Cinque Terre – Vernazza
One of my favourite destinations in the world is Cinque Terre and to be more specific, Vernazza. My first trip to Vernazza was with my daughter in 2005 and this was one of five stops on our Italian adventure. One of my sweet memories from our short visit, was watching my young daughter learn to love swimming in the ocean in Vernazza’s protected harbour.Fast forward to 2017, Vernazza is still the adorable town that I remembered with its colourful village along the Italian coastline. I wasn’t sure how I would feel upon my return without Kirsten and the extreme tourism that is happening in these small towns of Cinque Terre but it was no problem and I enjoyed my time exploring and wandering.
My European trip started in late April and I arrived to spend three nights in Vernazza in early May. This timing is in the early tourist season before the crowds arrive and sadly, before the weather is settled for the summer and before the water is warm enough for swimming. Be sure to consider the timing of your visit to Cinque Terre, because the villages do become uncomfortably crowded. Thank goodness that I missed Labour Day on May 1st. I was speaking with the owner of one of the coffee shops in Vernazza and he showed me a newspaper photo with the town absolutely packed with tourists. There would be nothing fun about that kind of a crowd.
I planned to hike all the trails from village to village, take the ferry to see each village from the water’s viewpoint and to photograph everything. Although I know a lot about the area, I still purchased my Italy guidebook by my favourite guide Rick Steves. I have followed his way of travelling throughout Europe for many years and his guidance is always on point. I chose to stay at a room operated by Francamaria as suggested by Rick Steves. You can check out her website www.francamaria.com for everything you need to know.
The best way to start your time in Vernazza is to get up early to see what is happening in the village before the day really starts. There is a lot going on because the main road down into the town centre is only open in the morning until 9 or 10 am. The business owners are busy receiving deliveries of all kinds, garbage removal and setting up tables for the day. It’s a great time to observe daily life in Vernazza, as everyone prepares for another busy day of serving tourists.
I love taking trips on boats and ferries and it was no different in Vernazza. I hired a taxi boat to see the Cinque Terre landscape and each village from the water and oh it was so beautiful to see the coastline from this view. It was easy to see the terraces across all the steep mountainsides and amazing to see where people have built their houses. The most striking observation is to see the areas of erosion and landslides, from this viewpoint it is understandable why two of the trails are closed more often than not. There is also a ferry that travels from each village but during my stay, they were not running very often because one was damaged and the other couldn’t operate in rough seas. The one ferry that I did see was crowded with tourists, so I was happy to have my own transportation for a bit more cost.
Hiking – Vernazza to Monterosso el Mare
The hiking trails were not open on Day 1 but on Day 2 I was able to hike from Vernazza to Monterosso el Mare. This is the most challenging of the coastal hikes, its 3km (1.8 miles) which isn’t long but the trail is narrow and many stairs up and down along the way.
The guidebook says that the hike should only take 1 ½ hours, I definitely took a lot longer to enjoy and photograph every moment of the views. The views are absolutely incredible especially on this beautiful sunny day. The day started off cool but the sun came out and it was quite warm. Be sure to wear good walking shoes, use sunscreen, and bring water and some snacks to enjoy along the way.
Monterosso el Mare is the only other village that I visited on this trip. Monterosso has more development than Vernazza, with many more shops, restaurants and a lovely beach. It was here that I discovered a new favourite gelato, walnut and fig, it was so good that I had two. I didn’t spend too much time here because I still had the return hike to finish. Of course, if you are tired another option is to take the train back to Vernazza.
I must say that one of my favourite moments during my Italy travels on this trip was on the hike back to Vernazza. There was an older gentleman who was making fresh orange juice and selling it to the hikers passing by. I stopped to have some juice and I so wished I could speak Italian in that moment. I wanted to know his name and learn something about him, so I called out to the people around to see if anyone spoke Italian. There was a younger man who did, as it turned out he was the jewellery salesman along the trail.
I stayed to enjoy the company of these two gentleman, with conversation and a glass of orange juice. At the end of each day Alfonso and the salesman would enjoy a shot of Limoncello and today, I was invited to enjoy a drink with them.
There was a fair amount of rain while I was in Vernazza but on my final evening the sky was clear and it was time to photograph the changing afternoon and evening light over the town and the sea. I was on the trail on the south side of the village taking some classic shots of Vernazza and its tower. As it became dark, I went down the train and over to the north side of the village to capture a different view with the village and all its lights on. Normally, I would never suggest or be out in the pitch black anywhere but I felt comfortable here above this peaceful village. And I wasn’t really alone because there were a couple other photographers around and I was being serenaded by what sounded like hundreds of frogs, I had never heard anything like it before.
There are always many places to visit in the world but Cinque Terre is always on my list for a return visit. This is a magical place in Italy and is worth the time to slow down and stay for a few days. But remember that this is a destination that requires planning to ensure that your time doesn’t get absorbed by the crowds of tourists.
Solo travel tips for Cinque Terre:
- Bring good shoes for hiking, the trails are not easy and the ones closest to the coastline are full of stairs up and down and if it’s wet then the trail is slippery, it’s important to be extra careful with your step.
- Remember to buy a park pass before heading out on the trails, wear sunscreen, bring water and a snack.
- If you are at the bakery/deli put your groceries in a basket and up on the counter otherwise you will never be served.
- Plan ahead to avoid the crowds. Off season. Get up early to get on the trails before the tour groups arrive or to get on the train if you are exploring the other towns of Cinque Terre.
- Book your accommodation ahead of time to ensure that you are staying where you prefer. Confirm how payment is to be made for your room, in my case I needed to pay in cash.
- In Vernazza, plan for an early night because everything closes at 10pm.
- The best way to travel to and within Cinque Terre is by train.