Paint the Town Red–and Yellow, Turquoise, Peach…

Italy’s Cinque Terre (Five Towns) was created by a series of rock folds that were pushed and raised together during the Tertiary period, roughly sixty-six million years ago, the era that marked the end of the dinosaurs. The towns: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manorola and Riomaggiore, sit on the Ligurian Sea, part of the Mediterranean.

After almost a week in Florence (another story), I went to Cinque Terre to join a watercolor workshop, specifically watercolor en plein air, which gave me new respect for Monet, Renoir and Sisley

Claude Monet

toting their stuff around. Could have all that lugging have contributed to Van Gogh’s madness?  Probably not but I could have used a caddy to help deal with my folding easel, collapsible stool, palette, water containers, spray bottle, sponge, brushes…

Our group, one of many workshops run by Il Chiostro,, was based at La Cabana, a hotel high on a cliff overlooking Monterosso, serviced by a (steep) path and frequent shuttle service to and from the town below. Not only was the setting lovely, it got us away from the town which gets crowded especially when cruise ships disgorge passengers. Ambitious hikers can trek from town to town; we visited several by train and traveled by ferry to Porto Venera, a town slightly south of Riomaggiore.


Houses in Cinque Terre are a glowing rainbow of color as they cling to the cliffs— perfect for painters. Besides masses of tourists and great gelato, each of the towns have lots of restaurants serving terrific pastas, bruscetta, foccia and seafood—anchovies in various guises are part of many offerings as are squid, mussels, cuttlefish, etc. My two fave dishes of the week were faggotini, pasta shaped like a purse with a filling of soft pecorino cheese


and pear and a pumpkin (rather like our acorn squash) risotto. More complex than they seem, I am unlikely to reproduce either.


In between bouts of painting there was plenty of free time to explore the area, shop, swim or just hang out enjoying the views often with a glass of wine in hand. Other than a five minute sprinkle one day the weather was warm and sunny.

Montorosso beach


Pesto appears everywhere in Cinque Terre, sometimes made with the addition of potatoes and green beans. This is a more streamlined version:






¼ cup pine nuts

1 or 2 cloves garlic

salt and pepper

½ cup olive oil

¼ Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated

Put pine nuts, basil, garlic, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until ingredients are chopped but not totally mushy. (Purists do this with a mortar and pestle; be kind to yourself and don’t.)

With the processor running, slowly add the olive oil. Then add the cheese which some recipes direct you to incorporate after the pesto base is out of the food processor-why, I can’t  imagine but suit yourself.

In Cinque Terre pesto is often served with trenetti; you can use linguine or almost any long pasta shape you prefer. I freeze extra pesto in ice cube trays and pop them out when wanted.

Serve with white wine (or sparkling water or whatever you like); the area’s whites are pale yellow and delicate.  If you want to toast in a group, the easy Italian way is to touch one other glass (rather than scrambling to connect with everyone), while saying: Toccato uno, Toccato tutti meaning ‘touch one, touch all.’ If you said cheers I doubt if anyone would object. Just smile.

Drinking while painting could be fun although your artwork may suffer a tad. On the plus side, carrying a wine glass up hilly paths seeking the perfect point of view is a lot less taxing than toting an easel.

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