Day 3 St Paul de Vence to the Cinque Terre

9:58 AM AirplaneFoodCritic 0 Comments

A view looking up at the new part of Monterosso, Cinque Terre, Italy
Today was a big driving day but still was full of lots of taking in the Rivera, both French and Italian. We woke up nice and fresh in our beautiful villa room. We went down for yet another great breakfast. The breakfast room was surrounded by windows looking out into the surrounding vineyards. There was all the good stuff I hope to have: meats, lots of soft and stinky cheeses, yogurts and keifers, fruits, several pastries like apple fritters, chocolate croissants and large regular croissants. There were boiled eggs, cereals, fresh fruit and two types of fresh bread. The coolest thing there was this big machine where they put in a whole basket of oranges into the top then you push a button and it splits and squeezes three oranges. That makes just enough for a little glass of super fresh orange juice. I don't normally even like orange juice but I had three glasses. That means I burned through nine oranges! I made my usual ham sandwiches, followed by my buttered and jammed croissant washed down by the keifer and yogurt with fresh fruit. I even had a coffee again. I wonder if it will be a trend for me this whole trip...coffee in the morning. Ok enough of the breakfast. I just love breakfast!!

We packed up, said goodbye to the two sweet dogs that I got to pet once, Tina and...the black dog that wanted nothing to do with me so I don't know his name. We filled up with gas and bought some little lunchy things in the nearby town of Vence and headed the 4+ hour drive to Monterosso al Mare, the northernmost and largest of the five towns of the Cinque Terre. We had QUITE the adventure getting to the town we are staying at tonight. We got directions or rather didn't get directions from the hotel guy, Gabriel. He was so vague we just programmed the biggest parking lot we saw on Google Maps into the navigator and headed out. We drove without incident through the city of Genova which is half way to where we were heading. Once we made it to Italy the driving payments changes.

In the short time that we were driving in France what we were doing on the toll roads was stopping at the toll booths and sticking a credit card into the slot. It usually cost us around one Euro. Once we were in Italy we had to stop at a toll booth as we entered the highway and get a ticket. Then, when we exited the freeway we would stick the ticket into the booth and then pay whatever it said to pay. We took a little accidental turn off the highway near Genova and we had to pay again when we left near our destination. Both times it cost us about 20 Euros. Once we left the highway was when our special adventure really began.

Because we typed the location of that parking lot into the navigator instead of the town of Monterosso we ended up taking a bit of a different route than the average person trying to get to the Cinque Terre would take. The road went way high up into the surrounding hills then it went way back down to then sea. The road reminded me very much of the road to Hana in Hawaii. It was barely wide for the car. No, actually it wasn't even wide enough for our car. The vegetation was over grown all over into the street and I use the word "street" abstractly. The navigator, during turns on the highway would tell us the speed we needed to reduce to in order to make the next curve. It would say something like "medium left turn 40", meaning to take the turn at 40kph. Well on THIS road it would say things like "Sharp right turn 0".  The road was so unused that in 15km of driving we passed three cars and the cars were local farmers. They all had calm looks on their faces while we were all terrified that we were going over the side of the cliff. The road was so unused that I thought it could be used for the set of The Walking Dead since people always complain that the roads in the show seem to be too modern. We looked at the gps. The husband said it looked like someone let off a party popper and the streamers landed on the screen. The road was that windy. I was getting a little car sick but the adventure was still fun. The windows were all open and the warm, tropical air was blowing through. There were lush, tropical vegetation surrounding us on all sides. All sides that there wasn't a steep drop off 20 miles to the ocean, that is.
A look out towards the Mediterranean from New Town Monterosso

After maybe an hour on that road we finally dropped into the town of Monterosso. Monterosso is the northernmost and largest of the five towns that make up the Cinque Terre. We took a long time to find our parking spot that was reserved for us by the hotel but we did. Then we grabbed all our belongings and walked the 20 minutes across town to our hotel. The hotel, Hotel Stella Della Marina, is located in the old town. The town is split into the new and the old. There is a tunnel the crosses between the two. We circled around the tiny alleyways for a bit then found the entrance. I had to ask three different locals where the hotel was and all three gave us different directions. Turns out there are so many small passages that link all the streets that even a town this tiny, you still can get lost in it.

Our room looks out onto one of the many alleys and also up to the mountains. Right across the 2 meter alley our hotel is on is a tiny winery. The only reason I know this is because when we walked up to the door I saw two man unloading small boxes of white grapes from a We are located not too far from a bell tower so we can hear the bell ring every half hour. Hopefully it turns off early and starts up late tomorrow but I doubt it. We put on our bathing suits and ran down to the beach to rinse off all the sweat we had built up from circling our hotel and clinching our sphincters on the ride. We found access to the rocky beach. We put our belongings up on a rock so high that only my tall husband could reach them and jumped into the Mediterranean. It felt so good. It is like a dream. There we were floating in the blue sea looking back at this ancient town of pastel buildings set at the base of a steep mountain. It was just wonderful. We stayed out there for about an hour then came back to the beach to dry off. I collected some beach glass and we went back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner.

The husband found a restaurant on Yelp that had amazing reviews and that had plenty of vegetarian options for him to choose from. I had my heart set on having some gnocchi and anchovies because that is what I read was a regional dish of sorts. Plus, my first night in Italy in 30 years I felt I should have my favorite pasta dish. I was, after all, on a roll with eating steak tartare and fois gras my first two nights in France. All that I missed was escargot but it wasn't for not trying. We tried to find the restaurant. It was called Piccolo David...something or other. We went up the hill. We went down the hill. No luck. It started getting late and I had not eaten since breakfast so I became a bit loopy. We decided to just eat anywhere. And wouldn't you know it, the second we gave up looking for the restaurant, we walked right up to it. But they place was packed. There was only one table for outside eating and it was full and the restaurant was mostly inside where it was hot and muggy. We tried to wait but it was taking forever and the waitress said that if there is an open table we should just take it because she won't save it for us. We gave up and figured any restaurant would do since it IS Italy. We didn't think it would be too difficult to find a place that had pasta and pizza.

We were wrong. There was not one place that had pasta and pizza. If it did, it had seafood in one or all so we were left circling and circling like a hawk on acid over a field of seafood mice. We noticed in our extended tour of the old town of Monterosso that people were setting up banners on the building exteriors and setting candles lining the streets. This sent up red flags, no pun intended as the banners were actually red flags. Last time we saw people setting up festivities late at night it was because there was a surprise (surprise to us at least) celebration at 6am where they set off cannons. Luckily for us it was a nightime celebration that we would find ourselves in the middle of later on in the night.
More views of Montorosso. We stayed on the other side of that tunnel shown on the right side of this photo.

We wandered on like the living dead moaning and dragging our feet until we saw an open table at a cute restaurant. Guess which table it was? We must have circled back and ended up finding the only outdoor table of the place we originally wanted to eat at open. We sat down and ordered. I got a homemade pasta that was called Pasta alla Montorosso or something like that. The hubs got a black olive pizza. I am glad he got olive because on our 4 hour drive to get here we passed mountain side after mountain side covered in olive trees. I think they were just growing wild. I have never seen so many olive trees in my life. I knew Italy was known for olives and olive oil but it was crazy. The silvery leaves on the trees made it easy to pick them out on the hillsides. So it was fitting he had olives on his first Italian pizza. I ordered a Montorosso red wine as well. It was a Merlot and went with my pasta, pine nut, anchovie and raisin pasta great. I was so hungry that anything probably would have seemed great as it was 9pm at this point.

As we ate people were walking up the little alley we were sitting at. They were placing little candles every 2 or so meters lining either side of the street. We knew that something was going to come through very soon. I could hear kind of sloppy, sad marching band music coming from somewhere. It sounded like an elementary school recital. Lo and behold a man in a little disabled scooter thing came zooming past us. Following him was a man in preists robes carrying a banner with some saint on it. He was then followed by many more robed men carrying candles. We heard an awkward rattling and then a man popped out of the archway carrying a 3x2 meter metal, sparkley, massive, obviously heavy cross on which a figure of Jesus was hanging in his usual position. The old man was straining to carry it and it was obvious that the archways were not taken into account when it was built. He scraped through the narrow pass and walked past us. Then there was a young man carrying a pole onto which were loud speakers attached. It cracked and feedbacked horrible sounds. The procession went on like that until at the end there was another couple young men singing into microphones to what I presume was those loudspeakers up at the front. The sad little band came last.

We filmed and took photos of it all then sat back down to pay for our meal. We got up to walk back to the hotel and wouldn't you know it, as we popped out one little connecting alley we came upon the scooter man and we were blocked off by the whole parade all over again. We were too tired to watch it a second time so we found another route back to our hotel. Outside was the hotel operator, Gabriel, who is super nice and friendly. He explained that it was a celebration for the Patron Saint of the town of Montorosso. We must have been there on THE right day to see it! That is always fun. Back at the room we pretty much crashed out until the next day.

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