The Cinque Terre has been on my list of places to travel ever since I started researching travel online and came across the Rick Steves travel guides. These 5 picturesque coastal villages in a relatively remote part of Italy owe most of their popularity to Rick Steves, who lavishes them with countless superlatives.
When we went to Italy for the first time in last November it was the wrong season to go to the Cinque Terre as it would be rainy and I wanted to trek the trails connecting the villages as much as possible. So when we decided to go to Italy again this May, the Cinque Terre was the first place that we finalised. We decided to make Vernazza as our base for our 2 nights in the region because of its central location and the two functional coastal trails connecting the villages are either direction from Vernazza. Even if that wasn’t so, I would still have favoured Vernazza just because it is drop dead gorgeous!
We had an amazing 2 days on the Lake Como in Varenna. We took the train to Milan and changed trains to get to Levanto. From here we caught the local train which runs regularly connecting all the 5 towns. This train was packed beyond what I had seen in Italy yet. In fact it reminded me of local trains back in Mumbai. I realised that a cruise ship must be in port at a nearby port town and silently cursed Rick Steves for making this region so popular. We managed to get down at Vernazza with our luggage intact amidst the hordes of people trying to get on and off.
To be frank, I had expected crowds but this was way beyond my expectations. So we trudged our way to our rooms at the Affitacamere Tonino Basso which fortunately was away from the main street and tucked in a quiet corner of Vernazza. We got our room keys, freshened up, had a coffee thanks to the included coffee maker in the room and left the room to walk around the town.
It was 5pm by now and the crowds had started to lessen. Most tourists in the region are day trippers from nearby larger towns. So the only time the Cinque Terre and Vernazza is enjoyable is before the hordes arrive and after they leave. There are no major sites in Vernazza. No museums, no art, just the picturesque little town with one main street and a little harbour, trails with viewpoints and the blue sea.
We headed straight for the harbour and bought a gelato to enjoy on the breakwater at the end of the town. We sat and enjoyed our hazelnut and pistachio gelato and I took a lot of photos of the town from this view point.
This is the place to enjoy a relaxing vacation if trekking up trails is your idea of relaxation. So we finished our gelato and decided to head out to viewpoints on either end of town along the coastal trail to take the trademark photos of Vernazza that appear when you type it on Google.
For trekking the trails in the Cinque Terre especially the favoured coastal ones, you need to buy a trail pass since this region is officially a national park. But no pass is required to walk to the view point on the trail up to a check post ( Which was never manned when we visited, maybe they are in peak season) so we first climbed up the narrow stairs and path that led to the trail to Corniglia and our first view point. This gives an end on view of Vernazza protruding into the sea. The skies were cloudy and dramatic (I prefer that to bland blue skies anyway for photography) and it made for some amazing photos.
We spent a lot of time here with a few fellow photographers and enjoyed the unparalleled views. I was so happy seeing these views and capturing them in my camera that I took more photos of the same view than needed. We then got down to town level and then climbed up the trail on the opposite side that led to Monterrosso al Mare to the view point that gives a more horizontally oriented view of the town. We went a little beyond the check post as it was unmanned till we got unobstructed views of the town. We found a nice little stair case leading to a locked house where we could sit and enjoy the views and watching the light slowly change as sunset was near.
As you can see from the photos the skies were threatening to open up so before they did and made the trail a slippery mess, we got back down and returned to our room for some rest before we went out for dinner.
Sadly it started raining that evening so I had to abandon my plans to climb up to the viewpoints after dark to take photos of the lit up town. I didn’t want to slip and injure myself in the dark, especially when I had a day of trekking coming up tomorrow. We went to dinner at the Gianni Franzi, a restaurant at the harbour which was recommended by who else, Rick Steves. We had the famous Pesto of the region with two different types of pasta and our standard Tiramisu. I was so impressed with pesto that I made sure that I got two jars to take back home! I am enjoying it till today, super yummy!
We walked out into an empty main street at Vernazza that not a few hours ago was mobbed with crowds. The short walk back to the hotel was more pleasant when we had the town almost to ourselves.
The next day would be spent trekking and visiting the other 4 towns of the Cinque Terre, but we ensured that every day of the two mornings we were there we went to the harbour very early. We had our breakfast croissants on the breakwater on both days and enjoyed the sun come up on Vernazza. That way we would enjoy Vernazza the most without getting jostled around.
I also got my wish of getting night photos of a lit up Vernazza on the second night and it was one I would remember. I decided to go up the Corniglia trail since it is lit part of the way up and less riskier than the Monterosso one in darkness. Plus it had a convenient ledge for long exposure shots as I don’t own or carry a tripod. I am still thankful to the weather Gods for sparing me that night!
Over my trips I have realised that we enjoy the small towns more than the blockbuster cities. Vernazza was one more such town that managed to steal our heart despite being just a hamlet on the sea.
My next posts would be those describing our treks to Corniglia and Monterosso and our visits to the other two towns that round up the Cinque Terre, Manarola and Riomaggiore. But that is for another time, another day.
Till then ,