Our trip to Italy (not to be confused with "The Trip to Italy"-I didn't channel my inner Steve Coogan and Justin his Rob Brydon) changed courses after 8 nights. We returned our rental car, an Audi we had affectionally named Sera (after buonasera) in Turin, boarded a train, and set course for the coast. We exchanged crisp, sunny weather with spots of rain, for humid, muggy weather (also with spots of rain). We arrived in Santa Margherita immediately overdressed in our jeans, but floored by the coastal beauty.
On our walk from the bed and breakfast to the main part of town (15 minutes down...30 minutes up...) we marveled at the olive trees, lush vegetation, and how we had traveled 3 hours and arrived at a place so different from where we had been. Besides the vacation vibe and different style of dress, there was a decidedly different attitude and feel to this coastal town than Piedmont and Emilia Romagna: it felt like a mixture of tourists and residents--and in some respects, the residents seemed without a sense of purpose. Instead of peeking in on bits of people's lives, like we did the first week of the trip, Santa Margherita and Cinque Terre felt like places where the visitors were the towns' lives.
Unfortunately, as is the case with most coastal towns in my experience, whether domestic or abroad, prices immediately jumped up and quality of food went down. We had a pretty good dinner our first night but felt out of options on the second night and third day, resorting to the same bakery (with each return trip becoming more disappointing).
Don't make food the reason to visit the coastal area of Santa Margherita and the Cinque Terre: we were grateful for the previous week's indulgences and the memories of them sustained us on our trek between the coastal towns. Once we had acclimated to the fact that food wasn't going to be amazing at every turn, we were able to settle in and enjoy the stunning landscape and vistas of the coastal towns. We hiked between Monterosso, Vernazza, and Corniglia. The trails between the 4th and 5th towns, Manarola and Riomaggiore, were closed due to landslides but accessible via boat or train--we simply ran out of time (and energy) to visit them.