“Welcome to family,” Francesco said as our small glasses of wine clinked together on our first night in Cinque Terre.
After 24 hours in Milan, where pizza was eaten in excess and even the little kids were more fashionable than I will ever be (yes I’m talking about you, little Italian girl in sparkly Doc Martens), my friend Dilara and I hopped on a train to Cinque Terre and arrived at Francesco’s hostel.
5terrebackpackers is in Corvara, a twenty-minute twisty drive up the mountains from Monterosso, the northernmost village of Cinque Terre. We arrived in Monterosso with enough time for seafood spaghetti, white wine and a seaside view before catching the shuttle up to 5terrebackpackers. After Francesco showed us around, we quickly found ourselves swapping stories with fellow travellers on the deck. I’m not sure if it was intentional, or if it is just a weak Wifi connection, but the Internet only worked in the communal outdoor living room. Forcing all of us, and our iPhones into the same room resulted in some serious interaction, which was pretty cool. It didn’t take long to start reminiscing with a few American girls about hand-clap-songs from our childhood (stella, ella, hola, tap, tap, tap) and playing each other our favourite John Oliver videos.
The next morning, Dilara and I had a grand old time exploring Cinque Terre. A set of five coastal fishing villages, Cinque Terre is on the east coast of Italy between Genoa and La Spezia. One of Rick Steve’s favourite spots, the area attracts heaps of Americans and was bustlin’ with tourists even in late October.* There are beautiful hiking trails that link the five towns, so you can hike from one place to the next, working up your appetite for gelato/focaccia/ pasta/more gelato. Which is exactly what we did. We started off in Monterosso, the northernmost town and hiked a couple of hours on the main trail to Vernazza, where focaccia was on our menu. After another two hour hike, we arrived in Corgnilia, where it was time for gelato. In Manarola, we drank white wine in the sun. Back to Monterosso, we swam and (of course) ate pasta. In the evening when we arrived back at Francesco’s hostel, there was more pasta waiting for us, which really isn’t surprising, because Italy is a dream world. After dinner, Francesco popped into the dining room in his red apron to ask us how everything was. The homemade wine, strudel and pasta was all to die for, we told him. It’s pretty evident that Francesco has put his heart and soul into getting 5terrebackpackers up and running. The place closes down in the winter, and he’s looking forward to it. He needs a break, he said, “to sleep, to take care of his body, to travel, to drink a beer with his friend – those kind of normal things like that.”
After working as a lifeguard and bartender for twelve years in Monterosso, Francesco decided it was time to start his own business. He tried to buy property in Monterosso, but at 10, 000 euros per square metre, he decided to look elsewhere. The building that Franscesco did decide to buy is over 300 years old, and renovations took longer than expected. But he salvaged as much as he could, giving the renovated building a contemporary and rustic feel. 5terrebackpackers opened last year, and it looks like things have gone pretty well. Just check out all of the online reviews. Staying somewhere with scheduled shuttle bus rides (two in the morning and two in the evening) may not be ideal for everyone, as it can limit your time in bars and things like that. “This hostel is more for the traveller than the tourist, I think,” Francesco said. I’d have to agree with him, and for Dilara and I, our stay in Cinque Terre was perfetto, as they say.
*I don’t know much about it, but Cinque Terre seems to have suffered quite a bit from the consequences of mass tourism. I could definitely sense that the region was catered almost entirely to tourists and that the locals weren’t necessarily happy about it (for rightful reason). I plan to learn more and write more about the problem with mass tourism in the future, so stay posted.