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Visiting the villages of the Cinque Terre is a bucket list item for many. But what’s it like to live there? Riomaggiore resident and Cinque Terre insider Amy Inman joins us to tell us about her beautiful home and the unsung winemaking heroes who maintain the fragile landscapes we swoon over.
Can you imagine living among the beauty of the Cinque Terre landscape? Our guest, American expat Amy Inman does just that. Amy moved to the region after she fell in love with the picturesque coastline on a post college trip around Italy. These days Amy is a passionate advocate of her adopted home. She joins us on the podcast to share her insights and let us know about a special project that is helping to restore the dry stone walls critical to ensuring the terrain is protected for future generations.
On this must listen episode you’ll learn the best time to visit the Cinque Terre, how long you should stay and some of the top experiences you should have when you get there. Of course we also discuss the typical local dishes and wine. And most importantly, Amy gives us an overview of an important crowd-sourced campaign – Grapes and Heroes – that she and her fellow founders hope will support the work of local winemakers, the custodians of this incredible land.
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About our guest – Amy Inman from Cinque Terre Insider
Amy Inman first visited the Cinque Terre 17 years ago and like many of us fell in love with this picturesque region at first sight. Returning home to the United States she found herself yearning for Italy and made her way back to the Cinque Terre to start a new life.
These days Amy lives in Riomaggiore with her husband and two small sons and is a proud member of the Cinque Terre community. She is a business owner at Riomaggiore Reservations, travel destination blogger and part of the international team at Grapes and Heroes supporting the work of the wine makers of the Cinque Terre.
You can find Amy on these channels:
- Cinque Terre Insider – Amy’s blog dedicated to helping visitors discover her adopted home
- Grapes and Heroes – crowdfunding campaign supporting dry wall restoration in the Cinque Terre
Places and wine mentioned in the show
- Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, Monterosso – the villages of the Cinque Terre
- Cappun Magru – café with local dishes in Manarola
- Alberto Gelateria – the place to try basil gelato – Via Fieschi, 74, 19018 Corniglia
- Sciacchetrà – special dessert wine typical of the region
- Italian Riviera towns – all the best places to visit in the Cinque Terre and beyond
- Cinque Terre – where should you stay? How to choose a Cinque Terre boat tour
- 101 tips for planning a trip to Italy – all the little things we’ve learnt that will help you visit Italy with confidence
- How to plan a trip to Italy – our article that takes you step by step through trip planning
- Italy Travel Planning – the FREE Facebook group where you can ask questions and get inspiration for planning your trip
- Travel shop where you’ll find items mentioned in the show
Prefer to read along as you listen? Below is a full transcript of our episode conversation. Unfortunately it does not pick up our lovely Australian accents however!
Katy Clarke (00:05):
Ciao everyone. Welcome to Untold Italy, the travel podcast helping you plan amazing trips to Italy. This week we are so excited to have a very special guest joining us from the Cinque Terre region on Italy’s Ligurian coastline. Amy Inman is an American expat who fell in love with Italy and the Cinque Terre on her travels. She found the pull of that magical part of the world too hard to resist and moved there over 16 years ago to begin a new life. Now married to a local, she lives in Riomaggiore, one of the five villages. She and her husband have two gorgeous boys and a couple of dogs and she still adores the place she fell in love with many years ago. Amy is the founder of blog, Cinque Terre insider, the owner of Rio Maggiore reservations and the co-founder of a crowd funding campaign “Grapes & Heroes” that aims to support the fragile landscape of the region that so many of us have also fallen in love with or dream of seeing one day. In this episode, Amy gives us tips on visiting the Cinque Terre, how to experience this beautiful region, and she gives us some inspiration on how we can all help preserve the incredible landscapes now and in the future. I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I did talking to Amy. And without further ado, here’s our interview on the Cinque Terre
Katy Clarke (01:26):
Welcome to the Untold Italy podcast. Amy, we are so excited to have you on the show to talk about the beautiful Cinque Terre region. But first, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to be living there?
Amy Inman (01:38):
I would love to. Thank you so much for having me. My name is Amy and I am originally from California. I have lived in the Cinque Terre for 17 years now. I came to Italy after I graduated from university. That was my graduation gift from my family and I traveled all of Italy for three months from the very far North to the very far South and everything in between. And I absolutely fell in love with it. And I didn’t realize how much so until I went home and back to California and I started feeling homesick for Italy. So at that point there was a huge revolution of all of my plans and I decided to move over. In three months after living in Italy I met my husband. We didn’t marry for quite a few years after that. But we have two little boys. We have French bulldog, we have an apartment that’s exploding. All the stuff. But it’s a good life here.
Katy Clarke (02:38):
Oh, it sounds amazing. So now that you’ve lived there for some time, you’ve probably got a unique perspective on this region that draws so many people from all over the world. So can you tell us why now, now that you’ve lived there a little longer, why you love the Cinque Terre and what makes it so unique and special?
Amy Inman (02:55):
The very first time I came to this Cinque Terre, I came in the off season and I believe it was March when I came and it was very quiet and the locals were very friendly. They would all say hello when you had passed by on the street. Of course, this was 18 years ago. So it was a very different time and there wasn’t nearly as much tourism as there is today, but I was just really blown away with how friendly the locals were. And of course, if you’ve ever seen a photo of the Cinque Terre or if you’ve been here yourself, you know how stunning the scenery is. I was just absolutely smitten with the area. And after all of my travels of Italy, it was one of my, I had two favorite spots than it was one of them. So when I came back to Italy to live, I thought I would just get a bit acquainted here in the Cinque Terre and then have to move elsewhere. I didn’t imagine I’d be able to find work in a place to live. But luckily for me, everything worked out. But I see even today the same thing happening with other expats. They come to this area and they just, Oh, it’s beautiful. Of course they fall head over heels in love with it.
Katy Clarke (04:02):
Yes, it’s so special. It’s one of those places where you know, you go and you think, “Ooh, is this real?” Like one of those pinch yourself moments.
Amy Inman (04:09):
Pinch me, yes, exactly. That was exactly the experience I had. When I very first came to Italy on my first trip, I flew into Milan and of course I knew it was a big city, but I never had that experience of, Oh my gosh, this is the Italy that I had imagined. I had that experience when I came to the Cinque Terre.
Katy Clarke (04:28):
Oh, that’s amazing. So do you think there’s a better season to visit?
Amy Inman (04:32):
It really depends on what you’d like to do as a traveler. If you like quiet; off season, you can’t beat. It’s very, very quiet. You’re rubbing elbows with the locals and we get a lot of authors and writers and people of that sort during the off season that will come and stay for a while. And it’s just a very slow sort of travel and absorbing really the culture and the feeling of the place. Of course, if you’re wanting to come and hit the beaches or do water sports or things of that nature, of course you need to come in the summer. But personally my favorite time of year are the shoulder seasons. So spring and fall I would stay late spring and early fall. Those are really nice because you get the nice weather. It’s not really beach season obviously, but you get the nice weather but not quite as many people.
Speaker 3 (05:26):
Oh, lovely. And so in winter does get very cold. I can imagine those might be maybe some icy winds off the sea, but I quite like that. It’s kind of gives it a bit of atmosphere.
Amy Inman (05:36):
yeah, it’s not so cold that it snows here. I mean, we’ve had snow I think two times and the past 20 years in the Cinque Terre and it’ll snow up on the ridge top at times. But this year we’re having a particularly warm winter, to be honest. We haven’t really pulled out those heavy heavy jackets or whatnot. The weather is changing, it feels like. But yes, the house is here above all. We live in houses that were built in the 1500s and the 1300s in some cases. And so these houses are a bit drafty. They don’t have the insulation of our California style homes that we have back home. So it always feels a little bit chilly here. Even when you’ve got the heat on in the house we still wear sweatshirts indoors and whatnot. But yes, we do get a gusty wind to up off of the sea at times, but in the winter, if you’re here on a nice day, it’s amazing. In fact, I tell the people that are here on a nice day in the winter, they don’t know how lucky they are. They have the place to themselves and it’s just a little piece of paradise.
Katy Clarke (06:40):
Oh, it just sounds magical. I’ve only visited in late fall or autumn – early October – two times actually. And it was just, yeah, it was just so lovely then. But I’d love to see it in winter for that reason. I think it would just be kind of, you know, bit more windswept and a bit more romantic almost I think. Now a lot of people think they should come to Cinque Terre, they really want to come because they’ve seen the photos and they’ve just fallen in love with the views. But how long do you think we should stay when we come?
Amy Inman (07:13):
I actually have a blog and on the blog I recommend to people that they stay if they’re able to, three nights, I would say three night minimum. That gives you two full days to really experience the area. If you’re in a pinch, two nights can work but that’s really only giving you one full day. I do discourage the Cinque Terre a day trip only because usually those that come on day trips are spending a lot of travel time and they’re only getting a very limited amount of time in the Cinque Terre and at the end of the day, yes you got those beautiful photos but you didn’t walk away with a better understanding of the Cinque Terre.
Katy Clarke (07:52):
I think that’s so important, Amy. Because photos are one thing, but it’s the feeling that you get, the feeling that you get when you’re looking at that view and taking it all in and breathing in the air and just enjoying the scenery around you. That’s what you’re going to remember forever. And you want to soak it up for as long as you can. So now, if we’re going to be staying in the villages, is there a particular village that you recommend and are there differences between the villages?
Amy Inman (08:17):
Each village, they are very similar. They’re all colorful, of course and whatnot. But you tell us a little bit of a different feel to it. For example, Monterosso which is the fifth village, that one’s the most resort like in how it’s set up. And they actually had tourism before the other four villages. And that’s because it’s flat there. And they have the nice Sandy beaches, they have the sun loungers at the beach club that you can rent and they have more what we call comodità, more conveniences. And it’s a certain type of traveler likes Monterosso. So whereas the other four villages are a little bit more characteristic and quaint, they do require stair climbing and climbing up steep inclines, which isn’t for everyone. But they’re very quaint and characteristic. There’s Corniglia for example, which is the very smallest of the five villages and that’s up on a hilltop, so of all the five villages. those that are seeking quiet and that tranquility, that’s definitely a choice that I would recommend. And granted there are lots of stairs to get there from the train station in Corniglia. There are 382 stairs that zigzag up the hillside and to reach the village. So it’s definitely not for everyone, but it is, it’s a beautiful place too. Each one is special.
Katy Clarke (09:35):
And I heard Riomaggiore is a bit more like the party town, is that right?
Amy Inman (09:39):
Actually, there’s a lot of things out there that say that, but no, it’s not true. Riomaggiore is actually my home village, so I know it very, very well, like the back of my hand. There are more things to do here than in Vernazza, Corniglia or Manarola. That’s true. But I would definitely say Monterosso has the most going on in the evenings for sure.
Katy Clarke (10:00):
So apart from enjoying the relative solitude of the evenings when the day trippers have left, what are some of the other experiences that we must have when we’re in the Cinque Terre?
Amy Inman (10:12):
Well, first and foremost, those that actually stay in the Cinque Terre are getting the best of it all because the early mornings and the late evenings are when the day trippers clear out. And you can really and truly see what these villages are all about in the mornings. Just seeing when they come and collect the trash and how that works. And in Vernazza for example, they have an Ape, which are those three wheeled agricultural vehicles. That’s what comes and picks up the trash because the village is too narrow to have a big truck come in in the morning. So seeing those workings of the village is really interesting. Also, I always recommend to people get up and away from the beaten path. Most people that come here, they’re wanting to go and take a particular picture of the village. Maybe it’s the one they’ve seen on Instagram or on social media and they’re all seeking that same picture. Whereas I tell people, you cannot take an ugly picture of the Cinque Terre it’s beautiful everywhere you go. So you can get up and away from the beaten path and really see a peek of what this place is all about. The higher you go up in the villages, the quieter it will be. And you’ll see the farmers out in the vineyards, you’ll see the woman in the olive grove pruning. You get that glimpse that otherwise everyone else is missing.
Katy Clarke (11:35):
That sounds wonderful. Amy. Meeting the people is always a highlight of any trip. So how many people live in the Cinque Terre villages and can you tell us a bit about some of the people that we’re likely to meet? [inaudible]
Amy Inman (11:48):
Absolutely. These are five tiny villages and I think people don’t really realize how small they are until they get here. So we have in the five villages, we have just over 3,600 full time residents. Considering that they estimate we receive 3.5 million visitors a year, you can understand the equation isn’t necessarily in the favor of the locals here. Of course tourism is great at boosting the economy. But we definitely have to do things to really maintain our sense of community and, and identity here. And you can really find that if you head up into the, the terraced vineyards up the Hills, get off the beaten path. That is my best insider tip for those that are visiting here.
Katy Clarke (12:35):
Fantastic. And so I understand that they’ve got some pretty amazing wine locally there. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Amy Inman (12:44):
Absolutely. We actually, unlike most places in Italy, our local wine is a dry white as opposed to reds that you would find a nearby Tuscany or other places. So here it is a dry white. We have the D.O.C. Symbol, which means that that particular wine is guaranteed to have grown the grapes here in the Cinque Terre. And then we also have a very famous, and it’s famous throughout all of Italy, a dessert wine called Sciacchetrà. And it takes a massive amount of grapes to make just one bottle of Sciacchetrà. So it’s quite expensive. But it’s something that’s really a part of the local culture and tradition. Usually that wine is used when a baby is born or when there is a first communion or when there’s a wedding. I mean it’s a very special wine for locals.
Katy Clarke (13:40):
That sounds like a great celebration for you wine. I’d love to try it one day. And so the people that make the wine, is that a tradition that’s been going on for hundreds of years and how do they maintain that tradition?
Amy Inman (13:51):
If you come to this area, you will see. We are actually a UNESCO world heritage listed site. We’ve been that way since 1997. And one of the major reasons why we were selected as the UNESCO world heritage site is because of the terraced landscape here. Basically the Cinque Terre villages are on cliffs. So without this terrace landscape, there would be no possibility for agriculture. And it blew my mind when I found out that there are actually 3,560 miles of dry stone terracing in the Cinque Terre alone. So it’s a massive amount. And the people that work on these vineyards, it’s not just, we do have local winemakers of course, that have their own private labels. We also have just locals that are farmers and they sell their wine to the local cooperative, which makes a cooperative wine as well. And then of course we have families that make their own wine for their own personal consumption. So it’s definitely part of the culture. It’s been that way for over a thousand years. We have a project in Rioomaggiore where we’re taking the local children up into the vineyards and they’re learning how to make wine, how to tend the grapes and how to make the wine in the cantinas as well. So it’s something that’s passed down.
Katy Clarke (15:11):
Oh, I love that. It’s just one of those things, you know, you worry that some of these traditions are going to get lost, but it sounds like they’re doing an amazing job of protecting them. And Amy, you and some friends are also, having a go at protecting the fragile terrain of the region too. Can you tell us a little about, a bit about the project you’re launching?
Amy Inman (15:31):
Absolutely. We have actually together with a group of, of women international women at that created a social action campaign, a crowd funding campaign on Indiegogo, which will go live on the 14th of February, St Valentine’s day. And it’s called Grapes and Heroes. And we gave it that name, actually Alessandra who created it. She’s a photographer. She did a project and following the local wine makers and just the challenges they face and the victories they have at the end with the harvest and making the wines and whatnot. And she realized what a difficult position they’re in financially. Because here wine making, yes, it’s a part of the local culture and tradition, but it’s not something that’s going to make someone particularly prosperous at this point. I’m from California originally and when I think of a winemaker in California, I think of someone quite wealthy to be honest. But that’s really not the case here. This is these are blue collar winemakers. They have a great passion, but they’re not getting rich by what they’re doing. Aside from that fact and making, you know, growing their grapes and making their own wines, they also actually are the caretakers of those 3,560 square miles of, of the drystone terraces. And that’s a huge, huge endeavor and very, very expensive. So on them, it really takes a toll and they’re micro businesses and obviously with micro budgets and it’s very expensive to maintain and rebuild the drystone walls when they fall. So this project came out, we had a really tough fall last year. We had numerous storm warnings and level orange, level red, which are the maximum warnings. So we had schools canceled, businesses closed. It was a really, really rough season for the Cinque Terre. And it was even harder on our winemakers because the amount of rain we received caused the collapse of a massive number of walls. So now they are doing everything they can to rebuild them, but it’s very expensive. And so this project came about to give them a hand to rebuild the walls.
Speaker 4 (17:51):
Oh, that’s amazing. I just love initiatives like this because if we don’t help these people, then the skills and the wine and the environment’s really going to be lost forever for future generations. So I think it’s amazing. And how can we support you with this campaign Amy.
Amy Inman (18:12):
The way the campaign is set up, it’s on Indiegogo and basically what we’re asking is just for people to make a contribution and exchange. They’ll receive what we call a perk. So there’s anything from, for example for 10 year Euro, there’s a digital postcard that we send back thanking you for your contribution. For a little bit more you receive a contribution cork and we’re going to create a mural with the corks and it will be present in one of our winemaker’s cantinas. And people’s names of all the contributors will be on a cork and on this mural. So that, that’s another idea. But as you go, obviously the larger the contribution, the bigger the perk that one would receive. We have Grapes and Heroes merchandising. We have wine tastings here in the Cinque Terre with the winemakers themselves. We have a day helping to rebuild a wall, which is an amazing thing to see and do. We have the picnic in a remote location with a beautiful view here in the Cinque Terre. So there’s lots of perks and no contribution is too small. Even one euro can make a difference.
Katy Clarke (19:25):
I think it’s just fantastic and myself and Josie, who also runs the podcast, we’re so happy to support your endeavors and we hope everyone can help. Now, once the campaign’s over, and I’m sure it’s going to be an amazing success, how can visitors really help support the Cinque Terre when they come and visit? Because I think, you know, the campaign is going to last only so long, but people are going to be coming throughout the year. How can they help?
Amy Inman (19:53):
The, the best thing you can do here is to support local. And by doing so when you come and you’re out to dinner, get a local wine as opposed to one from another region. Make sure if you’re getting wine that it does have the D.O.C. symbol, which means that it’s actually from this area. And when you are out and about in the Cinque Terre, look for places that are serving not just touristic fare to make the people coming through happy. Seek out the places that are going to have unique items on the menu that are locally sourced, local recipes. It’s in this way that I think people will walk away with a better appreciation for the Cinque Terre and really what it represents. Also, you can go hiking up into the vineyards there. We have 120 kilometers of hiking trails here in the Cinque Terre. And that’s an amazing way to really appreciate the landscape and the hard work of these wine makers. And they’re working in a very vertical situation. So there’s no tractors, everything’s done by hand. And it’s a very, very challenging job. But I also think it’s very rewarding for them.
Katy Clarke (21:06):
And Amy is there a way we can learn about the wine making process and the wine itself?
Amy Inman (21:10):
I actually recommend getting in touch with a local wine maker because many of them actually offer vineyard tours and wine tastings in their cantinas. And that’s really a unique way to see this area, experience its wines and get an insight or take from a vintner and what it takes to create just one bottle of Cinque Terre wine.
Katy Clarke (21:35):
Oh well. Sign me up! I want to go now.
Amy Inman (21:41):
Me too. And I live here.
Katy Clarke (21:43):
Oh you must do it every day!
Amy Inman (21:45):
The wine makers usually do it by appointment and going local and through them directly potentially you could have them to yourselves versus trying to find something online. Or booking some sort of group tour. I really liked the one on one time with the locals. That’s kind of my thing. Also when I travel elsewhere in Italy or elsewhere in the world. So meeting and talking with them and hearing their stories and the challenges they might be facing or also their success stories. Lots of our local wine makers are coming home with awards from international wine shows. So it’s definitely up and coming.
Katy Clarke (22:25):
Yes. And I think a lot of people want to support these local initiatives, but the hard thing is trying to find where to reach them. And I guess that’s why we rely a lot on the internet. But have you got any tips on how we can find them?
Amy Inman (22:38):
Yes, absolutely. Contact me. I think that might be the easiest way actually. A lot of these, like I said, online, you’re going to find things that are coordinated by tour operators. And a tour operator obviously is looking to sell as many spots as possible to come up with a better profit. Whereas if you book direct, you’re working directly with the wine maker. And like I said, potentially you might be a group of three, four people or you may even just be yourselves with the wine maker, which is a completely different experience in my mind.
Katy Clarke (23:13):
Oh, it’s just fantastic. I just love it and I can’t wait to get back there. I’ve been a couple of times, but it’s always been too short and I’d love to come and just, as you say, spend three or four days just really soaking it up and understanding a lot more about the region. Now can you tell us, you know, you’ve been telling us about this amazing wine and you did give a hint about some of the dishes. What’s one dish that we shouldn’t miss when we’re in the Cinque Terre?
Amy Inman (23:40):
The thing that this area is most popular for is pesto because Liguria, which is our region is the birthplace of pesto. So basil paste, and of course that’s something you want to try while you’re here. But we’re also sitting right on the sea. So we have amazing local seafood. And of course the local wines that I mentioned. There are little places sprinkled throughout the Cinque Terre that are really doing a great job on serving only local dishes. And for example, one comes to mind in Manarola, there’s a little cafe called Cappun Magru and you go there each day, the dishes change. But they’re always local and fresh and it’s off the beaten path. So there’s hardly anyone there compared to places that are closer down to the water or whatnot. But it’s definitely worth the walk.
Katy Clarke (24:31):
Oh, I love those places. They’re my favorite. And seafood and pesto are kind of like my two favorite things, so I’ll be definitely going to seek that out. And is there anything else that we should know about the Cinque Terre before we sign off? Is there something special that you want to tell us?
Amy Inman (24:47):
I just want to tell people, do your research before you get to the Cinque Terre. Because places like the one I just mentioned before, if you go online, you can actually find those places and just have a list. So you know, okay. If I end up in Manarola, I want to try out that place. So if I end up in Corniglia, Oh, I need to go to Alberto Gelateria because they have basil gelato. And having a list like that is great as a point of reference because it’s even happened to me and other places where I just happened to end up somewhere and I’m like, Oh, it looks okay from the outside. I go in and it turns out it’s a tourist trap. So don’t fall prey to that. Know in advance all the great places and things to see and do. And that way you’re, you know, you’re going to have the best experience in the Cinque Terre.
Katy Clarke (25:32):
I think you put a lot of those places on your blog, don’t you?
Amy Inman (25:36):
I do. Actually. I have a blog called Cinque Terre Insider and it started four or five years ago now – kind of on a whim. I never expected it to explode like it has. But I like to show an insider’s view on things to see and do and to really make your trip special.
Katy Clarke (26:00):
Oh, it’s a great blog. I’ve been devouring it actually the last few weeks since I met you virtually online and job. I really love it. So before we sign off, can you just tell us a little bit about where we can find you online? I know Cinque Terre Insider is your blog and you’re on social media as well?
Amy Inman (26:18):
Yes, absolutely. Cinque Terre Insider on Instagram and Facebook and then of course the blog itself. And Grapes and Heroes the project that will be live from February 14th to March 25th. You can find that on Facebook, on Instagram and of course on IndieGoGo when it goes live.
Katy Clarke (26:36):
Oh, wonderful. Grazie mille. Thank you so much Amy, for joining us on the podcast and sharing your knowledge of the beautiful Cinque Terre. We hope your campaign is so successful so that we can all continue to enjoy this very special part of the world. Thank you Amy.
Amy Inman (26:50):
Thank you Katy. It was a pleasure being on your show.
Katy Clarke (26:53):
Now, as Amy mentioned, this campaign – Grapes and Heroes – is only running for a short amount of time in early 2020. So please go ahead and support the beautiful Cinque Terre and the wine makers of the region just as we have so we can enjoy them for future generations. All the information about the crowdsourcing campaign are on the podcast notes at untolditaly.com/podcast and Amy’s contact details and links are in there too. Coming up in the next episode, we are going to take you to beautiful Venice, but in the meantime, if you’ve enjoyed this episode and you’re liking the podcast, please subscribe and leave us a great rating and review. Thanks for listening and ciao for now.