Walking through Monterosso al Mare, it’s hard not to feel like a local. Between the heavenly food, the pleasing sights and the genuine townspeople, the Ligurian way of life is easy to settle into.
Monterosso makes up one of the five villages of Cinque Terre, a series of towns along the Italian Riviera in the region of Liguria. The other villages include Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Each colorful town has a charm of its own, and it’s easy to visit them all by train or boat.
The village of Monterosso is split into two sections, the old town and the new town, which are connected by a pedestrian tunnel. The old town is the historic center, while the new section is more of a resort area. For a more relaxed, authentic experience, opt to stay in the old town.
After experiencing a devastating landslide in October 2011, the townspeople of Monterosso came together to rebuild their city. Pictures and signs of the destruction are everywhere throughout the city of about 1,500, and shopkeepers will stop you to tell you how high the water was. The small community’s hospitality and gratitude to tourists who come to visit their city and support their businesses is palpable, making it a particularly unique place.
While delicious food can be found throughout perhaps all of Italy, Monterosso boasts some particularly delectable dishes. The Liguria region of northern Italy is known for a variety of culinary delights, combining an intoxicating blend of elements such as lemons, pesto, focaccia bread and seafood. Many restaurants in Monterosso feature dishes spotlighting the local flavors, particularly the fresh fish.
For some of the best seafood pasta in town, take a seat on the patio of Ristorante Il Moretto (Piazza Colombo 1-3), located in the piazza near the beach. The tagliatelle with swordfish is light and flavorful; the homemade pasta is topped with olive oil, basil and olives (also specialties of the region), and make the perfect compliment for the freshly caught fish.
Above: the tagliatelle with swordfish from Ristorante Il Moretto
For a taste of the local pesto, visit Ristorante Al Pozzo (Via Roma 26), located along the main road in old town. The regional sauce is prepared with a mortar and pestle, and uses locally grown basil, olive oil and pine nuts. The result is a sauce that’s surprisingly light, yet loaded with taste. Try Al Pozzo’s trofie with pesto paired with a glass of local wine.
Finally, with lemons as a local staple, sipping on some limoncello is a must. Limoncello is a quintessential Italian liqueur that is sweet in flavor, but still packs a punch. As a digestif, it’s a perfect way to end a meal.
For a healthy dose of Italian hospitality, stay at Il Giardino Incantato. The bed and breakfast, which is run by hosts Fausto and Mariapia, features four comfortable rooms and an immaculate hidden garden. The traditional Liguarian building has been in Mariapia’s family for hundreds of years. It was constructed in the 16th century and has been recently restored. A generous breakfast is served every morning in the garden, and each room has a complimentary mini bar. Despite the distance from California, the hosts make this quintessential Italian abode feel like home. Il Giardino Incantato is located at via Mazzini, 18. For more information, visit ilgiardinoincantato.net.
Above: Monterosso in the evening
While visiting Monterosso, take a hike along the trail that connects the five villages of Cinque Terre, beginning in Riomaggiore. It’s an easy boat trip from Monterosso, and once in Riomaggiore, a single ticket can be purchased for both the hike and the train, making it easy to skip sections of the hike if desired.
The hike from Riomaggiore to Manarola is an easy, 30-minute walk along a paved trail known as the Via dell’Amore. The other sections are considerably more difficult, but worth the experience for those up to the challenge. The hike is a great way to see all five villages of the Cinque Terre—and burn off some of that pesto and limoncello.
For a more relaxing daytime activity, just hit the beach. The beach in the old town area is rocky and can get crowded, but it’s suitable for an afternoon visit. If planning to spend the whole day at the beach, it’s probably better to head over to the new town, which has areas of private beach and lounge chairs visitors can use for a fee.
Other sights include a sculpture of Neptune carved into a rock at the far end of the new town, the Church of St John Baptist and the Oratorio Mortis et Orationis, among others.
And, of course, there are the four other villages of the Cinque Terre to explore.
For more information about Monterosso and the rest of Cinque Terre, visit cinqueterreonline.com.
A version of this article appeared in The Malibu Times newspaper in June 2012: http://www.malibutimes.com/malibu_life/article_6387849a-7eb4-54f4-b24e-08141fa5dccd.html