The setting sun illuminates the wine in my glass the color of citrine – a polished jewel from the grapevines of the hillsides that plunge into the sea. From there, the sunlight refracts onto the surrounding scenery. The pastel edifices of the hill-stacked homes glow in earthy hues, the caps of sloshing waves become trimmed with gold, and the smiling faces of the people bustling by embrace you in an ethereal warmth. Everything here seems to move a bit slower, and as I sipped my jeweled wine and gaze about me, I can’t help but feel a type of serenity that transcends to eternity.
This is Manarola, one of five small Mediterranean towns in Italy’s famed Cinque Terre, and where my husband and spent the first portion of our journey through Italy. While the towns here are small and sleepy, the charm that they exude is grand. Everything about our three-night stay here was fantastic. Our rental home has glorious views, the sea’s waters were lush, the towns were fantastic to explore, and the food was even more wonderful than I could have ever dreamed of.
Our decision to go to Cinque Terre was a bit spontaneous, so finding a rental with views last minute was challenging. However, after a bit of deep searching, I was able to find a rental property that had just gone up on Airbnb’s site with not yet even one review. Reviews are important to me because I’m a person who likes knowing what to expect, so booking an unrated property felt like a gamble but I am beyond grateful that I did. Everything about the property was fantastic. Its location at the top of a sloping hillside allowed us the luxury of gazing down upon the town’s rooftops, the ocean, and the opposing hill that was charmingly dotted with lemon trees and grapevines. We enjoyed our time simply lounging on the spacious patio and sipping an evening glass of the town’s famed white wine. The property was also very clean and our host was extremely helpful and kind. If you are interested in booking for yourself, you can check out the property here.
A Dip in the Mediterranean
Our first morning in Manarola was a Mediterranean-dipped dream. We woke up relatively early (I think around 8), grabbed a cappuccino with a fruit cup, and walked down to the town’s rocky alcove to hang out and take a morning dip in rich, blue water. The water’s temperature was cool, but not uncomfortably so, and the waves were not rough so our swim was invigorating and the perfect start to a day of exploration.
Exploring the towns of Cinque Terre
One of the best aspects of Cinque Terre is its transportation system. Each village has a train station and the train line can take you to any of the 5 towns within minutes. While all of the towns carry the same coastal Italian charm, each one had a unique layout with different types of shops and beaches. The two we explored were Monterosso and Vernazza. Monterosso had the biggest beach of all of the towns with many options for chair rentals. Vernazza had a town square that served as the inspiration for the town in Disney’s movie Luca, one of my and Jay’s favorites. Here, I tried my first Italian Aperol Spritz at a small café on a bustling street and was then able to understand why they are the cocktail of choice in Italy.
Private Boat Tour
Listen, it’s not every day that you get to go on a dreamy Italian vacation, so Jay and I decided to splurge a little and do a private boat tour along the coast of Cinque Terre. We booked with San Giorgio Rooms and Boats and were so pleased with the kindness of our guides and their attention to detail. I specifically requested that we wanted to swim so they took us to a beautiful, hidden alcove along the coast with turquoise-colored water that we delightedly splashed into. What’s more is that after swimming, we were pleased to find that the guides had set up a small table with snacks and wine for us to enjoy and regain our energy while we sailed along the rest of the coastline. This was truly an unforgettable day and I will never forget the mesmerizing blue hues of the crisp water, the fresh air hitting my face as we rode, and the spectacular views of Cinque Terre.
Ristorante Marina Piccola
This was a restaurant that we picked on a whim on our first evening in Cinque Terre. What stuck out to us most was its location next to the sea which made for a lovely sunset ambiance. In addition to a seaside view, I was extremely happy with my meal of steamed mussels, seafood spaghetti, and berry cheesecake. This area is known for its pesto, and Jay’s pesto dish was fresh and rich in flavor.
Trattoria dal Billy
This hillside restaurant was located right next to our Airbnb and was recommended to us by our host. On our first evening, we passed by and saw a couple eating a fantastic-looking pasta dish with fettuccine and lobster so, obviously, we booked the restaurant for the next day’s lunch to get a taste. Because we booked a table at the restaurant’s opening, we were able to get fantastic corner seating with views of the sea and town below. The waiters were very kind, and yes, the lobster pasta dish tasted as fantastic as it looked.
La Regina di Manarola
We were fortunate enough to spend Jay’s birthday in Cinque Terre, so I booked us a table here to celebrate. While any restaurant in Manarola would have been a great spot for a celebration, I thought that this one was well-decorated and seemed a bit swankier than the others. Here, Jay had a delicious seared tuna dish and I had the “That’s Amore” pizza with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and aged ham. For dessert, Jay had homemade lemon cake and I had a cannolo (cannoli). Everything was exceptional and I think Jay really enjoyed his birthday night.
Bar Il Sole a 180 Gradi
The quote “it’s a small world” held true for us in Italy because we were able to meet up with an Italian couple that we befriended while living in Florida! The husband of the couple worked with Jay but they moved back to Italy to a city near Cinque Terre. They picked us up and drove us up along the stunning coastline to a great restaurant situated on top of a mountain with dramatic views of the sea. Not only was it awesome to see them, but it was great to have locals help us pick new foods to try. Everything that they suggested was perfect. I especially loved the prosciutto wrapped in cantaloupe, the stuffed mussels, and my lemon sorbet that was served in an actual lemon. We spent the entire evening catching up and laughing while gazing at the beauty of the coast as the sun slid into the sea. It was a perfect evening to conclude a perfect time in Cinque Terre.
While I could probably spend weeks in Cinque Terre just to relax and swim, I think 3 nights was a great amount of time to soak in everything that this stunning little bit of coastline has to offer. From sipping on an Aperol spritz alongside dreamy views, drowning in pasta, feeling the rush of the Mediterranean whisk about my body after a dive, and sensing the wind blow through my hair as our charter sped along where the mountains plunge into the sea, I’d say that our time in Cinque Terre was an unforgettable experience.