- Groppo di Manarola,
- Monterosso al Mare,
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Il Pellicano, Italy
Porto Ercole 58018, Italy
Tel: 39 0564 858 111
It's hard to find a reason to leave this sumptuous 50-room resort with its heated pool, private pebbly beach on the Cala dei Santi, and superb (but pricey) restaurant. Set in a natural amphitheater on the rocky Argentario coast, this exclusive resort's accommodations are discreetly spread out in villas nestled among pine trees and cypresses. Rooms are spacious and light-filled, and decorated with comfortable luxury in mind; most have terraces overlooking the sea. The privacy factor draws aristocrats and muckety-mucks from the fields of entertainment, the arts, and banking: A staff of more than a hundred is on hand to cater to their every whim. Even if you're not staying in the hotel, a meal at Il Pellicano is worth a detour. From June to September, lunchtime here consists of an informal but spectacular buffet on the stunning seaside terrace overlooking Porto Ercole, with an array of exquisitely fresh fish and meats; make your choice, and it will be custom-barbecued for you. In the shoulder seasons and in the evenings, the elegant dining room serves a creative Italian menu that rates a Michelin star (the only one on Monte Argentario). Choose from tagliolini with lobster in a pea and barley cream, a delicate thyme-scented roast turbot with potatoes crushed with shallots and fennel, or lamb shank with spelt and Swiss chard. The wine list offers more than a thousand labels.
Open April to October.
Buca di Sant'Antonio, Italy
Lucca 55100 , Italy
Tel: 39 0583 55 881
At first glance, this historic buca in Lucca's centro storico looks like a parody of an Italian trattoria, with copper pots and whole prosciutti hanging from the ceiling—but it's actually one of the city's most sophisticated and successful restaurants, boasting excellent service and an unparalleled wine list. Meat-filled tortelli Lucchesi, breast of guinea hen with sweet Muscat grapes, and baby goat on the spit with herbs are staples of the menu. In colder months, try a wonderful country soup called frantoiana (olive press), made with Lucca's renowned extra-virgin olive oil, or an equally good zuppa alla garafagnina, a soup of spelt and vegetables. Among the filling desserts, the caramelized fruit with chestnut gelato stands out. The only downside is the fact that dishes sometimes arrive with unseemly haste—so fast that one seriously doubts they've had time to prepare them all from scratch.
Closed Sunday evenings and Mondays.
Forte dei Marmi 55042 , Italy
Tel: 39 0584 874 030
In summer, it's next to impossible to get a table at this Michelin-starred classic when chic vacationing Italians take over. If, however, you should manage to snag a reservation, try the flash-baked calamaretti and the bavette sul pesce (macaroni boiled in the juices of the dish's crustaceans and shellfish rather than in water). Other signature dishes include an excellent bollito di pesci (boiled fish platter, served with homemade mayo) and fillet of turbot with aromatic herbs, served with a truffle and courgette flan. The dessert to go for is the chocolate soufflé with pear and pear ice cream. The bright-white Art Nouveau dining room has well-spaced tables and impeccable service.
Closed Mondays except July and August, when they open daily, evenings only.
Gambero Rosso, Italy
San Vincenzo 57027 , Italy
Tel: 39 0565 701 021
Fulvio Pierangelini, the moody but brilliant front man of the "Red Shrimp," is a real chef's chef, a man who is better known within the trade than he is to the general public—perhaps because his creations (which lean toward seafood, with the occasional foray into meat and game) are neither loud nor flashy. Take one of his signature starters: passatina di ceci con gamberi, which is just what it says: lightly steamed prawns in chickpea purée—the latter consisting of nothing but chickpeas, water, and a little olive oil. It's such a simple combination that you wonder why nobody else thought of it before. Since then, of course, plenty have—but Pierangelini keeps an edge thanks to the perfection of his cooking techniques and times, which are also on display in exemplary dishes like pigeon-breast risotto or herring-filled ravioli with burrata (a sort of buttery, melting mozzarella from Puglia). Desserts range from classic (crème brûlée) through creative (licorice gelato) to bizarre (little parcels of beans and peppers served with custard). There are only 20 covers in the sea-view dining room, which is elegant without excess. Pierangelini and his wife usually greet diners personally—so if you speak a little Italian you'll have a richer experience, as the chef likes to embellish his tips and explanations with anecdotes and ironic asides. Compared to many restaurants at this level, the Gambero Rosso is not prohibitively expensive: Count on $200 a head with a good bottle of wine.
Closed Mondays, Tuesdays, and from the end of October until mid-January.
Trattoria Toscana, Italy
Castiglione della Pescaia 58043 , Italy
Tel: 39 0564 944 322
Opened in June 2005 as the catering annex of L'Andana, Alain Ducasse's first Tuscan hotel, Trattoria Toscana is so far the more convincing part of the exercise (the hotel is overpriced and still needs to iron out some service issues). It's housed in a huge former granary, where polished wood beams arch overhead and a semi-open kitchen allows you to see some of the culinary drama unfolding. Despite Ducasse's Gallic origins, the cuisine here is authentically Maremman (from the Tuscan coastal strip), though it's veined with a modern Mediterranean lightness that one doesn't always associate with the region. The starters (toasty crostini with various toppings, salumi platters) are classic enough; it's in primi like gnocchi with chickpeas, green onions, and shrimp, or secondi such as shoulder of Chianti rabbit in sweet and sour confit that the twist worked by Ducasse's protégé Christophe Martin (the great man himself rarely shows) on the rather rustic local tradition is most evident. Grilled fish from the Tyrrhenian Sea or meat (lamb with rosemary, bistecca alla fiorentina) are other strong points. Desserts include a spectacular zuppa Inglese (rum-soaked sponge cake layered with fruit and custard).
Il Falconiere, Italy
Cortona 52044, Italy
Tel: 39 0575 612 679
A delightful 17th-century villa surrounded by cypresses, olive orchards, and vineyards, this Relais & Châteaux property is personally managed by owners Silvia and Riccardo Baracchi, and their attention to detail makes all the difference. The 20 spacious rooms, some with modern frescoes and four-poster beds, have original cotto tile floors and are elegantly furnished with antiques and tapestries, yet the atmosphere is unpretentious, relaxed, and sunny. The Michelin-starred restaurant in the former limonaia (a greenhouse for young lemon trees) is one of the few chic eateries in the area, with elegant table settings and polished service. The outdoor terrace has a stunning view of Cortona and the valley. Silvia Baracchi personally oversees the waitstaff, while chef Richard Titi heads up the kitchen. Many dishes on the menu are of the hearty, rustic variety: baked stuffed turbot with zucchini and marjoram flowers; marinated shellfish with spelt panzanella and balsamic vinegar; wood pigeon stuffed with pears and pistachios, cooked in red wine. There's a vegetarian menu, too (most of the vegetables and herbs are grown in the hotel's garden), and the superb wine list includes the estate's own red, Smeriglio.
Closed three weeks January–February.
See + Do
Manarola is just as picturesque as Vernazza, but it feels a little more reserved and privatethough privacy is a relative concept in high season, when the ease of road access from La Spezia adds to the crush of walkers and train-hoppers. The village's houses follow the 'S' shape of a narrow valleypast the Museo della Sciacchetrà, with a small display dedicated to the celebrated Cinque Terre dessert winedown to the sea, where dwellings cluster out of range of the waves on a small headland. The fishing boats hauled up on the flagstones of the harborside piazza seem placed for maximum postcard potential, but come here on a stormy day in winter when the scirocco sends the breakers crashing against the rocks, and you'll understand why the locals like to keep them up here. The station is east of town, reached via a pedestrian tunnel that emerges around halfway up the main street. Punto Bonfiglio, the headland on the other side of the harbor from the main nest of houses, hosts the village cemetery; below it is a pretty park with a summer bar and children's play area. This is the place to come for views back over the town, and it's also the starting point for the short walk to . But easily the most famous stretch of the coast path is the 20-minute stroll east to Riomaggiore, known as the Via dell'Amore. Sections of the path tunnel beneath overhanging rocks; others brush past semitropical outbreaks of aloe, prickly pears, and mock orange.
La Malà, Italy
Vernazza 19018, Italy
Tel: 39 33 4287 5718
At the top of Vernazza's steep warren of lanes, this four-room guesthouse is doing something a little different from the usual faux-rustic act. It's all whitedazzlingly so in summerwith clean modernist lines, the only splash of color coming from the warm teak parquet floor. The overall effect is refreshing rather than cold, and the lack of distractions inside only enhances the spectacular sea views (which are especially impressive from rooms 26, 31 and the small cliff-top terrace). Breakfast is served in a bar down on the main harborside piazza. The hotel is a bit tricky to find: The best advice is to ring ahead and arrange to be met at the station.
La Poesia, Italy
Monterosso al Mare 19016, Italy
Space is at a premium in this small but perfectly formed four-room guesthouse in a quiet lane just off Monterosso's tourist-trap main street. The three double bedrooms, named after women who appear in the poems of local Nobel laureate Eugenio Montale, are compact but comfortable, with checkerboard floor tiles and sunny color schemes (light-filled Clizia, with its two floor-to-ceiling windows, is our favorite). The Giglio Rosso Suite offers a tad more luxury and legroom; it features an antique bed with a baldachin canopy under a high vaulted ceiling. All rooms have satellite TV and air conditioning; the shower-only bathrooms are a little cramped. In good weather, breakfast is served on a small plant-lined terrace backed by a terraced lemon grove. But what really gives La Poesia an edge over most of the other Monterosso contenders is the incredibly warm welcome from owner Nicoletta, who makes it a point of pride to coddle and spoil her guests.
Agriturismo Villanova, Italy
Levanto 19015, Italy
Tel: 39 01 8780 2517
Just one train stop from Monterosso, the mellow resort of Levanto is a good base for the Cinque Terre. For post-trekking rest and relaxation, head for this rural retreat perched on the hillside above town. An 18th-century family estate set amid terraced olive and fruit groves, Villanova now offers hospitality along with its farm products, including wine, olive oil, and honey. There are three suites in the handsome main villa, and five more in a farmhouse further up the hill, plus a couple of self-catering apartments on the grounds. The design scheme is jazzed-up Italian country style, with walls of yellow ocher or baby blue, pretty stenciled wardrobes, and lots of artsy prints and drawings. Breakfast, served in the garden, is based on homemade or locally sourced organic produce. There's no pool, but plenty of space for sunbathing. Those without a car will probably want to take a taxi from Levanto stationthough if you're traveling light, it's a pleasant (but steep) 20-minute walk.
Closed early January through mid-February.
Gambero Rosso, Italy
Vernazza 19018, Italy
Tel: 39 01 8781 2265
Right above Vernazza's small beach, next to the colorful fishing boats pulled up onto the slipway, this is one of the very few Cinque Terre waterside restaurants to maintain high culinary standards despite the tourist onslaught. The seafood practically lands on your plate from the sea and is prepared with a minimum of fuss in antipasti like moscardini (baby octopus) with crostini, or the marvelous paccheri al Gambero Rossoshort pasta tubes cooked al dente and dressed with a sauce of red mullet, herbs, and spices. Service is efficient, without the smarmy edge that mars not a few Cinque Terre dining experiences. It's not the cheapest meal on the coast, but it's a reliable option if you feel like splurging.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays noon to 3 pm and 7 to 10 pm.
Cappun Magru, Manarola, Italy
Groppo di Manarola, Manarola 19017, Italy
Tel: 39 01 8792 0563
The hamlet of Groppo is just a scatter of houses high up on the hill behind Manarola, but it's here, in two rooms of a converted private house, that you'll find the best restaurant in the Cinque Terre. Chef Maurizio Bordoni is passionate about the local peasant cuisine, which has always been equally balanced between land and sea. This is reflected in the binary menu, which offers two routes through the meal: The menu di terra might kick off with a humble but delicious focaccina, sprinkled with grains of sea salt and filled with local testa in cassetta salame and red pepper purée, and continue with stuffed leg of rabbit in pine-nut and lemon sauce. The menu di mare offers a fishy selection, which almost always features the dish that gives the restaurant its name: Cappun Magru, a rococo assemblage of pesce cappone (a type of gurnard), ship's biscuits, steamed vegetables, broccoli pesto, oysters, mussels, and clams. In each case you pay a fixed price (around $50 for the land menu and $60 for the sea version) and generally get two choices for each of the three courses. Bordoni's German wife, Christine, who takes your order, is a trained sommelier: Ask her to recommend a bottle from their good selection of smaller local producers. If you don't have a car, you'll need to get a taxi from Riomaggiore or La Spezia.
Open Wednesdays through Saturdays for dinner only, Sundays for lunch and dinner.
Osteria a Cantina de Mananan, Italy
Corniglia 19010, Italy
Tel: 39 01 8782 1166
Aloof on its rocky spur and lacking a port, Corniglia feels less touristy and more authentically Ligurian than the other four Cinque Terre villages. Its more rustic, inland spirit is summed up in this cave of wonders halfway up the narrow main street, where gruff but simpatico owner-chef Agostino Galletti presides. The day's menu is scrawled on a series of blackboards inside the stone-walled main dining room. Pasta dishes might include tagliolini with mixed seafood, or the classic pansotti (spinach-and-ricotta-filled ravioli) in walnut sauce; follow up with a perfectly grilled fish of the day or the rabbit baked with olives and thyme. Galletti's English is pretty limited, but the effort to communicate tends to encourage a communal atmosphere, and by the end of the meal everyone is swapping Cinque Terre tips and anecdotes. Booking is essential, especially in high season.
Open Wednesdays through Mondays 1 to 3 pm and 8 to 9:30 pm.
Focacceria Il Frantoio, Italy
Monterosso al Mare 19016, Italy
Tel: 39 01 8781 8333
Focaccia, the less doughy Genoese form of pizza, is the staple local snack. Just about every village has a bakery or focacceria where you can buy slabs of the stuff with various toppings, but this Monterosso takeaway establishment, on a side street just off the main drag, is one of the best. Top toppings include tomato and pesto or anchovies and capers, and the turnover is so rapid that you'll generally be eating it fresh out of the oven. They also do a couple of other specialties, like torta di riso salato (a rice, egg, and cheese bake) and, in winter and early spring, a knockout castagnaccio (classic Ligurian chestnut-flour pizza with pine nuts and golden raisins).
Open daily 9 am to 1 pm and 4 to 8 pm.