The Cinque Terre was the final stop on our tour of Italy in 2011. We had figured the urban experiences of Rome, Naples, Venice, and Florence would be best followed by a more serene locale. We could not have been better rewarded.
The Cinque Terre region is made up of five towns; Monterosso, Vernazza, Riomaggiore, Manarola and Corniglia. Each town has its differences but they share colorful building facades and beautiful views of the Ligurian Sea. Monterosso is the largest and feels like a resort, having a relatively large beach and a multitude of shops and restaurants. Corniglia is the smallest and is less accessible than the other towns. It has a sleepy feel and is less popular with tourists. It is also the only town of the five that isn’t directly on the water. Riomaggiore and Manarola are similar with a main street leading down to a small harbor inlet. We chose to stay in Vernazza after reading Rick Steve’s recommendations and booked a room at Camere Giuliano. Vernazza is laid out similarly but is smaller, or at least it felt smaller and more welcoming.
Pages have been written on Camere Giuliano and the man (Giuliano Basso) who built, owns and runs the rooms in Vernazza that we booked. Check out the link and read some of the Tripadvisor reviews. I don’t recall having met another stranger who immediately commanded my respect in the way the Giuliano Basso did. My wife and I spent several hours chatting with him on the patio during our stay and our time could not have been better spent. Book well in advance.
Vernazza has approximately 500 permanent residents. Giuliano noted that additional development is prohibited by the government to preserve the town. The main street runs from the train station down to the beach which is flanked by the old castle and the church. The tower of the castle offers a nice view of the sea and town harbor however the town is best viewed from the end of the dock or the hiking trail to Monterosso. Small shops and restaurants line the street. The beach is small and was frequented by the local children. Not the type of beach to lay out in the sun for an entire day on.
Hiking trails connect all five towns of the Cinque Terre. The trails leading out of Vernazza (Monterosso to the west and Corniglia to the east) are probably the two longest and most difficult, though neither are particularly excruciating. Take enough water, there are no spots to refill. The trails between all five towns run along the sea and offer spectacular views of its deep blue/green waters. The towns are also connected by train which is convenient if you don’t want to hike to and from on the same trail. We made it to all five towns on two separate days of hiking and still had plenty of time to relax and dine on the local specialties (Pesto, Focaccia, Anchovies… more in the next post). Check on the status of the trails before departing, Corniglia to Manarola was closed during our visit. Hiking the trails during mid day while tourists pack the towns seemed to be the perfect way to experience this area. The first two shots below show Vernazza at different times of day, note the crowds in the shot taken in mid-afternoon. The mornings and evenings were peaceful with far fewer people roaming about the town.
Shortly after we had left, in the fall of 2011, extremely heavy rains caused severe flooding and landslides, causing significant damage to Vernazza and Monterosso. The Save Vernazza website has a wealth of information on the destruction and also the efforts that have taken place or are underway to restore or even improve upon this beautiful town. Rick Steve’s also has some good information on the recovery. It appears that the trails and businesses are back open and the towns have recovered well.
Perfect end to our trip.
Next post: Tour of Italy Cuisine Recap