italian coast

I Left My Heart in Cinque Terre

You know those pictures of the bright dwellings perched becomingly by the sea? It’s like some giant in the sky dropped a handful of sweet candies and decided they were too beautiful to eat, so he left them just as they were.

I never knew that place truly existed. It was too picturesque to be real, another place where people lived and did their laundry, hung it outside to be dried and lightly starched by the sunny salty air.

italy by the sea

To them, the beauty was commonplace and mundane. To me, it was heaven on earth. Plus, seaside kitty with deformed ear. Awwww….

mediterranean cat

Cinque Terre. Five villages on the Mediterranean. Unesco World Heritage Site. The Italian Riviera.

No matter what you call it, it sounds as alluring as it looks.

romantic italy

Finding Our Way to Cinque Terre

Rome was relentlessly sunny, well over 90 degrees for three days. Mind you, one of those afternoons we silly Americans attempted a three-mile run in a park. Sucking back end-of-summer park dirt in your Nikes while everyone else relaxes in the shade with a cold drink is really something—you should try it. (Kidding, don’t.)

Florence played nice, with gentle rain that soothed our sunburns and spirits, making the city even more of a looker at night.

With the promise of sunshine and mild temps lined up in Cinque Terre in the middle of our Italian trip, we were giddy the morning we climbed onto the tour bus to make the trek to the sea.

hotel in cinque terre

It was by chance that we even found our way to Cinque. I was looking for day tours from Florence when those bright dwellings perched by the sea caught my eye. And color me happy, it was a hiking tour!

cinque terre train tunnel

Consumed by enthusiasm, my articulation was worse than usual as I rattled off the idea to Mr. H in what would have made someone else think “perhaps English isn’t her first language.”

At the same moment, Mr. H was coming at me with the same excitement, saying he had an Italy recommendation for us from someone he met.

italy colorful homes by the sea

Cinque Terre” we both said in our pathetic Italian. And, we booked the day-long hiking tour without a second thought.

Freddie Mercury Returns From the Dead

You just never know what you’re going to get when you go on a tour with a bunch of adults. Is it going to be fun? Cheesy as f*ck? Are people going to pretend you don’t exist, or barge into your conversations?

italy train travel

italy by train

We had a two-hour bus ride through Tuscany, a hike, seaside village train-hopping, a boat ride, and then we had to bus it back home. I was majorly skeptical about how the tour company, Walkabout Florence, was going to pull it off.

But, they did.
hiking tours cinque terre

We were lucky to have two incredible tour guides, Giada and Matteo. They not only magically corralled tourists all day, they injected just the right dose of history and jokes, which included our nicknames.

lunch in cinque terre

Mr. H’s nickname was coined at lunch when a waiter asked me to take a picture of them together after gawking at him throughout the entire meal.

The waiter thought Mr. H was Freddie Mercury, back from the dead.

freddie mercury twin

Right after the celebrity photo with our waiter.

Our guides found out, because the guy was pretty damn excited about the chance encounter. He was telling everyone, jabbing them in the sides with his elbow wearing a conspiring smile: “Freddie, eh? Don’t you see it? He’s Freddie Mercury!”

Er…Freddie wasn’t quite this burly, but yeah…TOTALLY!

how to hike cinque terre

Because our Italian tour guides thought me, Freddie’s wife, needed a nickname too, they continued with the music theme. So, I’ve always been a big fan of hers…but…meet Annie Lennox?

cinque terre sea


Hiking, Swimming, Slushies…These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Anyway, the punchy nicknames and unfairly delicious seafood pasta energized us for the hike. Because we were allowed to split off, we hike-loving Portlanders left our group in the dust, working up a nice Italian Riviera sweat to go with our fluffy humid do’s.

(Remember when you guys voted for my worst San Francisco hair last year? The Hair Basket was pretty epic though.)

cinque terre hike

Tame that hair!

hiking trail cinque terre

Bringing back the fro. So fluffy!

Like the hair, everything grows right before your eyes. You can breathe in the freshest rosemary and thyme on the side of the trail, and pick delicious capers when you need a snack.


Unlike hiking in Portland, the people coming from the other direction didn’t say hi, because they weren’t sure which language to speak. Once we passed them, their melodious foreign chatter continued on, transported down the winding dirt trail by the cool breeze.

cinque terre fun

Halfway, at the highest point on the hike, the sparkling view had some competition. Lemon slushies.

One rickety restaurant sat alone, making bank on the thirsty tourists and hikers staggering inside.

cinque terre villages

The reason we high-tailed it through the hike was less about the workout and more about this…

mediterranean swim

Swimming in the Mediterranean had always been on both of our “wow that would be awesome” lists.


Check. 🙂

cinque terre beaches

When we heard rumors about seafood cones, we crossed that one off the list too. Check.

cinque terre food

The Cinque Terre You See Online is a Sham

You may have noticed my Cinque photos look different from others you have seen. That’s because—except for the lunch image above, which was too dark—I didn’t “enhance” these images, not even the header.

vineyards cinque terre

The first thing I thought when I stepped off the bus and caught my first glimpse was: Aren’t the buildings supposed to be a lot brighter?

Nope. They’re actually softer, practically pastel. And Cinque Terre in its natural state—like most things—is even more stunning.

relaxing in italy

It’s funny how saturated our world has become with well…everything.

Then we make it a point to saturate the world even more with cool effects and filters in the photographs we share. We try to make things seem more perfect by photoshopping out whatever it is that is taking away from the shot.

kissing in cinque terre

This is one of the first blogs I’ve ever published where I didn’t touch the photos. It doesn’t always work, but Cinque is an easy subject.

When I first saw this image, I considered not using it because my tag was sticking out of my shirt.

cinque terre italy

Then I thought how ridiculous that was. It was a real moment in time—no effects, no filters.

An Unexpected Pit Stop in Venice

That evening the bus back to Florence was very different from the ride out to Cinque Terre. A day of bonding by the beautiful sea can break down anybody, even the most stubborn adults.

With the navy Tuscan scenery flowing effortlessly in front of our heavy eyes, everyone was talking about their next stop…Venice.

espresso in cinque terre


It wasn’t on our itinerary. We had chosen Cinque Terre as our one day trip from Florence to avoid racing from place to place. Mr. H and I turned to each other, shrugged, and said…

What the hell? When will be here again?

Stay tuned for the last gorgeous leg of our Italy trip to Venice. You can read about Florence and Rome if you missed those wonderful cities.

34 thoughts on “I Left My Heart in Cinque Terre

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      You would love Cinque Terre, Seyi. It’s unbelievably gorgeous! Just put some dates on the calendar and buy the tickets to where you want to go. That’s what I did and Mr. H had to come with me. 😉

  1. Les Petits Pas de Juls says:

    I ❤ you, guys! Italy did truly suit you so well! Cinque Terre has been on my list forever. I’ll wait until Raúl comes back to Europe with me to go there.
    Thanks for the views. And reminding us to enjoy things the way they are.

  2. Roy McCarthy says:

    Looks like a great trip Britt, one to remember for a long time. Great pics too.

    We had a scarecrow competition over here recently, the theme was ‘Royal’. The winner looked just like Mr H – Freddie Mercury (Queen, geddit?).

    Look forward to your essay on Venice.

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Cinque was definitely a slice of heaven, Roy. Perfect combo of all the things I love nestled against the sea.

      I’m cracking up about everything you said in the second part of your comment. Scarecrow competition? Mr. H/Freddie Mercury doppelganger? Such a strange visual! 😉

  3. diannegray says:

    What a beautiful place, Britt. I’m so glad you didn’t touch the pics at all because it gives such a real effect to the entire scene. Freddy Mercury and Annie Lennox do Cinque Terre! I love it xxxx

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Dianne, Cinque is truly a magical place to see in person. And, Freddie and Annie there made it even more memorable.

      It’s funny because I started to enhance one of the images and it TOTALLY took away from it. So, I knew what I had to do…leave them alone!

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Haha, I seriously feel that way—especially when I’m speaking. If I’m tired or excited, my English gets worse. To hell with it, I should just hang my iPad around my neck and communicate that way. I always say: “I write better than I speak!” 😉

  4. Gallivanta says:

    Freddie and Annie! Lol! Did they ask you to sing? 🙂 Your enthusiasm for Cinque Terre is palpable even via the computer screen. Lovely. I am with you on the unfiltered look. It is what it is and often times there is no need to dress it up.

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Haha, thankfully they did not ask us to sing. Though “Here Comes the Rain Again” is one of my secret weapon karaoke songs. 😉

      Yeah, no need to dress up a place that already looks beautiful! Made my life easier. 😉

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Thanks, Eden! I do have a similar hairstyle, and I have always loved Annie Lennox. The Eurythmics are still one of my favorites, so it was a compliment. Funny that our Italian friends came up with those two together, but it works!

  5. Heather says:

    Love the untouched photos! In a world where everything has to be “perfect,” it’s refreshing. (And I never would have noticed your tag had you not pointed it out) 🙂

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Yeah, the filters are fun and all but I think they have become too much of the norm with photos today. It’s exhausting, because that isn’t how anything looks. I’ve been scaling back my effects over the past year. Life is beautiful the way it is!

  6. Carrie Rubin says:

    What a gorgeous place. Thanks for the heads up about it, all told so beautifully with your wonderful humor and emotion. I’d love to make it there some day, and I’m so glad Annie and Freddie got to see it. 😉

  7. Andrea Stephenson says:

    Gorgeous place Britt, or should I say Annie? And who would need to touch up such a place – a really interesting point about us trying to make things more ‘perfect’ than they already are.

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Haha, Andrea! I responded to Annie so much on the tour (pretty sure they couldn’t remember my name, and Annie was easier) that you can call me either!

      This post was a good grounding moment with the images I’m taking. I’m going to spend less time “doctoring” images and see what happens. 🙂

  8. Sheila says:

    So beautiful – I love the real effect with that soft pastel look. I’ve always wanted to go there to hike from town to town while staying in a few of the towns along the way. I’m glad you had fun on your trip and hope you guys did the mambo gelato at some point! I’ve missed you during my disappearance from this crazy world. And of course I remember the hair basket! 🙂

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Cinque is beautiful, Sheila! The pastels are more whimsical, and that color scheme flowed better with the coastline and hills. Those colors are so specific, and with it being a UNESCO site, they can’t change them at all. So, it’s strange to see others “repainting” the buildings with their saturated photos online.

      I would highly recommend staying there too. Plenty of great food and fun shops, along with the overall relaxing vibe you can enjoy while hiking and swimming.

      So glad you remember the hair basket! Just got back from a business trip in San Francisco and I had some new uncontrollable hair delights. 🙂

  9. Zen A. says:

    My friends and I ended up removing Cinque Terre from our trip. We’ll be going to Turin instead – it’s the Italian city of chocolate! 😉 You know, though, the pictures I kept seeing really had be believing in all those vibrant colours! Good to see the non-touched up version.

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      The city of chocolate is a fine choice as well, Zen doll! Plus you kind of got to go to Cinque with me this week. I believed the bright Cinque colors too, but they were better in person.

      Can’t wait to hear all about Turin! So excited for you. xo

  10. joey says:

    Too hot. lol Just too hot. Seaside kitty wins my heart. But oh, swimming in the Mediterranean?!? Yes, please 🙂 That’d cool me off!
    Y’all are super cute. I dunno about Freddie Mercury and Annie Lennox, but y’all are cute.

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      I wanted to steal seaside kitty! Cinque was such a relief after those hot temps everywhere else in Italy. The Mediterranean was absolutely perfect.

      Haha, on Freddie and Annie. I think he can pull that off better! xo

  11. Browsing the Atlas says:

    Cinque Terra is high on my list of places to see if I ever go back to Italy. When I planned our trip last summer I was torn between Cinque Terra and the Amalfi Coast. The Amalfi Coast won out, but it was close. Hard to go wrong with sea cliff towns. 🙂

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Same here on Amalfi! We had to decide whether we were going north or south from Rome. Since it was our first time in Italy, and we only had 7 nights to make it happen, we chose north to do Florence and found a seaside escape in Cinque. Then of course, Venice ended up being a bonus! It was the right move for us to cover more ground.

      I’d love to explore Naples and Amalfi one day!

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