Cinque Terre is a wonderful place to visit if you want to experience the local Ligurian cuisine, fresh fish and sea food but also wines made from grapes grown on the hills surrounding the five villages. Because it is a very touristy area, there are also many average restaurants. In this post I want to tell you about my experiences and where I found the best authentic food in Cinque Terre.
If you ask me when was the first time I fell in love with Cinque Terre I can tell you that it was way before I have visited the five little villages from the Ligurian Coast. I was probably about 15 years old, during the school summer holiday, when out of boredom I decided I wanted to learn Italian.
The days were long and hot and all the other children from my street were to the countryside, visiting their grandparents. For me, it was the other way around. As my grandmother was living in Bucharest and I was living in Transylvania, I was the one coming to spend the summer with her, in the capital. Unfortunately, all my friends were gone as well, to their grandparents, so days could become quite lonely.
I remember dragging my grandmother with me to the library and buy a “Learn Italian” book, which I probably still have somewhere in my bookcase. Every Thursday on the International television station, at 2PM, there was half an hour of “Learn Italian”. The rest of the week I would just watch Rai Uno on the cable TV and try to understand as much as possible. It was my summer project, to be able to speak Italian by September.
I have first seen footage from Cinque Terre on Rai Uno. I was fascinated by the way the local fishermen were getting their boats onto the water from the cliffs using manual pulleys, and how the locals lived their lives on the cliffs. You see, back then Cinque Terre was not at all popular as it is now. Back then, all I could see on the TV were five charming villages that I had to visit! Of course, being 15 and never traveling outside the country, this remained just a dream with my teenager self.
However, fast forwarding about 8 years later, I found myself on a train, going from Genova to Monterosso, for a day trip. And I loved it so much that I returned twice more. In this post I am not going to tell you about the beauty of the villages (which you should definitely visit out of the touristic season for an authentic experience) but about the delicious food you can experience. Of course, because of how touristy the area is, there are a lot of average restaurants, so it’s a little bit of a hit and miss when you sit down at a table. The aim of this post is to give you some recommendations about my favourite eateries in the five villages.
Where to stay in Cinque Terre
The second time I was in Cinque Terre I spent five nights at a wonderful hostel which doesn’t seem to exist anymore. There is a private hotel in its place, but I don’t remember the name. The third time I was there I booked a room at Ciao Bella, a beautiful B&B with personalised colour rooms, a beautiful garden with views over the entire village, and a friendly owner, Stefano, who welcomed me with coffee and vouchers for his own take away. As I was there out of season I was the only guest of the B&B, which made me feel like I had the entire building just for myself. The price was very reasonable, and it included towels and toiletries. You can check the latest prices and reviews of Ciao Bella B&B here.
Where to eat in Cinque Terre
Have breakfast at Nuovo Eden Bar, in Manarola (29 Via Fegina)
It might seem an expensive place, as it’s right on the beach in Manarola, but it’s not. Service is not the best in the world and it can be quite slow, but the views are definitely worth it. Start your day here with a cappuccino and a cornetto filled with apricot cream.
Have anything with pesto at Burgus Bar in Vernazza (Via G. M. Pensa, 3)
I don’t know how but I have ended up with both pizza and pasta with pesto at this restaurant. As I have just finished the first part of the Sentiero Azzuro trail, from Monterosso to Vernazza, I searched for a place to have lunch and whilst most of the terraces in the main square by the sea were full, this one was just opening. So, I sat down and ordered both pizza and pasta… with pesto. Which wasn’t a bad choice at all, as both were delicious. If you didn’t know, Liguria is the homeland of pesto, which makes Cinque Terre a perfect place to try the authentic taste of the homemade sauce. If you have time, I recommend to pop into the market in La Spezia and buy some fresh pesto di noci (walnut pesto), which tastes divine. I don’t think I have ever had a better pesto. And no, the pesto in Italy is nothing like the jars we buy back home in England, it is fresh and full of flavour.
Stop for a beer on the stairs at A Caneva in Corniglia (Via Fieschi, 10)
What most attracted me towards this little bar just up the road from the bus station, next to the San Pietro church in Corniglia were the little pillows right on the stairs, which stood as chairs, and the chilled-out music. As I passed by it the first time, it was full, but as I returned, I found an empty table and sat down straight away. It’s a great place to have a drink.
One thing you should know when you visit Italy is that beer is expensive. However, this bar serves artisanal and draft beer much cheaper than in other places. They also serve small snacks with the drinks as well and don’t charge extra for sitting down (coperto). They serve food too, mainly focaccias, bruschetta and pizzas.
The seafood platter at Il Porticciolo, Manarola (Via Renato Birolli n.92)
You can’t go to Cinque Terre and not have a taste of the local fish, like the Ligurian anchovies, mussels, red mullets or squid. I stumbled upon this restaurant as I was coming back from watching the sunset over Manarola, from the promenade. I left as soon as the sun went down, as I wanted to take photos from a different angle as well, and this was my luck, as after I sat down at this restaurant, it very soon got full and people had to wait for hours for a table to become available. A bit pricier than the other places in town, this restaurant serves delicious plates of food, including lobster, swordfish or octopus. I went for the seafood platter, which exceeded my expectations: oysters, prawns with caviar, anchovies in lemon, mussels, tuna, octopus with potatoes, swordfish carpaccio and stuffed squid…. It was a proper feast!
For dessert I recommend you go for the “make your own cannoli”, where an empty pastry shell will be brought to you on a plate with a bag of cream, walnuts, dried fruits, almonds and chocolate.
Pizza at Veciu Muin, Riomaggiore (Via Colombo, 83)
They might have a touristic menu advertised outside, but their pizza and cold cuts platters are delicious. I was too hungry and got stuck in before I realised that I forgot to take a photo of the cold cuts platter, which was different, as instead of the usual prosciutto and bresaola, on the plate I had smoked swordfish and cured tuna.
My choice of pizza was a quatro stagioni (and you can tell that a slice later I remembered that it would be a good idea to take photo so that I can share it in this food guide for you).
End your evening with a cocktail at Bar Zorza (Via Colombo, 231)
No shot of amaretto or negroni cocktail is your normal average at this bar. Situated just below the B&B I have stayed at, this bar was my nightly stop for a drink, before going to bed. A shot of amaretto looked more like half a glass rather than a small quantity. The Negroni was so strong that I had to ask for a little bit more orange juice. Their other cocktails would come in funky big jars rather than glasses. One thing is for sure, here you do not have to worry that a glass won’t be enough, because it always is. And… there’s happy hour as well, with 2 drinks for the price of one!
Tratoria Tre Tori – Portovenere (Piazza Bastreri, 9/a)
When you spend a few days in Cinque Terre you have to take some time to go to Portovenere as well, a charming town 30 minutes away from Riomaggiore, by boat. Think of colourful uneven buildings glued to each other, with cafes and restaurants at the ground floor overlooking the harbour, and a fortress on top of the rocks, at the end of the promenade. Narrow streets climbing up the hill in a zig zag pattern, with white laundry hanged from one window to another… a random cat passing by in front of a shop selling olive oil and honey. As charming and romantic the town looks, as expensive and touristy orientated it is. However, I did manage to find a local restaurant tucked in at the top of a square just outside the old town, where all the clients seemed to be Italians. The locals always know where to eat good, so always follow them! I was lucky again to not need a reservation, as I got there just before lunchtime, as I had a train to catch back to Pisa from Riomaggiore at 4.
I have ordered the fried fish platter, which came accompanied by homemade potato and zuchinni crisps. If I knew that I wouldn’t have ordered the extra portion of fries, on the side. There were plenty of big prawns, anchovies, squid and calamari on the plate. It was so good that I went on and ordered dessert as well, the chocolate cake with liquid chocolate in the middle, which was rich and so, so good. If you are a chocolate lover, this is the dessert for you! Of course, accompanied by a glass of local grappa.
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