In a year that has been anything but ordinary, the Cinque Terre villages are seeking to return to some semblance of normal (albeit very, very tentatively).
Expect to find low-key entertainment events with social distancing measures in effect this August. While everything listed takes place outdoors, be sure to bring a face mask (and please wear it when necessary). Italy’s Covid-19 situation is currently under control with its R0 less than 1 — we’d like to keep it that way.
I will continue to update this post as events are announced and details are released.
Because of an extraordinarily wet and chilly May, Monterosso’s Festa del Limone was postponed and has been rescheduled for June 1, 2019.
The Lemon Festival in Monterosso is a well-loved festival in the Cinque Terre. Shops create lemon-themed storefronts (they are vying for the title of the most beautiful window display) and locals bake their best lemon cakes for a culinary competition. The streets fill with spontaneous music and an open air market. If you’ll be in Monterosso this Saturday, you’re in luck! 🍋
In many places around the world, the holidays end with the passing of Christmas. Not so in Italy, where the holiday period continues up until the Epiphany on January 6th. The Epiphany is a Christian feast day (and national holiday in Italy) that celebrates the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ. There’s an Italian proverb that says, “L’Epifania tutte le feste le porta via” (a rhyme alluding to the fact that the arrival of the Epiphany officially ends the holiday season). In Italy, only after the Epiphany will holiday decorations and lights be dismantled and put away.
Just like Santa Claus (Babbo Natale) is associated with Christmas, Italian children link the Befana with the Epiphany. The Befana is an elderly woman with a handkerchief or scarf tied over her head, a prominent nose and very few teeth; her preferred mode of transportation is a broom. Despite obvious similarities, any Italian will vehemently tell you that the Befana is most definitely not a witch. In Italy, it is not the job of Babbo Natale to fill stockings the night before Christmas (rather, he simply brings gifts); that job falls squarely on the Befana who will fill stockings that have been left out on window sills or near the fireplace the night before the Epiphany. Children who have been good will wake up on January 6th to find their stockings filled with candy, sweets and perhaps a few small toys or trinkets. The not-so-fortunate children that have misbehaved are destined to receive coal or garlic in their stockings.
La Befana vien di notte con le scarpe tutte rotte col vestito alla romana: Viva viva la Befana!
Curious about the history of the Befana? Me, too. Of course, most of the more detailed information that can be found online is in Italian. Different sources give different accounts; some date the Befana back to pre-Christianity (likening her to Mother Nature and pagan rituals) while the more popular (and historically more recent) narratives recount that the Befana brings gifts to recall those brought to Jesus by the Three Kings.
According to legend, while on their way to Bethlehem to take their gifts to the newborn Jesus, the Three Kings found themselves lost and stopped to ask an old woman for directions. Despite their insistence, the old woman refused to leave her house to accompany them on their way. Feeling guilty afterwards for refusing their invitation, the old woman prepared a basket of sweets. Despite her best efforts, the old woman was unable to find the Three Kings to deliver her gifts. She then stopped at every house along the way giving sweets to the children she encountered, hoping that one of these children was Jesus. From that moment on, the Befana has circled the world giving gifts to children, seeking forgiveness.
While that particular legend seems rather melancholic, the arrival of the Befana is anything but for Italian children and she is a beloved folkloric character.
Want to join in on the cultural festivities? A family-friendly event honoring the Befana will take place in Monterosso on Saturday, January 6th, at 3pm. Music and snacks for the children will accompany the festivities in Piazza Garibaldi.
My last village spotlight was on Corniglia, the Cinque Terre’s smallest and most remote village. For my second spotlight, I chose the perfect juxtaposition: Monterosso.
Monterosso is the largest and most bustling of the Cinque Terre villages. It is considered either the first or fifth village, depending on what direction you are arriving from (it’s first from the direction of Genoa or fifth from the direction of La Spezia). It’s the only flat village in the Cinque Terre and also offers the Cinque Terre’s best beaches.
This place is paradise for those looking for the “Italian Riviera experience.”
The village is split into two distinct neighborhoods: the more modern (and very beachy) Fegina and the historical center, oftentimes called Monterosso Vecchio. These two sides of the village are connected by a picturesque promenade and a tunnel that cuts through the rock cliff.
When you arrive by train to Monterosso you will come out into the modern Fegina neighborhood. As you exit the train station, make a left and walk along the promenade (and then through the tunnel) and you will connect to MonterossoVecchio (about a 10 minute walk). If you’re strapped with luggage you can actually take a taxi (which is a luxury offered only in this Cinque Terre village).
If you take a right as you exit the train station you will head towards the heart of modern Fegina where you will find lots of private beaches (and a few small public sections) and a promenade dotted with playground equipment (this is also where you’ll find two of my recommended restaurants).
Monterosso, although not as characteristic and quaint as the other four villages, is ideal for those wanting modern comforts and those looking for a relaxing, beachy holiday. Monterosso is chock-full of shops, restaurants, hotels and beaches.
Italians LOVE Monterosso. In fact, in the summer months you’ll find more Italian vacationers here than in any of the other villages of the Cinque Terre. Italians adore modern comforts and conveniences (and minimal effort), including the use of the stabilimenti balneare (the private beaches where you can rent a lounge chair and a beach umbrella + have access to showers, changing cabins and a snack bar).
My personal recommendations in Monterosso
My absolute favorite local dessert is the torta Monterossina which you can get a slice of at Pasticceria Laura in Monterosso Vecchio. The torte has a pastry crust and layers of sponge cake, apricot preserves, pastry cream and dark chocolate. My favorite is when it’s served warm and gooey. It’s rich and decadent and something I crave. Beware that the bakery is closed on Tuesdays.
The best focaccia I’ve had in Monterosso can be found here:
It’s called Il Frantoio but you won’t see signs saying that anywhere. A local tipped me off about this place a few years back and, as usual, locals know best! To find this hidden gem just walk up the main street in Monterosso Vecchio and keep an eye out for via Gioberti on the right. You’ll see the doorway located just off the main street on the narrow medieval lane. This is one of the few places that still sells focaccia by weight, which I admire (and pocketbooks appreciate).
I also love the pizza by the slice and focaccia at Il Massimo della Foccacia in Monterosso Fegina (on the promenade, directly beneath Monterosso’s train station). Their pizza margherita (cheese pizza) served by the slice is delicious!
Tasty gelato and friendly faces await you at Gelateria Golosone in Monterosso Vecchio. The entrance to the gelateria is just off the main street (blink and you’ll miss it!).
“Muscoli” at La Cantina di Miky
One of my favorite restaurants in Monterosso is La Cantina di Miky, where the fish is fresh and the pasta is handmade each day. Expat Christine (from New Jersey) and her Italian husband (son of the proprietor of Ristorante Miky, see below) run this little place in Fegina. They have outdoor seating on the promenade with sea views but I personally prefer to dine inside as I love the intimate atmosphere they’ve created. Christine is knowledgable not only about their menu items—which she conveys in perfect English—but also about each ingredient used in every dish. Michele (that’s the Italian version of Michael and pronounced Me-kay-lay), one of their wait staff, exudes professionalism and warm Italian hospitality. Ask about their locally-sourced daily specials and don’t shy from trying their acciughe (anchovy) sampler appetizer so you can walk away with a better appreciation of the little fish that made Monterosso famous throughout Italy. Heads up: La Cantina di Miky is closed on Wednesdays.
La Cantina di Miky located at via Fegina 90 in Monterosso, phone: +39 0187 802 525
If you’re a foodie or just looking for a fine dining experience, check out Ristorante Miky in the Fegina neighborhood of Monterosso. It’s a bit pricey but worth every cent. Things here are made to order so don’t expect it to be speedy. This is the type of meal where you sit back, relax and savor the meal. While Cinque Terre is typically casual, you’ll want to dress a little nicer (or risk feeling out of place).
If you’re wanting to eat in Monterosso Vecchio (the historical center) my favorite eatery there is Ristorante CIAK. Some might see this place as cliché but I can’t help but love the owner in his sailor garb and the fact that you can peek into the kitchen from the main street. This is classic Italian seafood, served in generous portions.