Cinque Terre was all that Donna Baird-Horne and her husband, David Horne, dreamed of — and maybe even a little more. Between the cooking classes, train journeys, hikes, wine tastings, lovely hotels, and memorable encounters with locals, their couples trip was an unforgettable adventure.
After Donna returned home, she sent us an email detailing everything that she liked about their experience. Here’s what she had to say.
My husband and I truly loved our trip to Cinque Terre! We are thrilled we went and are telling all our friends about it. Thank you for working with us so closely to work out the kinks.
We loved concentrating on one small area of Italy and getting to know the local way of life. This would not have been possible on one of the more well-known company tours, nor if we had tried to set up this trip ourselves.
We didn’t understand when we had signed up for this trip that we wouldn't have a guide to meet us at the airport and show us around daily, as we had on all other group trips we had taken in the past. When the final itinerary arrived, we had great anxiety about how things would go. Fear not! Genoa is a tiny airport with a good information desk manned by folks who speak English well.
Our hotel in Levanto was very clean, but the rooms are relatively small, though most have sweet little balconies that seat two. No water view was possible, but the proximity to the train station we would visit daily was more important and highly appreciated. The breakfasts were fantastic, and it was even possible to get daily mimosas! I loved the amazing, farm-fresh ricotta (hugely different from what you buy in tubs at local US supermarkets) and the big array of cheeses, meats and pasties, with several hot items as well. Acanela also treated us to three delicious dinners at three different restaurants there, which was a fun experience.
The first day, in Riomaggiore, after a five-minute train ride and a pleasant walk through the seaside village, we were picked up by the restaurant owner where our first cooking class was to take place. He drove up the steep windy road to his lovely venue, landscaped with multiple cherry trees and overlooking the ocean — beautiful vista! The main room was all set up with a large table so we could participate in the course prep. The chef obviously loved what he was doing and proceeded to teach us how to make focaccia bread, gnocchi in freshly prepared ragu, stuffed anchovies, stuffed mussels, and a lovely, light, gluten-free chocolate cake. We were also treated to delicious, house-made limoncello when we arrived, as well as fruit juices and as much white wine as we wanted throughout the class, followed by fantastic cappuccino at the end. We were even gifted aprons with easy-to-follow limoncello recipes printed on them. This was a fantastic experience, which lasted from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. We feasted on what we cooked until we were stuffed!
The second day, we took the train to the second town, Vernazza (less than 10 minutes away), where we were met by a local guide. She was nice and showed us the town. After lunch on our own, everyone had a free afternoon. My husband and I chose to walk from Vernazza to Corniglia, the "easiest" of the walks between the Cinque Terre towns. It was not easy, but we survived. We had been told by locals that it would take less than an hour and a half but it took us two and a half! It was a hot day with beautiful, cliffside views, so we took our time and also stopped at a cute veranda along the way that served fresh orangeade and lemonade, which we needed to re-energize ourselves.
The third day was spent in a third Cinque Terre town, where we learned how to make a slightly different version of Genovese pesto, this time with a mortar and pestle. We also had a nice glass of Prosecco. The pesto we made was served to us on yummy, house-made pasta, so it made a lovely lunch.
Afterwards, we walked to the edge of town, where we were picked up by a well-known local winemaker. One of the couples traveling with us (there were only six of us all together, making it a nice grouping from various parts of the U.S.) decided not to go on this adventure, saying they had done wine tasting before. What a mistake to miss this unique experience! The winemaker took us to his cliffside vineyard, where we saw exactly what viticulture entailed on these challenging hillsides. We saw the monorail he used to bring the grapes at harvest time uphill to the truck for transport to his wine-making facility in town. He also showed us the sandstone terraces he repaired yearly, using cement-less ancient techniques passed from one generation to the next. He explained that he grew commercial varieties but that he also cultivated dozens of heirloom varietals simply to prevent their loss to time. Next, he brought us back to the village and took us via small, narrow local alleyways to his private tasting room, unmarked from the outside and dug into the stone cliff. (Along the way, he also showed us a hidden room that was unmarked but proved to be the local church where his own parents had been married.What a special treat to see this local gem!) At the tasting room, we tried out several of his wines, accompanied by his wife's delicious focaccia with various toppings. We loved his famous Sciacchetra, an amazing dessert wine only available in Cinque Terre. Of course we purchased a couple of bottles, knowing we wouldn't be able to find this back home.
On the fourth day, the adventure took us to the community of Formosa, a short train ride northwest of Levanto. We were picked up at the train station by a local guide who spoke excellent English. He took us by bus to the top of the cluster of adjacent tiny villages, along pedestrian pathways used for generations, past sites such as the communal wash tubs used by local women until electric washers were brought in. We arrived at another winemaker’s place, this time his house (which had been used as a toll house by the local merchant during the Renaissance). We saw his elderly mother working along the stone masons doing repairs. These are truly hard-working people! Her Italian dialect was very interesting. The venue was very special, but on top of this, the wines were excellent, better overall than the first winery (though the dessert wines there had been truly outstanding). Here, we had another private tasting, along with cheeses and other snacks the winemaker's wife had made. She teaches cooking at a college for Italians, not tourists, so her snacks were a real treat.
On the fifth and final day, we took the train to La Spezia, just a bit south of Cinque Terre but still close to our hotel. There we strolled through the modern, bustling city to the marina. From there, we were taken to beautiful Portovenere by a small speedboat. Here, we had a day on our own, so we explored the beautiful old town with its hilltop castle, the oceanfront with its pastel-colored sailors' homes, and the magical San Lorenzo church (which overlooks the ocean and has a uniquely sculpted copper door with all of the apostles individually depicted). We had an incredibly delicious lunch very close to the church, where the owner — who is a neighbor of Andrea Bocelli — chatted with us for over half an hour. Lovely people!
Our flight was way early the following day, but the folks at Acanela were super sweet and arranged overnight lodging for us at an amazing hotel right in the middle of all the sights in Genoa. The hotel upgraded us to a junior suite — what a surprising treat which we wished we had more time to savor.
Overall, we highly recommend Acanela and are telling all our friends about this trip. It was so great to spend five nights at one hotel and not have to do the usual tourist shuffle. We loved concentrating on one small area of Italy and getting to know the local way of life. This would not have been possible on one of the more well-known company tours, nor if we had tried to set up this trip ourselves. We ate and drank very well and came home truly rested, not needing to take a vacation from our vacation! Not having a tour guide all the time made the trip highly affordable, yet with a truly independent feel that we quickly came to appreciate. We will definitely explore other trips with Acanela in the future.
Thank you for your wonderful review, Donna!
If you’re reading Donna’s story and wondering how you can have an equally magical adventure, we have good news — Acanela makes it easy to book your own Cinque Terre getaway!