I wanted to get the last of my Italian photos up by the end of last year, but you know how things go. So here they are now. I had a hugely memorable and inspiring trip to Northern Italy in October/ November. It was my first major solo adventure and a food pilgrimage of note. I had always been advised that autumn was the best time to visit Italy and I can only agree. In the past I had been in winter so I actually cant attest to what summer is like. Given the number of tourists that are there off-peak, I would not be keen on the mid summer months. Also the heat.
As my trip progressed after Florence and a lovely stay on a farm resort in Tuscany, I was severely bitten by bed bugs on my last night in San Gimignano. I went through a bad patch while trying to recover in Siena. My family told me this was all part of the ‘journey’ and I should embrace it vs. trying to get an earlier flight back home. I felt horribly homesick, vulnerable and lonely and having a face that looked like a Halloween mask didn’t help. Ironically it was also just before Halloween. That coupled with staying in an Airn BnB with no wi-fi (I don’t even know how I could have let that happen) with medieval walls so thick I couldn’t even get signal and right on a very noisy street I kind of lost some of my energy to take photos, so I have included a few of my iPhone images here becasue they capture more of my story.
I had fond memories of Siena from a previous trip so I wandered around looking at the buildings trying to tap onto those. I ate one memorable meal at Tratorria La Torre a just off the Piazza del Campo. A friend had recommended the wild boar ragu or ragu di cinghiale, which is kind of signature in the city, and it did not disappoint. There is nothing like a big bowl of homemade tagliatelle smothered in ragu with lashings of Parmesan to lift the spirits. This was also where I ate the best tiramisu I have ever eaten and where after asking the chef / owner for the recipe, he sat down at my table and wrote it out in Italian for me.
Siena also had some of the most outstanding pastry shops, probably having the edge over Florence, so I tucked into quite a few including their famous ricciarelli, a perfectly flaky and chewy almond cookie gently flavoured with cinnamon and orange peel.
I knew I was heading to the coast and the achingly pretty Cinque Terra next so felt sure this would make me happy again. A long day of travel that involved 4 tightly timed train changes that had me at times running across tracks with my now heavy suitcase, I arrived at Riomaggiori, the first of 5 small villages on the “Costa Ligure of Levante”. Picking which town to stay in involved some research and it really doesn’t matter too much. Just make sure that wherever you do stay, it’s quite close to the station as the hills can be pretty killer. The stairs up to most accommodation is also on the hectic side of the steep spectrum, and I luckily landed a spot just above the harbour within very easy access. I found a DIY laundry in the village where I could do my first much-needed load of the trip and set up a picnic with cheese, biscuits and wine while I waited. It was pure bliss just sitting on a bench watching all the hikers come in from their walks and a spectacular purple sunset. The bite marks on my face were starting to fade and things in general were looking up.
My first nights dinner was at place a friend had been to in the summer and perfectly located right in the harbour called Restaurant Dau Cila. It was probably the best pasta dish I ate on the trip. Squid ink linguine with mixed seafood in the silkiest sauce.
My second day was spent visiting 3 of the other towns and having lunch at a spot that came highly recommended called Tratorria del Billy. It was packed and I hadn’t booked but told the manager I wasn’t leaving until I had eaten there. I met an American man who was travelling on his own and we landed up chatting and going for dinner back in Riomaggiori that night. It was also the night I met a Portuguese couple that worked on cruise liners and an Australian backpacker, and the four of us landed up partying until as late as was possible in this very quiet and sleepy village (not recommended).
I couldn’t face leaving after two days so checked into the cutest hotel right on the beach in Monterosso for a night. It has the best beaches of the Cinque Terre villages and the most wine shops, artisan shops, hotels and restaurants. Its kind of divided into two, with the beach part and the old town part set right at the south end and around a corner. It was just what I needed. It felt like the very last days of autumn but the water was still perfect for swimming.
I was so sad to leave and definitely want to go back and do the walks. I felt like a total failure that I didn’t do one of the hikes between the villages. I also wouldn’t go during summer. The towns are very small and the volume of tourists in peak season would ruin it for me.
It was then back to Venice via Milan for my last few days with Enrica Rocca and my incredible trip.
Here are a few more images starting with San Gimignano, then Siena, then Cinque Terra.
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