Food & Drink Magazine

Convertible Drive in Cinque Terre Italy

By Nelsoncarvalheiro

This is the story of my Convertible Drive in Cinque Terre Italy, along the Ligurian coastal corniche to share wine and homemade food with the locals.

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“I have to overtake the three wheeled Ape 50 before the tunnel”, I think to myself as I hear the revving of the engine behind me. In the review mirror, the youngster in the Mito gives me the “game on” stare, as he mutters Italian out the window! We both know that the tunnel is single track and if we don’t pass this snail of a Piaggio, it is going to be the most boring 10km of James Bondish Italian seaside tunnel in history. As soon as that light turns green I go for it… The race is on…

As the last car shoots by in the opposite direction, silence invades little Deiva Marina. It is as if we are on the pole of the Ìmola Grand Prix. As I veer to the left, I can´t help gazing at the amber-gold reflection of the setting sun on the Mediterranean and think of the dinner Luigi and his family are cooking for us this evening.  As I imagine the homemade spinach ravioli and vino nero, the light turns green and I scramble back to focus. I gun the Mini as hard as I can, reaching the tunnel entrance in first place, only to be insanely tailgated by the hot-blooded Italian.

At this speed, the intermittent sun and shade give the impression that we are in a wormhole traveling to another dimension. The head-on blinding sunlight abruptly marks the end of the tunnel and the race as I say goodbye to my ephemeral petrol head friend. Smiling from ear to ear, I drive back to Monterrosso al Mare, anxious to see the villa that I have been gracefully invited to share by last night’s acquaintances. Slowly making my way through a narrow pass lined with olive trees I arrive to the Ermo of La Madalena. My jaw drops as I realize that my home for the next few days is a 13th century isolated monastery, perched on the hills above Monterrosso. Lit by candles and surrounded by crepuscular light, I imagine that the Benedictine monks who once lived here had gathered once more to give it life.

Luigi shouts from the distance “Ciau Nelson” as he wobbles towards me for a southern European man hug. He and his family have been the caretakers of this house since it was converted in the 90’s, accommodating world travellers in search of the authenticity of sharing a destination with the locals. I feel privileged and somewhat lucky that the Canadians who I met at the Il Covo di Nord Est nightclub in Santa Margheritta yesterday put me in touch with Luigi. I explore my way around the house, flashing through last night’s events as I say hello to my new house mates. They are very same group of crazies I had been partying with the day before and with whom I shared the early morning fresh bakes of Cose Buone Bakery by the seaside of Camogli. This looks even more promising!

Mateusz, a Swede from Gothenburg tells me about walking trails of the Cinque Terre Park, and how they run through the five villages that make up this small ridged stretch of the Italian Riviera. Five of us set out at the crack of dawn in full mountain gear, determined to hike through this UNESCO Heritage Site in a single day. The initial plan was to take the boat to Riomaggiore – the furthest village and hike our way back home, but the recent rain and flooding had made it impossible to access Vernazza and Corniglia on foot. Our only option was to take the train back from Manarola after the first hike.

Arranged in a meticulous manner, the beaten tracks seam through the native Mediterranean forest, as if the park authorities took inspiration from the London tube map. Tired of greeting every passer-by with two walking sticks in their hands, I tap Charlie’s shoulder and we all stray though an undistinguished pass searching for a way to the seafront cliffs. The gamble pays off. Siting on the edge of a cliff, with nothing in front of us but horizon, water and deep blue sky we contemplated the graciousness of the colourful amalgam of small houses that make up these villages.

On the train journey from Manarola to Corniglia, I remember my dreadful visit to the province capital – La Specia a couple of days ago. I sigh of relive to the thought that there are neither gambling houses nor shady cabaret bars around every corner, as these villages still manage to stay true their humble fisherman origins.  The stopover in Vernazza includes a glass of the ultra-local white wine made from the indigenous Vernaccia grape. “We better not tell Luigi that we drank this, or else everyone will be sleeping the pool shed tonight” Sandy proclaims sarcastically from the background. The Italians are fanatical about their local culture and are especially competitive about the neighbouring village’s customs. We promise not to give Luigi a heart attack and decide to end our adventure at an old school gelataria in Monterrosso that his daughter in law told us about.

Unquestionably the only ice cream shop without a queue, La Scogliera, tells me a story of a forgotten past, as I am faced with the choice of the flavours of the day on a plastic board hung by the front of the shop. Each available flavor is advertised with their corresponding color. The shopkeeper slowly comes from behind the counter smiling and nodding his head, as I completely butcher the Italian name for hazelnut and flower of milk. Looking around I realize how much of a time box this place is. The late 50’s wooden shelves still display past generation liquors, vermouths, fruit syrups, as well as the owners very own citrus fruits.

There is an intimate feel in the air as everyone gets ready for the feast that lies ahead. American, Canadian, Swedish, German, Portuguese and Italian, nobody knew each other before and now we are behaving like a close family. I look at the table being set outside, the candles being lit, the spring scent mixing with ocean spray and I am invaded with the sentiment, that I don’t want to go back home. I want life to be like this all the time.

As I quietly sit in the corner of the table, sipping at the god’s gift of wine, I stop to think about the feudal family fight that is taking place in front of me. “It’s a matter of pride” states Luigi in his heavy Ligurian accent, as he rolls the pasta for the ravioli, arguing with his wife about how best to make it. “She’s from Sicily, what does she know about pasta… ”. All of us stop…Look at each other… and just crack up laughing, as we stand up and raise our glasses “à la familia”

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