How to get to the Cinque Terre by car? It’s a question that clogs the internet. Sure, you can do it. Are the roads curvy? Yep. Can I drive into the five little villages. Why no, not really. You can park in paid parking lots not far from these towns; quaintness demands carlessness, no?
So if you don’t want to pay for parking out of town and can’t take the convenient train you’re stuck, right? Wrong. Let me tell you a secret. The Cinque Terre refers to two things, really. The top definition in everybody’s mind involves the 5 coastal villages that cling to the frothy sea beneath terraced vineyards. But there is, in fact, a National Park of the Cinque Terre that includes even more villages like little Groppo and bigger Volastra. These towns do no sit on the sea. They sit above the five villages on a ridge; they overlook the sea. They are not so packed with tourists, but have tourist services. They and the five villages are linked all together by trails.
So here’s the deal. You can drive to Volastra, park your car in the little lot provided (free) or simple leave it in the village somewhere. Piece of cake. Now you are in a village of 200 people surrounded by olive trees and terraced vineyards at an altitude of 350 meters above the sea. Trails and shuttle buses are all over. You won’t ever have to drive your car for the duration of your visit if you don’t want to.
“Some of the region’s best olive oil is still made around here. It is cold-pressed from those tiny Lavagnina and Taggiasca olives, which grow only on the Italian Riviera, and are most often picked before they are fully ripe,” says David Downie in Hiking the Cinque Terre.
There is some history in the little village; Nostra Signora della Salute, a Romanesque church dating from the tenth century sits on the village edge and is dedicated to Our Lady of Health. Here’s a picture:
Volastra dates back to 177 B.C. The Romans named it Vicus Oleaster after the olive trees that block your view of the church in the picture. If you want to immerse yourself in terraced vineyards and olive groves, Volastra is the place.
Despite its size, Volastra offers 2 bars, a small supermarket with fresh bread every day, a deli, and a pair of restaurants. You can buy bus tickets at the deli.
So now let’s say you want some real Ligurian food. Something your neighbors have never heard of but a dish that’s become popular to seek out. Let’s say the dish is called something like “The Thin Capon”.
Intrigued? Ok, so we head toward Groppo and find a place called “Cappun Magru” which is ligurian dialect for cappon magro, which is essentially a seafood salad stacked dramatically over a sailor’s hardtack biscuit traditionally eaten on Christmas eve. Where did the capon go? Well, it’s Ligurian humor perhaps. You can have a fat capon after Christmas. Or—the word could refer to “Caponata”, a dish served over a dried bread in the south.
In any case, here is the Restaurant Cappun Magru’s version of Cappun Magru:
Update: The Cappun Magru has moved to Manarolo: Via Bernardo Riccobaldi 1. Here’s the FaceBook page
Let’s figure out where all this is.
Unique: Cinque Terre Village you can drive to and park in.
Not to Miss: The Cinque Terre Wines of Walter De Battè
Region: Liguria Map
: No train station.
Hiking Map and Guide
Parking: Free parking lots in Volastra and Groppo
Recommended Restaurant: Cappun Magru
Recommended Hotel: Luna di Marzo
Recommended B&B (with apartments): il Vigneto
Cinque Terre Vacation Homes and Apartments
Local Wines: Cinque Terre DOC and Sciacchetrà (white).
A Little View
(It is worth noting that we were introduced to this little bit of paradise and its foods and wines by Pamela Sheldon Johns, author of 17 cookbooks like Cucina Povera and chef/owner/operator of Agriturismo Poggio Etrusco)