PhotoPhiles: Cinque Terre, Italy – The Italian Riviera

 

Monterosso in Cinque Terre
Monterosso in Cinque Terre

It’s hard to pick the most breathtaking spot in a country full of them, but this is one part of Italy that will truly wow you into submission. On the coast of the Italian Riviera, in the Liguria region, Cinque Terre or “The Five Lands” comprises a quintet of quaint villages: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. The stunning and jaw-dropping architectural beauty of Cinque Terre was created over a millennium by farmers and residents. Houses and buildings rise sharply from the sea, as do intricate rows of grapevines.

Our home base while visiting Cinque Terre was in La Spezia, a mid-sized town just south of Riomaggiore. It’s a convenient and more affordable spot to stay when visiting the area, and has easy access to the train line that runs between the villages. It’s also a great base for a day trip to Pisa (just a 1-hour train ride) or even Florence (a little over 2 hours on the train). Each town has its unique flair: Be sure to purchase a hiking and train pass to make a stop at each. We recommend grabbing an espresso in Monterosso, sharing a pizza in Vernazza, slurping up a basil-olive oil gelato in Corniglia, digging into stuffed mussels in Manarola, and topping it all off with a glass of red in Riomaggiore. (Don’t worry, the steep, sometimes treacherous, hiking will burn it all off!)

Enjoy our photos and videos showcasing one of the world’s most charming corners.

Manarola: Taking in the sunset after enjoying stuffed mussels and incredible Italian red wine.
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Corniglia from the hiking trail: Primary industries here are fishing and winemaking.
Manarola: The stunning harbor and vista in the town center.
Cinque Terre Vista
Vista point from the hiking trail, near Corniglia.
Manorial: The terraces in Cinque Terre are supported by over 7000 KM of dry stone walls.
Monterosso: JCrew enjoys coffee time along the Liguria Sea.
Monterosso: The biggest town in Cinque Terre brings in the biggest crowds with its expansive sand beach.
Handstand Steph at Monterosso.
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Corniglia: The Oratory of Rocco dates from 1480.
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Riomaggiore: Hiking along the free trail, just outside the town.
Beach in Monterosso.
Monterosso: Beautiful blues line the Cinque Terre’s most northern town.
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Near Corniglia: Cinque Terre resident selling freshly squeezed orange juice along the paid trail.

A Travel Snob’s Virgin Voyage to Hawaii

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As a self-described travel snob, I always assumed Hawaii was an overrated travel destination rife with gleaming families and spoiled kids, Waikiki cheeseballs, and big men playing little ukuleles. And so I always avoided venturing out there, until my personal Hawaii expert, Handstand Steph, convinced me to bypass Oahu and give the lesser populated island Kauai a try. And now here I am a new ukulele owner and a true Hawaii convert. Subscribe to our Big & Small Travel Youtube to watch our adventures around the USA and more.

The calm before the storm in Kapaʻa, Kauai in Hawaii.
The calm before the storm in Kapaʻa, Kauai in Hawaii.

Kauai has a mysterious power; here, Mother Nature truly asserts her paradoxical disposition — one minute she’s a peaceful wave, the next a violent riptide. (Or perhaps it’s just the power of the Menehune, the mythical race of small people that Hawaiians like to blame their problems on.) Upon landing in Lihue, we were refreshed by how relatively little the island was developed. Even just outside the airport, it seems endlessly lush and unspoiled.

Napali Coast Trail
Napali Coast Trail

From the time-worn cliffs of the Napali Coast to the fresh black lava shores, from the hip town of Kapaa to Waimea Canyon — home to “the Grand Canyon of the West” — I felt as if I had stepped into a friendly, chill, and less commercial extension of a place like Northern California or Oregon — only with wild (and brash) roosters, jungle-like land, and great canyons overlooking tropical beaches.

Waimea Canyon, The Grand Canyon of the West!
Waimea Canyon, The Grand Canyon of the West!

But this didn’t feel like the United States in a lot of ways. The majority of our stay was in Kapaa, a charming town full of mom-and-pop restaurants with a DIY and progressive approach. The independent spirit is alive here — in its locals and transplants, anti-establishment politicking, and small businesses. (Many in Kauai seemed to make their disapproval of Monsanto and GMOs very clear, for example. Kudos to them!) Just check out Hoku Foods Natural Market — a socially-and-sustainably-conscious store with an incredible selection of fresh, organic foods — it puts a corporate beast like Whole Foods to shame. Or go to the coffeehouse Java Kai for a smooth cup of joe or a smoothie made with local ingredients. And for dinner, drinks, and entertainment, check out Trees Lounge; tucked behind a row of resorts in Kapa’a, this unassuming spot seems to be a local favorite thanks to a great selection of food (get the beignets!) and live music from local artists nightly.

Hanalei, Kauai
Hanalei, Kauai
Signs for independence at Salt Pond Beach Park in Kauai.
Signs for independence at Salt Pond Beach Park in Kauai.

But the real jewels of Kauai reside in its natural environment, of course. Without a doubt, the rugged and daredevil hiking opportunities offer plenty of escapist delights. The Napali Coast is otherworldly — vibrant, serene, and dangerous all at once. The trail’s beauty can take your breath away, but so can the four-hundred-feet drop to the wild Pacific Ocean just inches from your feet. Unfortunately, violent winds and heavy rains (“one of the worst storms in years,” said a local) thwarted our attempts to complete the entire 22-mile round-trip trek. (Just another reason to go back!)

South Shore Cliff Hike
Handstand Steph!

Kauai also offers other less treacherous hiking: We checked out the trail to Ho’opi’i Falls, which included a trek through wild tropical vegetation overgrowth to a serene set of waterfalls.Take note: this area is filled with mosquitoes eager to suck your blood — seriously, cover up and bring bug spray! — and there are several offshoot trails that can easily get you turned around. We used the AllTrails iPhone app, which was somewhat of a guide, but the user reviews only confused us further! Use with caution. Another hiking excursion we recommend is located down on the southern coast, starting at Ha’ula Beach near the Poipu Kai resort. From the beach you climb right up to the cliffs along the coast, and from there it’s all stunning, steep drops with even a few hidden caves to escape from the sun. Aside from hiking, our other adventure involved camping at the pristine Anini Beach. We pitched a tent right on the fringe of the beach — maybe a little too on the fringe as the high tide at 3AM felt mighty close to our tiny makeshift abode.

Anini Beach, Kauai
Anini Beach, Kauai
Napali Coast Trail
Napali Coast Trail

Still, Anini was a delight — peaceful and serene, this beach is protected by Hawaii’s largest coral reef, and is a great spot for stargazing and simple reflection.

All in all, I would gladly return to Kauai — the opportunities for escape and solace are endless. If (and when!) I return, I’d plan time to see more of the island’s innards, particularly the great Waimea Canyon. I’d also rent a 4WD vehicle and hit the more banged-up roads to experience the remote beach of Polihale (only accessible via a four-mile, heavily-potholed dirt road). But for now, I’m happy to say my experience in Kauai has made me a true believer in Hawaii’s famed greeting, “Aloha.” “Alo” means to share in the present moment; “oha” is joy; and “ha” is life’s energy. Together, “aloha” roughly translates as “joyfully sharing life” — an inspiring sentiment for an island that truly embraces this ideal. Aloha!

Poipu Beach Center with Santa Claus.
Poipu Beach Center with Santa Claus.

PhotoPhiles Vol. II, Baja California Sur, Mexico

PhotoPhiles will be a recurring feature spotlighting some of our favorite photos taken on and off the road. The second edition includes shots taken from Baja California, Mexico.

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The original Catholic church of Todos Santos, Mexico built in 1733 located 30 miles from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Nuestra Senora del Pilar de Todos Santos means Our Lady of Pilar Church. Desert charm and history mix naturally here.
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Do a handstand for Mexico! Handstand Steph represents the “i” in Mexico while JCrew holds down the fort and samples the local flavors. Taken near Playa Balconcito on the Cabo San Lucas Marina.
Palm trees represent freedom and relaxation. Spanish Jesuit missionaries brought the feather-leaf date palm to Baja, and it continues to thrive around Baja California.
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Whether you think of the cheesy Eagles song or a stylish and minimalist hotel in the Baja desert this hotel is fantastico. Distinct food is plentiful around the hotel in the creative and friendly town of Todos Santos.
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Natural terrain in San Jose Del Cabo near the tip of Baja California, it is a place where the desert meets the ocean. This is the only place I’ve seen cacti all the way up to the edges of cliffs overlooking the ocean.