Monday, October 17, 2005

18 days in Italy – Part 5 of 5 – Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre, 5 lands, are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore. Located to the east of Portofino and just to the west of La Spezia, they have been cut off from the world in various occasions. Originally the Etruscans built forts protecting sea access to the Italian Peninsula. After the fall of the empire the road deteriorated for lack of repair. The only way to interact with the outside world was by boat. The Romans repaired the Etruscan roads and the Cinque Terre grew in importance however the Genoa Empire again closed the road cutting off the local inhabitants.

The characteristics of the terrain that made the Cinque Terre great forts was a tremendous hindrance to people’s survival. Mountains that fall off straight into the sea do not easily permit farming. Supplies arriving by sea would have to be carried up the steep mountain slopes and without the road travel by land is nearly impossible. Over the centuries the inhabitants have sculptured the mountains, conquering the treacherous slopes, cultivating their staples in small terraces carved into the mountain. Supplies are brought in and produce brought out with wicker baskets pulled or lowered from terrace to terrace. Things are not much different today. Farm equipment is just too big to work in the terraces.

You can enter the Cinque Terre in 3 ways: by train, by car along winding roads, or by boat. Although the views are incredible I would suggest you lodge in La Spezia and take day trips to the various Cities by train. On one occasion you will also want to take a boat trip to visit San Frutuoso, Chiavari and Portofino, favorite port of the international VIPs. San Frutuoso is a small town built in a ravine and has a little bay. It is famous for its crystal clear waters and an undersea church with a Madonna at about 3 meters under the surface. Chiavari is a great shopping place with great food and in Portofino you can sip coffee in the afternoon at the café on the shoreline while the sailboats and yachts of the rich and/or famous troll by.

The Cinque Terre are famous for Trofie, a rudimentary pasta made from chestnut or wheat flour. Pesto is the sauce of choice however the version from the Cinque Terre does not include garlic. The handmade tagliatelle pasta is a slightly wider version than the original in Emilia Romagna. Fish and mollusks are the primary staples of all local main courses and the vegetables, zucchini, Swiss chard, artichoke and leeks, along with herbs that grow wild on the mountain slopes. A local favorite is stuffed anchovies, anchovies stuffed breaded and fried and “bianchini”, not the kind from Friuli which is a small glass of white wine but baby sardines fried and eaten whole.

The wines of this area are quite unique. The vineyards all face south, toward the sea. They are all terraced into the mountains so when the wind blows or a storm comes up everything exposed to the south is covered in the salty sea mist. The plants, fruits, vegetables, olives, land, people, … everything. The wine of this area exalts that flavor. This area also produces olive oil. The moderate year round temperature and the sea mist produce an olive that is smoother and less acidic making this a great oil to use for salads, bread and just poured straight on fresh tomatoes.


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