Vernazza is the next to northernmost town and perhaps most picturesque of the five towns of Cinque Terre in Italy. Colorful, antique homes cling to impossible cliffs. A lovely small harbor nestles under the shadows of an ancient castle and a dramatic seaside church.
On October 25, 2011, Vernazza was struck by torrential rains, massive flooding and mudslides that left the town buried in over 4 meters (over 13 feet) of mud and debris, causing over 100 million euro worth of damage. The town was evacuated and in a state of emergency for many months. Vernazza has returned and with hard work and help from people around the world it is open to travelers again. Most of the shops and restaurants are back in business and as lovely as ever.
Vernazza has the only proper harbor in the Cinque Terre and is a charming, small fishing village. Vernazza was founded about 1000 A.D. and was ruled by the Republic of Genoa starting in 1276. Vernazza's medieval castle, Belforte, towers above the harbor and was built in the mid-1500's, primarily to protect the village from pirates.
Vernazza's historic wealth is evidenced by the elegant style of its houses and streets, which are decorated with tower forms, open galleries, refined arcades and elaborate doorways. The Village is surrounded by very steeply-terraced Olive groves which are said to produce among the finest Olive oil in the country.
Since the train and Rick Steves have brought droves of tourists to the Cinque Terre, most business owners speak enough English to satisfy the typical visitor. A woman may come out of her house in the evening to ask if you need a room for the night. Be cautious as the only English word she may know is "room." She may also ask if you need a "zimmer" (room in German)" The language barrier is not a problem for Vernazzans even if they don't speak English. Play along and it won't be a problem for you either.
Taking the local commuter/milk trains (they used to deliver milk and mail to the cities) to Vernazza from Genova or La Spezia is a magnificent experience. You will ride along the cliffs, overlooking turquoise waters and olive trees. Tunnel after tunnel, the air cools and heats in the sun. There is no car traffic in Vernazza, which definitely adds to the village's charms. There is a small parking lot about a quarter mile north of the village.
Pisa International Airport is 80km away.
The milk train provides easy access to each of the five towns. Trains run very frequently. The station in Vernazza is about a 10 minute walk above the harbor. The cobble stone main street from the station to the Harbor is classically beautiful, lined with colorful buildings that house small shops, cafes, and resdiences.
The town itself is very small and only accessible on foot.
There is a small rustic church worth a look near the waterfront. For a great view, walk up to the top of the castle. Walk takes no more than a minute or two and is well worth it.
Do[add listing]The hike northwest from Vernazza to Monterosso (or vice versa) creates indelible memories of incredibly beautiful cliffs and seascapes. The hike takes about 90 minutes each way, but you can hike one way and return on the train. The trail begins on the north side of the main street between the train station and the harbor (it is not well marked, you may need to ask). The Vernazza-Monterosso hike involves some climbing, about 250 meters total.
Not to be missed is the first part of the hike southeast from Vernazza to Corniglia. This hike literally offers postcard views (like the photo above) of the town, the castle, and more. The trail starts just above the train station (it is well marked). The most amazing views are within the first 10 minutes of walking from the station as the trail wraps around the watchtower of Vernazza's castle. You will definitely want your camera. The full hike to Corniglia, which is the greenest hike in the Cinque Terre as it meanders through Olive groves, takes about 90 minutes. In half way on the path Corniglia-Vernazza you meet Prevo, a tiny hamlet of Vernazza: it is the most high and most impressive spot of Sentiero Azzurro at 208 meters above sea level, that overlooking on the famous Guvano Beach. For info on hiking to all five villages see the Cinque Terre page.
Most stores accept major credit cards, but there is an ATM in town if needed. Some basic amenities include an internet cafe, a laundromat and countless vendors selling postcards. There is a good wine shop a little ways from the beach. Besides various miscellaneous stores, one can't pass by the gelato shop without trying a new flavor of ice cream. Wine can be purchased in the Oenoteca shops but it is more expensive there. Try buying it in the Mercato (market) where you can get local vino tavola (table wine) from €3 for a bottle, red or white.
Trattoria da Sandro serves excellent cuisine and offers creative specials. A short walk from the train station, on Via Roma 62 (across from the Blue Marlin Bar), this place can be a nice change from the busy harborside restaurants.
Hike up to Franco’s Ristorante “La Torre”, which sits atop the castle on the trail to Corniglia (Wed-Mon 12:00-21:30, kitchen closes from 15:00-19:30)tel. 0187-821-082. (Closed out of season)
Trattoria Gianni is moderately priced, well decorated, and convenient-- nestled on the left side of the Harbor square.
Pesto "sauce" was invented in the Cinque Terre. Any visit without a slice of pesto pizza is an unfulfilled visit! You can get it throughout the Cinque Terre.
Travel uphill from the train station to Pirates of 5-terre (cinque terre as they write it locally) for a fine breakfast, pastry, lunch or dinner. The twin Sicilian brothers who run the place are English bilingual,and say they are on a "Mission to teach good food in Italy" are quite fun and friendly. They say they do not have a harbor view so must concentrate on quality food instead.
The Vino de la Cinque Terre is a surprisingly bold-tasting white wine that gets its characteristics from the high mineral content of the soil and the fresh, salty sea air. It can be found in any pub throughout the Cinque Terre. Combine it with some pesto for a truly amazing taste experience. If you feel like something stronger, try the Ananasso Bar down at the harbour, with his bright yellow umbrellas and chairs. Taste the Kaypiroska, a cool mix of vodka, fresh fruit (raspberry, strawberry, plums...) and cane sugar. Sciacchetrà is a local dessert wine made from dried out grapes (rasins). It can be found throughout the 5 Terre. There is also a very tasty grappa made from pomace left over from making the sciacchetrà.
For the most inexpensive way to taste some of the local wines is at the bar Gianni Franzi at the corner of Harbor Square. They also have reasonably priced coffee and liquor.
There aren't any traditional full service hotels in Vernazza, but a wonderful assortment of guest houses, vacation rentals, and boutique hotels. Staying in one of these smaller establishments is the way to soak up the real Vernazza-- don't be put off by the lack of larger hotel properties.
Vernazza is all about relaxation and enjoying a slower pace to life. There is no need to "get out" in Vernazza. Enjoy a stroll on the main street or let the sound of the waves on the breakwater lull you into an Italian euphoria. Become a Vernazzan and embrace the bliss of life on the Italian Riviera. It is a nice place to stay and spend time with the family. The beaches are the best.