Some glimpses of Monterosso al Mare – an historic and charming little village which forms part of Italy’s beautiful Cinque Terre.
Monterosso al Mare is one of the five villages (along with Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore) which form part of the rugged coastal stretch on the Italian Riviera called the Cinque Terre, and the bloke and I stayed there with some friends for a couple of days last year.
These historic villages date back to the 11th century and, while once very isolated, are now hugely popular tourist destinations. Naturally, the seafood is abundant here – Monterosso is particularly famed for it’s anchovies and this local specialty has been granted a Protected Designation of Origin status from the European Union.
The village is tiny, with families who have lived here for many generations. We spent some time with a warm and generous couple, friends of our friends, called Angelo and Paula. The charming Paula is a very happy conscript into the area, having met Angelo almost 20 years ago, while she was on holiday from the US, but Angelo is the real deal – and a 13th generation anchovy fisherman.
Outside of the high season this an ideal spot to unwind, the region is beautiful and, for now, retains much of it’s original charm. The streets are cobbled and narrow, with mostly only foot traffic, making it perfect for wandering around, stopping every now and then for coffee or to eat some of the amazing local seafood.
I can highly recommend taking some time to develop a taste for a traditional Italian aperitivo called Aperol spritz – a refreshing combination of prosecco and a splash of Aperol ( a bitter liqueur), topped up with some soda.
Shopping is limited, but the lack of large resort-style accommodation or indulgent luxury boutiques is totally refreshing.
The five villages are joined by a walking trail called the Sentiero Azzurro, a unique experience for the energetic who can wander along a path suspended between the sea and the mountainsides. Sadly, parts of the trail were damaged in the horrific floods and mudslides in October 2011, when nine people were killed and damage to the towns, in particular Monterosso, was extensive. Due to bureaucratic wrangling, not all of the pathway has been repaired yet, so parts of the walk are a little steep and rocky.
However, summer tourist numbers mean that peak season here is very crowded. Not easily accessible by car, modern train services make the villages an easy trip from Milan, Rome, Turin and Tuscany. Many more tourists are disgorged onto the streets of these tiny towns daily, by the giant cruise ships which now have them as part of their itinerary.
Some of the villages are struggling to cope with the increased tourism and there has been some talk of limiting visitors to the region in order to try to maintain the original character of the area. I’d suggest avoiding the crowds and any possible access difficulties by visiting in the early or late parts of the shoulder seasons.