AUTHOR’S NOTE: There is not really anything sweet in this post as the title would suggest. If anything, my recent trip along the coastline of Liguria, in Italy, was completely salty. The Mediterranean Sea, the fresh focaccia bread, the cured meats; essentially it was perfect.
Our trip was somewhat spontaneous, aside from the fact that it had kind of been in the works since February, we had planned very little else. All we knew was that my friend was going to be in Florence on this day and I found a cheap ticket to Genoa for the same day, so we knew we would at least be in the same country. So the day before I was set to leave we Skyped to make a bit more of a plan; we would meet the next day in La Spezia, I would send out some requests on the website CouchSurfing and hope that someone replied and would let us stay with them. My friend had no phone and I would have no internet access until unless I managed to find some McDonald’s wifi or something, so we really had to just hope that the other person would be there when we arrived.
So, feeling a little nervous about the whole situation I headed to the station at 6am and headed to Genoa, where I got a train to La Spezia. A train that was meant to take 90 minutes but ended up taking 2 and a half hours, thanks Italian train system, you’re a winner! But that was okay, we found some free wifi and were disappointed to find that no one had replied to our requests, maybe it was because we sent the requests about 18 hours before arriving, oops.
Luckily, my friend remembered that she once met this guy who lived nearby, we contacted him and we could stay with him and his family from the next day. We then happened to find two Norwegian backpackers who were in the same situation as us and the four of us managed to find a nice little hotel we could stay at for the night at a very reasonable price. It looked like everything had really fallen into place!
The next few days were spent lying in the sun, swimming in the sea (which was at a perfect temperature), eating a lot of amazing food and struggling to communicate with our friend’s family who spoke no/very little English.
LA Spezia is the gateway town to Cinque Terre, ‘Five Lands’; a collection of five isolated little towns on the coast, overlooking the sea, full of beautiful old buildings and amazing views. The towns are linked by little paths which you can walk if you have the time and energy, otherwise the train goes past every town pretty regularly. Each town has it’s own unique feel and attraction. Montorosso is the biggest, the most touristy and has a proper sand beach.
Vernazza is know for having a beautiful church that overlooks the water, it also has a collection of nice little boutiques and shops. However, I would recommend climbing across the rocks past the marina area and swimming there, it is less crowded than Montorosso and the water has less limestone in it, so it doesn’t hurt your eyes so much.
Riomaggiore is full of little pathways so it is the easiest to explore, it is also full of little restaurants and takeaway places specializing in seafood, such as the Mamma Mia! Takeaways which was a personal favorite, mainly based on the name. It is also the starting point for the Via Dell’Amore, or the Road of Lovers, the shortest, easiest and apparently nicest walk. Unfortunately it was closed so we could only look at the walk.
This path joins Riomaggiore with Manarola. This was the last town we went to, after a five minute stop at Corniglia, so we arrived as the sun was beginning to set. The sunlight reflecting off the water was amazing and I would say this was probably the most beautiful of the five towns.
Liguria is the birthplace of pesto and focaccia bread, so obviously the food is amazing, and we were staying with an Italian family so everything we ate was authentic! We had a Sunday afternoon picnic in the sunshine, at a 300 year old house with a 90 year old grandfather up in a small mountain village but the absolute highlight was discovering panigacci.
Panigacci is a dish that is traditional to LA Spezia, you will find it nowhere else in Italy. It is essentially a pancake but it can also be boiled at eaten like any other kind of pasta. When I first saw it I thought that it looked pretty easy to make and I mentally added it to my list of things to attempt but I was then warned that not only is the batter extremely difficult to get right, the cooking process involves heating terracotta plates in a fire and then layering the mixture in between them all, and knowing how long to leave them without burning it, so I decided to just enjoy it this once and not make it ever.
It was truly a versatile dish, we ate a three course meal with each dish containing panigacci. First we had it boiled and served with a variety of sauces, then the crispy pancake version with cheese and cured meats and even as dessert! The crunchy pancakes served with nutella was delicious!
Such deliciousness topped off with a nice glass of limonata, perfection!
If anyone is brave enough to attempt making panigacci I would love to hear about it!