spots with bamboo tunnels. We all had basic Nike running shoes on so that made it a little more slippery than having on real hiking shoes. At the base, we couldn’t figure out how to get all the way down to the actual beach. Another man came along the trail from a different entry point and we watched as he climbed down using the hose irrigation system and then walked down the hidden, almost 90-degree steps built into the seawall.
Once settled, we set up our towels in a private area by big rocks. We swam for a while and laid out on the rocks. Sean stayed in the water almost all day. More people arrived little by little, so by the team we were leaving 3 hours later, about 20 people were at the secret beach. Here’s a video showing off our private paradise retreat for the day and the beautiful Mediterranean waters.
We climbed back up the seawall ladder and walked along the ridge because we knew there had to be an “easier” way out, plus Sean read about a tunnel we had yet to encounter.
Eventually we found the elusive tunnel, and as expected, the locals charged us a toll. We then walked 1km through the darkest and scariest old abandoned train tunnel you can imagine. The scariest moment (for me) is when I heard the REAL train running – the sound of the horn and thunder of the cars racing along the tracks (some distance away) really made me wonder if this tunnel was abandoned afterall. I had to tell myself a million times that there was no train rail so there’s no way there could be a train coming through. The scariest moment for Cal & B is when they swore someone was behind them. Clearly, our imaginations were getting the best of us and it was a welcome relief when we saw the light at the end of the tunnel, literally. We were surprised to learn just how close the entrance to this tunnel is to the current train station – but I don’t want to give too much away in an effort to keep it secret!
Next, we went to Vernazza, the 2nd village. We walked around and found a Ristorante Vulnetia to eat on the plaza, although we had to wait 20 minutes to get seated and we were all starving and antsy. We all ordered our own pizzas! After lunch, we shopped and then headed home for a nap. Dinner was back in Vernazza in a cute restaurant called Incadase da Piva, set right in a narrow alley. We had great wine and conversation about the day’s adventures. We all split seafood risotto with mussels, shrimp and squid in a huge black caldron.
We ate gelato by the ocean and then explored the town’s residential area on the other side of the tracks before the next train came. We were somewhat early to bed except for an emergency realization our train times were off. Thank goodness Blanka took a second look at the train ticket to see that our train from La Spezia to Rome left at 6:50 a.m. and not 9:50 a.m. as we initially thought. We had to wake up at 4am to catch the 5am train to La Spezia in time to catch the 6:50. We had to wake up the owner to check out – oops! He was not a happy camper. Onward to Roma!