Wining and Hiking in Italy’s Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre. The Five Lands. How do I even begin to describe this place? It’s like a Meereen + Highgarden + Babylon. I still don’t believe that it’s a real place. But it is, and we were there for four magnificent days. Cinque Terre is a collection of five towns, cozied up along the northwest coast of Italy. All are connected by trains and hiking trails. It was the perfect vacation for us, with hiking, wine, the sea, and delicious food. They are known for their white wine, lemons, fresh pesto, and anchovies. (Yes we tried some, and they are absolutely delectable).

But first, the journey there…

We decided to take the cheapest route from Munich to Milan (then train to Cinque Terre). For frequent travelers, you would know that the cheapest is not always the smartest nor the fastest. I don’t recommend it. Pay the extra for a direct flight. ANYHOO, we ended up having a layover in Copenhagen for a few hours. Not enough time to explore, but too much time to not be a nuisance. It was where I first learned of a French Dog (hot dog stuffed in a French baguette. It looks “quite rude” according to my mother.) Finally, we boarded and landed in Milan.

Milano Centrale train station is beautiful, majestic, and a little bit confusing to find a bus ticket. Our AirBnB host told us to take the bus from Milano Centrale to her place, a 15 minute drive. Mila (our host’s name, Mila from Milan… I can’t even make that stuff up) said they were easy to find inside, but all we saw were Trenitalia machines, and no help desk. After about 40 minutes walking around the train station, I asked a man in a shop within the station and as it turns out, he sold tickets. PRO-TIP: Anytime you see a T sign outside of a shop or cafe, you can purchase bus tickets at that location. The T is for tabacchi stores.

We arrived at Mila’s apartment, which was our first and only shared AirBnB space. The other couple was from Hong Kong, and although we shared the bathroom with them, we never saw them. We grabbed some pizza, showered, and went to bed. I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve- bring on para-paradise (enter: Coldplay). Mila prepared a delicious Italian breakfast for us to enjoy in our room as we got ready for our early train out. The train station was a hell of a lot easier dealing with actual trains. WHEW. Then we were off– Cinque Terre or BUST!

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Breaking our fast the right way.

The train ride was just over three hours, scheduled to arrive in La Spezia around 11:20 AM. We got to talking to some people on our train and realized we did not need to travel all the way to La Spezia, we can just hop off at Monterosso al Mare (the northernmost town of the five lands) and take the local train to Corniglia. We stepped off the train and were smacked in the face with the ocean’s scent and the most beautiful views our pupils had ever seen. As much as we wanted to keep engulfing the view with our seeing machines, we also really wanted to get rid of our crap and find our new home for the next few days. We purchased the 3-day Cinque Terre Card for €41 per person. The Cinque Terre card gives you unlimited train access from La Spezia to Levanto– the Five Towns sandwiched in between. This card also gives you trail access and bus access within those towns. We got onto the local train and were off to Corniglia, the middle town and our hometown.

Our place in Corniglia was owned by Lidia, a wonderful host who owned all apartments in the building. We had our own one bedroom apartment, kitchen, deck, and beautiful bathroom. All tenants shared the rooftop patio area. The views were like a painting come to life.

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A whole new wooooorrrllddddd!

At this point, we started the exploration of the lands. We hopped around them in no particular order, traveling multiple times to a few of them. So from north to south, here is our take on the Five Lands of Cinque Terre.

Monterosso al Mare
Monterosso is the only true beach town of Cinque Terre. I say ‘beach’ with the all-teeth squinty emoji face. It may be a beach, but it is a small beach covered with bros trying to sell you beach blankets and knock-off Raybans. I’m a beach snob, deal with it. We laid out just to say we did, but the sun kept hiding behind the clouds. I felt as though my eyes couldn’t open wide enough to get in all I needed to see. To my right, private beaches, coastlines and cliffs, and to my left, two more towns peaking out over the ledge to say hello. The trains and ferry boats carried loads of humans to and from this busy town.

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Life’s a beach.

Monterosso felt the most ‘watered down’ of all of the towns. Tourism has taken over Monterosso to the point of almost feeling like I was well on my way to South Padre Island (okay, maybe not that bad). Souvenirs, big-time looking restaurants, and even some cars in the streets(?!). We purchased some shampoo and moved along after about four hours of trying to get a different feel for the place.

Vernazza
Vernazza was our northern next door neighbor with a scenic harbor and the cutest lil’ boats you’ve ever seen. Vernazza is very busy, as the ferry boats are always coming and going. It felt smaller, perhaps because of all of the people bustling around town. Vernazza is the home to Castello Doria, a fortress built in the 15th century as a lookout for pirates. If you can handle the very narrow spiral staircase, it is worth the €1.5 to get to the top.

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Vernazza Views.

We walked to Vernazza for a visit from Corniglia along the 4 km trail. That doesn’t seem long, but that was a rougher trail than we had anticipated! A fairly drastic change in elevation made for an unintended, but much needed workout to work off all the wine, cheese, and pizza we had consumed. Vernazza, like all the towns, has breathtaking views. Views that honestly look like a fairytale land. About ¾ of the way to Vernazza, we found a small cafe with freshly squeezed lemon vodka smoothies. How could we say no? We frequented a gelato shop more than once in town and indulged ourselves over some people watching on some steps. All in all, Vernazza was beautiful, but felt small and hurried – Like that pretty popular girl in school who doesn’t have time to listen to your petty stories.

Corniglia
Home sweet home. SPOILER: This is our favorite of the five. A summarized list of our favorites is at the end of this post, FYI. Corniglia is the only landlocked town, sitting up powerfully on a cliff. There is no ferry access to this town, leaving it a little quieter than its four sisters. Corniglia feels like a very well kept secret. It is the smallest of the five, but we still found ourselves getting lost wandering its many narrow pedestrian-only stone paths. At one point, we ended up in the middle of the valley, surrounded by grapevines and lemon trees, looking out to the endless sea.

cinque terre, corniglia, italy, europe, travel, cheese, blog

Little boxes.

Down several flights of steep stairs and over some large rocks, there is access to the Mediterranean Sea. Don’t get your hopes up- it isn’t a beach, but a rocky water entrance that MAY get some sea gunk on your bum as you slide in, but it is TOTALLY WORTH IT. Corniglia was quaint, yet lively in all the rights ways. We tried a different restaurant for each meal, buying our local Cinque Terre wine and snacks from the market. It still had its charm, and really felt like home.

Manarola
AKA Rock City. This town, once again, has spectacular views. The town’s one main street aims down at the rocks off the coast. There, you will find brave cliff jumpers and sunbathers. If you are in for a thrill, feel free to jump, just know you’ll have a crowd.

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Jump at your own risk.

The ferry is still picking up and dropping off, but there is enough room that it doesn’t feel too overpowering. The streets are full of boats, waiting to set sail. Up at the top of the town, in the church of course, the bell rang to let us know what time it is. Manarola still felt like it has its culture, even though it is busy. I kept having to remind myself that we did visit a beautiful country during tourist season…of course we’d be around people. I just wanted it all to myself. *hair flip*

Riomaggiore
This southernmost town had harbor access, beautiful views, and some cheap wine! Even though this is another one-road town, it felt large and in charge. We really enjoyed the feel of Riomaggiore, you can walk up to get lost in the lemon trees and unrealistically oversized succulents, or walk down to the rocky harbor. We found ourselves doing both, and ending up at a wine bar called Bar O’Netto Brasserie for 2.5 glasses of wine and a load off our feet.

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Sitting proud.

Riomaggiore still felt like somewhere new and different from anywhere else we’d been. It had its own rhythm that we didn’t find in the other four towns.  We got some take away from a restaurant named Mama Mia (because why wouldn’t I get take away from a restaurant named Mama Mia?) and enjoyed a tasty snack as we strolled through the towns, exploring the local shops.

SO THAT’S IT. Cinque Terre is absolutely, unbelievably, breathtakingly, stupidly beautiful. There is not a bad view to be seen. I want to make that well known before I rank the five towns, that they are all spectacular. I will be going back in my lifetime, hopefully sooner than later. It was the perfect union of adventure and relaxation.

5. Monterosso al Mare– too touristed out and busy, but a beach!
4. Vernazza- just never seemed to wow us, minus the views
3. Manarola- adorable, beautiful views
2. Riomaggiore- cultured, more slow paced
1. Corniglia- quiet, secluded, heaven like

So get out there, explore the world while you can, and keep cheesin’!

Saluti!

-C

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Two Gouda Day Trips from Munich

So your trip to Munich is booked, and now all that’s left to do is fill up the time you’ll be spending there. Munich itself is a beautifully historic town with plenty to do and even more beer to drink, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you to explore the idea of taking a day trip or two while you’re there. Between the hyper-efficient train systems throughout Europe and Munich’s central location, there are some incredible places within a one-to-two hour train ride away.

Honestly, the number of available options can be overwhelming, and they’re aren’t any BAD choices. Some lists can be extensive, so today we’re presenting you with something simple –  two destinations. The two day trips we made from Munich were Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Salzburg, Austria. These two trips are both less than a two-hour train ride from Munich Central Station.

Munich, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Salzburg, Day Trips, Europe

If you zoom out far enough, Munich, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and Salzburg are a mere inches apart!

GARMISH-PARTENKIRCHEN: A fun word to say, and an even more fun place to visit

Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Alps, Germany, Day trip, Munich

Garmisch-Partenkirchen

The mountains are always calling, and that’s how we ended up in Garmish-Partenkirchen. In our case, the mountains’ voices manifested themselves as a Rick Steves’ video about Munich. By the way – all his videos are perfect for your European trip’s planning stages, and this one is particularly proficient at teaching you how to pronounce “Garmisch-Partenkirchen.”

Anyway, Garmish-Partenkirchen is a small mountain town in the foothills of the Alps. Originally set as two separate towns, they were forced to combine by Adolf Hitler in preparation for the 1936 Winter Olympics. Looking around, it’s evident why this area would be an ideal location for the event, and many of the Olympic facilities are still standing today. It’s also home to Germany’s highest peak – the Zugspitze. On a clear day, you can see Germany, Italy, Austria, and Switzerland from there. The peak itself is conveniently accessible via a train and cable car, and also features one of the most bomb-ass biergartens in the world.

Zugspitze, Alps, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Munich, Germany, peak, mountains

The biergarten atop the Zugspitze.

You can get there by train or car from Munich, but we opted for rail. From Munich Central Station, snag tickets to Bahnhof Garmisch-Partenkirchen, hop aboard, and enjoy the incredible sights. Odds are, it will be among the quickest hour and half commutes you’ve ever experienced.

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Just a sampling of the views you’ll encounter from Munich to Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

After you’ve arrived, find the stairs to go under the platform – this is how you get to the train that takes you to the top. Tickets are a bit pricey (50 €), but well worth it. You’ll hop on a train and have the option of switching to the cable eventually. We hopped off here, but I’m sure the view is just as gorgeous while descending. This car takes you to Zugspitze’s peak. At this point, I recommend heading right to the biergarten, where the offerings are simple and the prices are surprisingly reasonable. Wine is served by the carafe, and the beer, of course, is plenty. If you’re feeling spicy, snag some gipfelschnaps (summit booze)! Take it easy, though: combining a rapid altitude increase (you’re just a bit higher than Keystone, CO) and alcohol can be…interesting.

Zugspitze, Cable Car, Munich, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, peak, biergarten

Zugspitze from the cable car station.

After taking in the views, take another cable car to the lower part of the peak. Here, there are exhibits to explore and more sights to absorb. Pro tip: don’t allow the aforementioned alcohol consumption force you to buy food here. We did, and it wasn’t great. You’re better off getting something back in town.

Speaking of – the town(s) of Garmisch-Partenkirchen are a perfect slice of Bavarian tradition. We recharged with some espresso and wandered around for a couple hours. The water flowing throughout is a glacial-fed stream, which explains its light blue color. There are also two gorges to check out, as well, but we were unable to get there on our trip. After you’ve wandered and eaten to your heart’s content, hop back on the train and head back to Munich. THAT’S A DAY TRIP.

SALZBURG, AUSTRIA – Home of Mozart and The Sound of Music

Hohensalzburg Castle, Salzburg, Munich, Day Trip,

The view from atop the Hohensalzburg Castle in Salzburg, Austria

Another extremely simple day trip from Munich is Salzburg, Austria. It’s a less than two-hour train ride from Munich Central Station, and the passing scenery helps speed things up. We didn’t know much about Salzburg beforehand, except that it was the Home of Mozart, the Sound of Music was shot there, and that there is a castle. After leaving the train, walk to the Mozartplatz. On this walk, you’ll go by several shops and restaurants – stop in as many as you’d like. Once at the Mozartplatz, grab a map from one of the info stations, and head to the Hohensalzburg Castle – it’s been raid-free since 1525!

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Some Mozart graffiti in an passageway

On a clearer day, I would recommend checking out the various gardens and even taking a tour or two around town. For us though, it began mercilessly pouring on us after leaving the castle. Staying dry was not an option, and we dashed in between storefronts to evade the rain. Eventually, we came across a sign for an Irish pub called “Shamrock.” Here is where we stayed, sipping whiskey until the rain held off. By late afternoon, it all stopped and we headed back to the train station.

Irish Pub, Salzburg, Austria, Munich, Day Trip

Shamrock Irish Pub – Our shelter during the storm.

Again, thanks to Munich’s central location, it makes day trips like these extremely simple things to do, and even regrettable if you don’t. Of course, there are several other options available, but we recommend these due to their short train rides and geographical and cultural differences. There’s so much to see in Europe – it’s just up to you to decide where you want to go.

-D

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Shop till you drop in Salzburg.

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Be warned. There are puppets in the castle.

Munich is a can’t-miss European gem.

We all have an origin story, and those tales typically begin with an examination of your own ancestry. Part of mine begins in Germany, where delightfully repeated tales from my Grandparents inform us they met on the boat to America as they were escaping the shadow of the Nazi regime in hopes to find a new home here in the United States. It’s no mystery why I was drawn to Germany. I wanted to see the place from which many of my own family’s traditions emanate from.

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A gazebo just east of the English Garden.

Cate and I elected to visit Munich because of its rich history, unforgettable architecture, and central location to other spots in Europe. Munich was the first stop on our trip, and the only one in Germany. It’s the capital of Bavaria, and while we weren’t in town for Oktoberfest, it conveyed its culture in an array of ways including but not limited to beers bigger than your face and churches older than America.

We left Kansas City at 5 in the morning, and arrived at the Munich Airport at 1 the next afternoon. While you can save a pretty penny booking flights separately, like we did, I would recommend spending more for quicker travel, if able. The city’s center is a quick 45 minute train ride from the airport but we went one stop further – München Hackerbrücke station – to get to our AirBNB. Our host, Renate, was incredible and left us a couple beers to get us started.

Munich, Europe Trip, Munich Guide, AirBnb, Views

The view from Renate’s AirBnb.

After getting unpacked, we hit a nearby restaurant where I, of course, opted for the schnitzel (schnitzengruben, regrettably, was unavailable). On our way home, we stopped at a grocery shop to grab some wine and cheese, among other things. I was feeling confident from dinner’s beers, and I thought, “why not take my German-speaking skills for a spin?” Checking out, I asked the owner how old he was (wie alt bist du?) instead of how he was doing (wie geht es ihnen). COOL.

DAY ONE

On our first full day of Munich, we wandered from the AirBnb to the Marienplatz – a piazza surrounded by historical landmarks, restaurants, and shops (mostly global, well-known brands). I can’t encourage merely walking around enough – especially in Munich. Not once did we feel uncomfortable with our surroundings. Once there, we grabbed some breakfast and got to exploring. We wandered around, into, and on top of the Neues Rathaus (New City Hall), where we met a fellow American who told us about Sandemans New Europe walking tours. One was starting outside shortly, so we joined up. Our guide led us around town, and was incredibly informative. I learned more in those three hours than I would have on my own in three days. RECOMMEND.

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The Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall) in the Marienplatz

Afterwards, we visited the largest urban park on the planet – the Englischer Garten. The park was beautifully vast. We wanted to eat at the Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower) – a multi-story structure surrounded by a biergarten. We arrived, and finally enjoyed what we really came to Munich for – alarmingly large beers! After a few, we turned around to head back. On our way out of the park, the fields had become filled with groups of people. Oddly enough, two guys were tossing an American football, and they over-threw it right into our direction. Now, I’m no Colin Klein , but I threw the best spiral of my life that day. I’d like to think those bros were impressed with the clinic I put on that day.

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Some views from the English Garden

Back in the city, the rain started to pour, so we dashed to the legendary Hofbrauhaus for a roof over our heads. We had originally planned to avoid this spot, as we had heard it was a tourist trap, but I’d be damned if we’d missed this place. Music filled the beer hall as it was played by a group of buzzed musicians adorned in lederhosen. We had some cheese dip (DECENT) with more gargantuan, locally sourced beerchachos. Once the rain eased up, we walked home, dry as a sponge out of water.

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One of the most well known breweries in the world – the Hofbrauhaus!

Munich is an incredible place, and becomes increasingly so the more you learn about it. The deeply religious background is evident in the beautiful structures throughout the city. The spot marking the beginning of Hitler’s Third Reich is now a Spielzeug Museum (Toy Museum), because a child’s joy is the opposite of the hate curated there. Nearly the entire city was bombed flat in WWII, but the city chose to rebuild in manner reminiscent of its past – whereas places like Berlin elected to modernize. Don’t discount this town’s capabilities, though – it’s one of the largest tech hubs in Europe.

Munich was the perfect starting point for our European trip. English-speakers were common, but give the local language a try while you’re there! As with all new places, try all the food and drink you can, and explore until your legs are sore. Bring a journal to record your experiences while you enjoy the perfect people-watching spot. We will be back to Munich some day – i just hope that day isn’t too far off.

Earlier, I mentioned Munich’s central location was one of the defining factors in our choice to visit it. Thanks to the efficient rail system in Europe, incredible places can be affordable and simple to get to – some even can be squeezed into one day. We went on two of these trips, but we’ll talk about those later. You’ve been reading long enough!

-D

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