Here at House of Coco, road tripping is one of our favourite ways to travel. So we sent our girl Beth on a self-drive adventure to test drive Ford’s new EcoSport, through the mountain villages of Italy’s Cinque Terre, to prove it’s all about the journey, not the destination…
You’ll most likely recognise Cinque Terre’s five famous villages from the postcards – their picture-perfect pastel houses cascading down the cliffs towards the ocean. Whipping along the road to our first stop, Riomaggiore – sheer mountains rise to our left, the road disappearing in a vertical drop to the sea on our right. While these winding Italian roads might not be for the faint hearted, our sleek little EcoSport hugs the road – it’s small but mighty SUV capabilities leaving us free to explore at our own pace, take in the scenery and occasionally, veer across the road to stop at a pretty viewpoint (to a chorus of beeping locals, of course).
Provided you like your driving with a dose of adrenaline, it’s really is the best way to explore this region, with some of the most scenic driving to be had in all of Europe. While cars might be banned from entering the villages narrow cobbled streets – visit in the off-season and you’ll find the roads relievingly quiet, with plenty of parking spaces to walk down into town. Sure, the parking isn’t the easiest, but thankfully our EcoSport was just the right size to squeeze down those Italian backroads and had a rearview camera for any reversing.
We might be only an hour and a half from Pisa, but driving across the landscape, it’s easy to see why many of these villages remained relatively inaccessible for much of the 20th century – preserving their old-world Italian heritage. And what could be more synonymous with traditional Italian culture than great food and wine? Here’s how to best explore the region’s eats on a self-drive eco-adventure.
You’re right by the coast in Riomaggiore, so be sure to take advantage of the opportunity to sample the fresh catch straight from the pretty little harbour. Riobistrot restaurant offers a seafood tasting dinner using only seasonal local produce and catch of the day, accompanied with Cinque Terre’s local wines, of course. Come early for an Aperitif on the terrace, where you can watch the fisherman’s brightly coloured boats bob up and down on the tide.
Nessun Dorma, Manarola
No visit to nearby Manarola would be complete without a visit to Nessun Dorma. Not only can you learn to create your own fragrant pesto from locally sourced ingredients on their terrace, but you’ll be able to do so while enjoying one of the best views of cliff-clung Manarola. With a glass of local white wine, cooking is surprisingly thirsty work.
Agriturismo Montagna Verde, Lunigiana
Stretching the legs on our EcoSport, we’re able to head inland to lesser-known Lunigiana – a well preserved rural landscape offering a local, rustic cuisine best experienced at a traditional Agriturismo, like the one owned by Mario Maffei and his family, Agriturismo Montagna Verde. Here we sample the regionally certified products grown across a 600-acre farm, which Mario explains is renovating into a hotel and restaurant, combining agriculture and sustainable tourism. We learn how to make gnocchi using regional chestnut flour, with chestnuts grown, dried and ground on the property, which we sample along with the farm’s own chestnut honey and goat’s cheese in the restaurant’s “zero kilometre” menu – all impressively sourced on site.
Cantina Cinque Terre, Cinque Terre
For close to a thousand years, the inhabitants of this UNESCO protected area have cultivated wine on these crazily steep cliffside terraces, carved into the landscape supported by handmade stone walls. It’s impossible to think you could create wine here, but that’s just what the 300 growers of the Cantina Cinque Terre – the region’s wine co-operative, have done. Blending three local grape varieties (Bosco, Albarola and Vermentino) the seaside terroir creates an intensely floral, mineral taste to the unique DOC Cinque Terre White – which incidentally, pairs perfectly with the local Monterosso anchovies and freshly baked focaccia we sample in the grower’s garden. They’ll even offer you a ride on the monorails, which is not for the faint hearted.
Castel Del Piano, Lunigiana
The vineyards here may be very different from those at the coast but also boast fantastic produce, with wineries like Castel Del Piano showcasing the best the area has to offer. It’s here that husband and wife team Sabina and Andrea escaped the rat race to live the dream, producing their own wine. Our favourite? Surely the seductively spicy Toscana Merlot.
Castello di Pontebosio, Lunigiana
After all that food and wine, you’ll need to lay your head somewhere sumptuous, like the fabulous Castello di Pontebosio, an imposing 17th century Castle turned luxury resort. Our room, Leonora (named after one of the castles former Marquises) has no less than three whole floors, a spa and triple height ceilings that make for a princess and the pea vibe we just couldn’t get enough of.
Castel Del Piano, Lunigiana
You can also stay overnight at the hotel located on this authentic and utterly beautiful restored castle, which boasts just a handful of rooms, a lovely pool and it’s own wines and restaurant.
Hotel Villa Argentina, Riomaggiore
Just a quick stroll up from the cobbled centre, Hotel Villa Argentina is an elegant, old Italian villa, full of heritage, with pretty shutters and balconied rooms overlooking the roofs of Riomaggiore. Start the day Italian style with a coffee on your balcony, listening to the church bells and enjoy one of the best breakfast spreads we’ve ever had.
The Italian Riviera was the perfect challenge to test drive Ford’s EcoSport. We found it’s eco engine so efficient that #Teamcoco’s gals even won the group challenge, using the least fuel over several days driving up and down mountainous terrain. Intelligent All-Wheel Drive tech helped us to grip to a sometimes drizzly road, and a heated steering wheel and B&O sound system made for comfortable drives on the longest stretches of road. The EcoSport may be compact, but it’s definitely big on adventure.