Monterosso al Mare, Cinque Terre, Italy
By Kelly M. Weber
As the northernmost town of Italy’s famous Cinque Terre (Five Lands), Monterosso al Mare offers the most tantalizing sights, smells and tastes for the budget conscious, young traveler. Nestled in the outer fringe of the Apennines mountain range, Monterosso is a bustling fishing village existing dichotomously yet harmoniously amidst a booming tourists’ mecca. However, visitors are reminded of a quieter past, while observing the town elders gather for a morning chat or noticing four generations gathered together for evenings in the seaside playground. Monterosso is the jumping-off point for Cinque Terre’s claim to fame, the Sentiero Azurra (Blue Path). This five-hour excursion leads hikers along vineyard-laden hillsides to four picturesque villages along the Levante Riviera.
Monterosso is the most tourist-friendly town in Cinque Terre, offering many affordable rooms, a variety of cozy trattorias and even a bit of nightlife. Finding a room is relatively easy in this town, often without an early reservation. Chances are train travelers will be greeted by a Monterosso native, Corrado, who rents quaint and clean apartments to visitors for a good price (around S25 per person).
While in Monterosso, visitors can feast on the local culinary delights, cultivated from the surrounding hills, forests and sea. The terraced hillsides provide the freshest herbs for locally made Pesto Genovese as well as the most savory lemons to make the fine liquor, limoncello. For the best seafood and a price to match, Ristorante Ciak is worth a splurge to taste their delicious seafood risotto prepared by the restaurant’s owner, Ciak.
Monterosso is known as the beach bum’s paradise when visiting Cinque Terre. Although there are private beaches with chairs for rent, visitors have free access to two stretches of the Mediterranean shore, one directly below the train station and the other in town. Dividing the town between the old and new, atop a small headland rests a monastery, Convento dei Cappuccini, housing a famous painting by Flemish master, Anthony Van Dyck. Below, the statue of Neptune, or il Gigante, looms out of the rocky cliffs keeping a watchful eye over the town.
Young travelers will relish in the relaxed and approachable atmosphere of this quiet village, making it a great escape from noisy, busy cities. When visiting Monterosso al Mare, don’t forget these important provisions: sturdy hiking shoes, a hearty appetite, and an appreciation for the beauty and tranquility of this unique coastal region.