Monterosso al Mare, within the popular tourist destination of Cinque Terre, Italy, is a gem.
I was here in September 2012 and was struck by its simple beauty. Most tourists had gone, and those here were passing through to hike the famous Cinque Terre trails. (Many people don't realize that the trails are open again after the area was damaged in the October 2011 storms.)
I took the Vernazza to Monterosso trail, an amazing experience. I recommend you start early in the morning – even in September, the heat was intense – and take your time to enjoy the beautiful views. You'll need mosquito repellent, plenty of water is a must, and don’t forget closed-toe shoes. The hike is strenuous and sometimes the trail is very narrow, but the experience is worth it.
The new town (above) is where the train connecting the villages of Cinque Terre stops. From here, you can take the intercity train to/from Rome or Milan. The old town (below) can be reached by walking 500 yards north. It's a bit of surprise, and a delight, when you exit the pedestrian tunnel and see the beach.
Your trail ticket that you can purchased on the trail includes a pass for the train. Odds are you'll want to take the train back!
The castle that dates back to the Genovese can be reached from either old or new city. It's a steep hike, but don’t forget your camera – the views are magnificent.
At night the locals gather around the plaza and spend hours deliberating about all sorts of things: sometimes they appear to be shouting at each other, but as it was explained to me, that is how they communicate.
Further along, along the fishing harbor, there is a larger plaza where kids play soccer day and night. On Saturday and Sunday nights, the plazas fill with local youths until the wee hours of the morning.
I stayed at Hotel Pasquale; my room had a view of the trail and the beach. I learned how to make lasagna al forno from Felicita. (I can share the recipe if you want it.) Restaurants abound in both the old and new town, and, true to the rest of Italy, the food did not disappoint.