Monterosso. What a lovely little town. Yes, the beach here is stunning and it is worth spending some time cavorting and/or frolicking about in the sand. But the real adventure starts when you leave the main drag and head inward or upward. As with all the Cinque Terre towns, there is most definitely some fine food to be had, just get away from the touristy areas. And as I always say, if there are pictures in the window of the food on order, run (this does not particularly apply in Japan, where all the restaurants seem to have pics up).
The two great experiences we had here were, first, at a tiny little wine bar, Enoteca da Eliseo, just inland past the big church (which I dubbed “Our Lady of the Beetlejuice, due to it’s dark and white stripes) where we met up with some fabulous Australians who had just met each other there as well – one group from Sydney and one group from Melbourne. I fortunately love both those cities equally well. Though I would have to give my tip of the hat to Sydney, mostly for the stunning harbor scenery. As the night went on, and more wine was poured, we all got a bit rowdy and were admonished by a nosy Canadian busybody who said we were the reason people hated “Ugly Americans.” To which our new Aussie friend shouted, “Screw you, I’m Australian!” Love that lady.
This wine bar was an absolute find! The house wine was cheap and tasty. The owners were incredibly nice and even though we were a bit rowdy toward the end, they were gracious as can be. They even gave me a bar towel, once I let it be known that I collect them. So when you head over to Enoteca da Eliseo be sure to have a drink and remember, keep it down, or the Canucks might get ya.
There are several fabulous eateries in the twisty little town that we did not have the chance to visit. We will hit those at a later date I’m sure. But the second place I can wholeheartedly recommend is L’Ancora della Tortuga! This amazing little restaurant is literally carved into the mountainside to the south of town heading toward the hike to Vernazza. You can dine inside, where the decor is Ligurian seaside shanty at it’s best, or you can dine up top with a stunning view of the sea. I recommend the latter. You will never forget that view.
We started with a pesto stuffed squid served in a pool of lusciously succulent pumpkin (or butternut squash) puree. One of the most amazing dishes I have ever been served. It was gorgeous to behold and even better on the taste buds. Since pesto was invented here in Liguria, I think they have it down. And the incredible freshness of every morsel of seafood on this trip is mind blowing. I have truly never had better.
Next course was a simple grilled tuna in sweet red onions sauté for Kim, and a lobster risotto for me. Holy balls! Perfectly perfectly perfecto! Sweet, savory, and impeccably al dente was the risotto. The lobster perched atop, exuding the flavors of the sea just a stones throw away from where we sat. The tuna bright and bursting, a perfect foil for the onion’s umami undertones. Heavenly.
Another real find here was actually in the bread basket. We could not quite pinpoint what that bread was until we asked. “It is pasta,” the waitress said. They simply deep fried the fresh pasta and it came out like a sopapilla or beignet. And it was magical. The fact that the house wine was excellent and the view was beyond compare didn’t add to those magical feelings at all, I’m sure….. Sarcasm intended….
Monterosso was the most “beachy” of the five towns and I am sure that in the high tourist season it is probably unbearable for my taste. And that is why I always try to travel in the off seasons. Much of the tourist trade is gone, the crowds are far more reasonable, and the weather is usually cooler and more invigorating. High summer heat and fat smelly tourists slathered in sun cream and bug repellant are a deadly combination to be avoided at all costs.
I can however, recommend, no, demand, that you make the hikes from Monterosso to Vernazza and from Vernazza to Corniglia. They are still open and beautiful. Sadly, the hikes from Corniglia to Manarola and Manarola to Riomaggiore are closed. Damn shame. Having made the trek from Monterosso to Vernazza, and the trek from Corniglia to Vernazza, I can say that not only are they some of the most amazing and stunning hikes I have ever taken, I can also attest that my buns of steel are almost quarter-bouncing ready. And all that pasta I have been shoveling in to my pie hole is burning away quite nicely.
So, eat the food, see the sights, and enjoy the beach of Monterosso. Then take the hike over to the wonderful twisty town of Vernazza. And no matter what you do, beware of nosy Canadians.