Romantic, colorful, and lush, Cinque Terre in the 1960s is one of the primary settings of Jess Walter's new novel Beautiful Ruins. Porto Vergogna, Italy, is forgotten, a fictional town pushed aside by the nearby resort towns that have gained worldwide fame, but it is the scene of a mysterious romance. Though Walter's town may not exist, its region is real and thriving to this day. Known for its rough coastline, gorgeous seaviews, and terraced cliffs, Cinque Terre is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Cinque Terre is beloved by tourists for its seclusion; cars won't get you there, but the five towns that make up this coastal region are accessible by train and boat. By virtue of their location on the northwest coast of Italy, the villages of Cinque Terre are home to some of the best seafood in the world. (Which is why Amy was inspired by Beautiful Ruins to make cioppino.)
Is it any wonder that all this talk of love and food has me dying to hop a plane to Italy? Here are the top three things I would do with a plane ticket and a blank check.
1. Grab a room at La Mala, an old house transformed into a bed and breakfast perched high above the sea in the village of Vernazza. Conde Nast Traveler says it's the place to stay, while photographer Kim Olson writes of her stay there, "With 4 distinct rooms to choose from, La Malà is perfect if you’re looking for the antithesis of a large chain hotel (not that you’d even find that in Vernazza, because it doesn’t exist here)."
2. Eat at La Lanterna in Riomaggiore. Conde Nast Traveler calls this the place to eat, since "The owner is an authority on local fishing: while you tuck into your spaghetti with conger-eel sauce (surprisingly delicious) he'll chat happily about the return of the grouper to these coasts and where to go to have it out with an angler-fish."
Based on the trattoria's location right in the marina, getting a seat on the cramped terrace is a must.
3. Hike from village to village. Yes, there is a train that connects the five towns, but who wouldn't want to get up close and personal with the resplendent beauty of this region? Lonely Planet has some good tips for seeing Cinque Terre by foot.
Your turn: Tell us what would top your to do list in Cinque Terre! If you've traveled there before, leave us some tips in the comments.