My second week of holidays coincided with El Hombre Latino’s only week of holidays so we set off to the stunningly scenic Cinque Terre.
Despite planning to loll about, we spent most of our four days walking along the paths that run between the five main towns and into the hills behind them. There are hundreds of kilometres of tracks and the walks vary in length and difficulty from an-old-lady-can-do-it to don’t-leave-home-without-your-sat-nav.
It was apparently the off-season but already there were hundreds of walkers from all over the world, all walking in their own distinct way.
The Americans make hiking the Cinque Terre seem like the sport of the future. Their shoes talk to their watches, communicating time, distance and number of steps whilst their clothing is made of material so advanced, it probably uses the sweat it wicks off their skin to clean the garment as they walk.
The French make the Cinque Terre look like an Alpine fashion show with their slim black stretchy pants and shoes that perfectly co-ordinate with the scarf that remains tossed just-so across their shoulders, even in the most arduous sections of the path.
The Italians make it look like a Sunday stroll, usually walking with one or two kids plus a dog in tow.
The Germans however just make it look dorky. If they’re not wearing the supremely unflattering kind of pants that can zip in half to become shorts or pull in at the bottom to become 3/4 length, then they’re wearing shorts so tight and tiny they shouldn’t be seen on anyone over the age of ten. Their hiking boots are of the chunkiest variety and always worn with black socks whilst their heavy bulging backpacks have straps designed to cut across their torso in only the fleshiest parts, giving the overall effect of an alpine Michelin man. The mandatory addition to this outfit is, of course, a pair of alpine walking sticks.
To be fair the Australians I encountered also looked ridiculous, hiking rocky and treacherous paths wearing flip flops (we call them thongs), board shorts and, if the sun was shining, little else. Basically wherever we are, we're on our way to the beach.
Whilst the walks themselves were an incredible experience, taking us through the vineyards and olive groves cut into the hills in a series of terraces and along a the teal-green waters, the best thing about all this walking was the unrestrained eating that followed. The meal we ate on our final night at "A Cantina de Mananan" was the best I've had in Italy and given I've yet to have a meal in Italy that I haven't loved (with the exception of a sandwich purchased at the Milano Centrale station) that's high praise.
It began with an aperitivo of Prosecco with a small selection of olives, anchovies and salume, followed by a pasta I've never seen before called Tagliolini Testaroli which was like a thin pancake sliced into squares, topped with pesto. This we followed with a serving of local Pecorino cheese served with walnuts from the restaurant's garden and Castagno honey, from the restaurant's own bees. Dessert was a tiramisu (required eating for Latino Man) and a slice of their Torta di Noci made with walnuts from, you guessed it, the restaurant's own garden. As we were bursting full, we finished the meal with a limoncino and a locally produced grappa to fortify us for the climb up the hill to our B&B.
The restaurateurs were a frightening pair of burly men who promptly dismissed us on the first night we tried to get in when we didn't have a reservation. The next day we tried making a reservation but as neither of our phones had connection in Corniglia, we had to take our chances with just turning up. We arrived half an hour before opening time and loitered until they let us in, ten minutes before the official opening time by which time they were full. Our waiter glared at us when we dithered over our choices so we were too afraid to ask for explanations or translations of the haphazardly written chalkboard menu, hence the surprise pasta. Additionally their paper place mats included a guide, in four languages, for getting the most enjoyment out of our meal. To summarise, it said: "don't put parmigiano cheese on seafood dishes, our pesto does not need pepper, only one type of food is allowed on your plate at any one time and no, we don't serve cappuccino. You can end your meal with an espresso or grappa or nothing".
Our scary hosts however melted into the sweetest teddy bears after we gushed about their pesto, which we subsequently learned they make themselves with their own basil and their own olive oil from their own olives. Of course.
Buona Pasqua a tutti!