Our arrival in Monterosso was a bit of a shock. After my monk-like experience in our remote lodgings outside Riomaggiore, the tourist cliches of Monterosso al Mare scaled heights of garishness both comic and jarring. A feeling of dread swept over me as our little taxi whisked us up the perilously narrow pathway to our hotel.
The hotel, Hotel Porto Roca, didn’t help with our desire to feel hipper than the average tourist. I chose this hotel for three reasons; location, location, location. Seriously, check out these pictures! I wanted to have that view just once in my life!
We paid for it. Our room, on the side without the ocean view, was $400 a night. And for all of its various terraces, courtyards, infinity pool and the like, there was a certain charm that was missing from the hotel itself. It didn’t feel comfortable or relaxed. The staff struck me as either pretentious or obsequious, depending on who I was talking to. As though they were all carefully trained in making their clientele feel elevated above the masses. (Honestly, is this really what rich people want?) It was all a bit “Lifestyles of the rich and famous” for our taste. I half expected Jason Statham to stroll through the front doors at any moment.
Also the beaches put me off, with their little rows of umbrellas crowding out any possible view of the ocean. Why would anyone want to litter a perfectly lovely beach with rows and rows of umbrellas?
So I spent my first day in Monterosso feeling rather grumbly about having left Riomaggiore. Still we were in freaking Italy, so we figured it wouldn’t be that hard to make the best of it. Once we got settled in, we took off to explore the town. Tourism or no, this was a new experience, and I am a softie for those.
We walked through the town, and I grudgingly had to admit that it was full of medieval Italian charm. We found one of the hiking trails and followed it for awhile, until the lack of appropriate shoes made itself apparent. Then we headed back, and stopped at a market to get supplies for a picnic dinner. I swam in the pool, which overlooked the sea and lifted my mermaid spirits considerably.
The next morning I awoke feeling tired and washed out. I had strange dreams of being impoverished (as I slept in the swanky hotel, heh) and also the day before took a bit out of us with the travel and the impromptu hike in less than ideal shoes. It had been pretty warm the day before as well, and I was thinking as I arose that if it were hot again today I may not be up for a hike. Which was the main reason I wanted to explore this region. I felt my inner curmudgeon taking root around my heart.
As we headed into breakfast, served on a balcony with a yet another spectacular view of the sea, it began to rain.
You might think this would seal the deal on my grumpy mood but nope. This lifted my spirits considerably! As I sat drinking a remarkably delicious cappuccino, I felt the mist and drizzle invigorate me, and realized this would be the perfect day for a good long hike along the coast.
Cinque Terre is truly a hiker’s paradise. The opportunity to explore the many narrow trails nestled into the cliffs along the sea is what drew me to this region. As a lover of both hiking and the ocean, I was willing to go to great lengths to see this part of the world. Many months of planning, scrimping, and saving went into this. And today was the day!
One of the nice things about our hotel was that the the trail started right from it. So after breakfast, we trundled down the driveway and off we went. It took us two hours to hike to Vernazza. After exploring the town and having lunch, we got it in our heads that we had the energy to then walk to Corniglia. Another two hours. My feet felt like little sausages by the time we arrived! As we also walked around the towns, we estimated we must have walked 6 -7 hours this day. Boy, was I glad of the regional trains that connect the towns, so we didn’t have to walk back!
There are few things more satisfying to me than utterly using myself up! No troubled sleep this night.
We spent our final day lounging on the beach and swimming in the sea. The chip on my shoulder about the little umbrellas came right off. The Ligurian Sea is not like the Pacific, my “home” sea. The Pacific is freezing, and it will kill you. This was warm and salty and inviting! Not that I still didn’t manage to nearly drown myself; in my zeal to become one with the ocean, I swam too far out, and then, after I had completely expended my energy, realized I still had to swim back. My lungs were near bursting as I struggled past the exhaustion to get to shore. I was beginning to fear that the hot Italian lifeguard was going to have to come rescue me. As Hot Italian Lifeguard fantasies go, this would not have been choice A.
Once I learned my limits and spent a good twenty minutes gasping for air, I was able to return to the sea with a more accurate understanding of the limits of my own mortality, and thus I enjoyed the rest of the day immensely. There were fruity drinks and tasty snacks. If you find yourself in a touristy situation, might as well go all in, I figure.
I warmed up to both the Hotel Porto Roca and the umbrella-laden beaches. Once I let go the need to be “above” such tourism, I sunk into the pure pleasure of a “getting away from it all” style vacation, and had a grand old time! Relations with the hotel staff got more down to earth, and the little umbrellas were quite nice to lounge under. Though I probably won’t book here again unless I win the lottery, I have to say, they really do have the absolutely primo location. (And their own private beach.) If $400 a night is no big deal for you, I’d recommend it, for views, delicious drinks, and the only infinity pool in Monterosso. Definitely hold out for a sea view room!
Our final day was spent in Porto Venere, a lovely area that, from the look of some of the yachts, is a billionaire playground. It has a huge castle jutting up out of the hillside. It was lovely, but ultimately didn’t hold a candle to the Cinque Terre. So I’ll keep this post from getting much longer and cap the storytelling for now.
If you’d like to go:
I used Booking.com to book both our accommodations in Riomaggiore and Monterosso. I was extremely happy with their service. It was very user friendly and I would recommend them to anyone looking to book a trip. Here is a link directly to their offerings in the Cinque Terre region.
We flew to Europe almost for free. How? By becoming Frequent Flyer ninjas, of course! I became a member of Chris Guillebeau’s Travel Hacking Cartel. He saves members endless hours of research by doing it himself and sending us the results. Want to become a member? If so, follow the banner!
(Extra awesome: if you book or join through either of these links, I get a commission, making it that much easier for me to keep making beautiful music for you!)