A delightful Seaside Resort
Along the coastline of northern Italy, Monterosso Al Mare is one of the famous old fishing villages which make up the Cinque Terre (five lands) seaside resorts. On the Italian Riviera this delightful ocean town is the last one on the strip. From north to south there are: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, then Monterosso, which is the most popular and the biggest.
Normally it’s extremely crowded with tourists in Summer, so I decided to venture there in Winter, i.e. January, to see what it’s like. And, OMG! look at how beautiful it was; simply gorgeous, albeit a little cold at about 14°C, but pleasant enough with the sun shining.
To drive or not to drive
After much deliberation, we decided to ditch the car and go by train from La Spezia, which took less than half an hour. Great decision. The train is definitely the easiest and best way to travel to and from, and between each of the towns of Cinque Terre. Trenitalia trains are frequent and efficient. They offer first class if you prefer, which is a little more spacious with wider seats and has wi-fi.
Cars in these villages have driving restrictions, and honestly, it is a bit scary driving around the vertical seaside towns. There is often only enough width for one car on the roads, it’s quite steep in places, curvy and not for the faint-hearted, or faint-stomached! So my family and I decided to leave the car safely back at La Spezia, since we wanted to be able to return it to the hire company in one piece preferably.
What a view to be greeted with as soon as we got off the train! We walked down the stairs from the platform to immediately see surf, sand and sun. Probably the best view ever from a train station. If you love Italian resorts, have a look at Lago di Como also.
Monterosso Al Mare has the longest stretch of beach out of the five towns and it’s flat, safe for families to swim, therefore making it the most popular. Beaches are free to enjoy at this time of year, otherwise you normally pay to use most of the beach area in Summer, which is set up with rows and rows of colourful umbrellas and deck chairs, resort style; only a small section is free and does get crowded.
The shore has sections of pebbles, or sand, depending on what you prefer. The clear crystal blue green water of the Mediterranean is unbelievable and very inviting, with all types of water activities available in the warmer months.
One of the loveliest features here is the boardwalk shouldering the shore of the Ligurian Sea. I spent many hours strolling down here taking in the magical scenery and enjoying the tranquility.
Another prominent feature of Monterosso is the “Gigante”, a giant 14 metre high concrete statue of Neptune, the symbol of the town, which has suffered much destruction over the decades from war and rough waters and was now under much-needed reconstruction. Hence, why I couldn’t get a photo.
This large rock is another landmark you always see in pictures and attracts people who like to climb on it. I thought it was quite lovely to watch the waves crash against it.
Monterosso is well known for lemons, olives, vineyards and of course, fresh seafood. ‘Fruits of the sea’ are served everywhere here, being that fishing is what these towns were built on. Pizza and pasta are still available of course but you’d be mad not to go for the seafood on offer. Gelato is another big attraction here, and plenty of it. YUM!
There is no need to book restaurants during the off peak season, a definite plus. I enjoy being able to casually go for a bite to eat without planning ahead sometimes on holidays, don’t you agree?
I had some lovely meals at a place called Enoteca 5 Terre on Via Fegina, right on the beach with the sunshine. Glorious! Bar Gio is a quaint little Italian Bar/Cafe with cakes and snacks and local wines on offer, also beachfront.
The Two Halves of Monterosso
The town is divided in half, and is actually like two cities, the old historic side, “Monterosso Vecchio” and the new tourist side, “Fegina”. A pedestrian tunnel connects the two. Both sides are worth visiting and you can easily go back and forth. There is a market on the old side and lots of lovely little stores, selling artisan wares, souvenirs etc.
A medieval castle here called Castello Aurora, was built in the 13th century. Many other historic attractions are here for you to visit, like the convent, statues and old towers, if that’s your thing. The whole area is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, together with the other towns on this coast.
I love the facade of black and white marble stripes on this 14th century Gothic church in the old historic side of town.
A short way up the mountain on the newer resort side, was our villa for a few days. Wow! Recently renovated and spacious, the house was fabulous. And our super host provided all the essentials and loads more, for a very comfortable stay. Just amazing, isn’t it? It’s called “The Horizon”.
And what an outstanding view of the sea and the mountain coastline. All visible right from the living room couch. The rental rates were quite reasonable at this time of year, but it would be ridiculously expensive to rent in Summer. I booked this online and thoroughly recommend it.
The other four towns can be seen from the house too, particularly at night when they are lit up. A beautiful walking track leading from the back doorstep literally, took us down to the beach in minutes and a little further along were the shops, cafes and restaurants. There is a little Italian grocery store I love in Fegina, where I bought some local produce, and the ladies serving are so helpful and friendly. Of course, being Winter, not all shops are open.
Walking trails span for 12 kilometres all through Cinque Terre and are very popular with hikers and walking enthusiasts. But it is important to check that they are open before going. Certain sections of the “Sentiero Azzurro” tracks may be closed for various reasons.
These ancient tracks used to be donkey trails long ago and have existed for centuries, as walking and boats were once the only forms of travel here. They are quite rugged in some parts, narrow and with steep drops in places, but with spectacular views.
A must see, Monterosso is rich in colour, charm, history, agriculture and natural beauty. I could very easily live here. I definitely will be back.
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