A strange moment for me in Manarola, 3:35 am and unable to sleep, having woken at 2:30 am after dropping off for a 30-minute nap around 8 pm. I’m now sitting in a tiny stone foyer with no wall plugs, no lights….just a round plastic table and two plastic beach chairs. In the dark.

Manarola’s sea vistas are stunning and nourishing, of course, and I love the constant sound of crashing, pounding surf below.  But otherwise this is an amiable but second-rate, hand-to-mouth tourist town, and by that I mean catering almost entirely to under-30 types as older folks have apparently been scared off by the steep staircases. I for one bounded up via Belvedere like an antelope. Actually I’m lying — the stairs are a bitch.

Local merchants, their survival requiring a constant seduction of 20somethings and their modest incomes, have made Manarola into a tourist destination for this subset — young couples, backpackers, student groups, families on a budget. Our little place, located up high with a breathtaking view, cost me a couple of hundred per night, but most of the hotels are cheaper. 

The ristorantes, trattorias and osterias have struck me as nothing special (good enough, reasonably priced), but there doesn’t seem to be anything that even begins to resemble La Lampara. Plus there isn’t a decent small market in the area.

Whenever a vacation town has a great, drop-dead selling point that everyone will succumb to (smashing surf, an eye-filling horizon), the locals never try to build it into anything more.  Because they don’t have to and they know it. 

Ten years ago Jett and I visited Monterosso, which is larger with a few more resources and a small beach. I think I prefer that Cinque Terre town to this one.