What begins as a mundane hilltop parking lot soon transforms into a magical portal, ushering unsuspecting travelers down into the candy-coated pastel and turquoise reflections of utterly enchanting Vernazza. The second town in the legendary Cinque Terre circuit, Vernazza is by far the most idyllic of the five, with its narrow archways and tiny, shaded pathways cutting through town like the river that once split Vernazza in two. A jewel carefully clasped between olive laden cliffside terraces and the endless blue of the Mediterranean, Vernazza is a quaint corner of Cinque Terre that is as much a treat for the eyes as the rest of the senses.
Historically known as a wealthy fishing enclave, Vernazza was first founded around 1000 A.D. and was eventually absorbed under the Republic of Genoa in late the 1270’s. The medieval Castello Belforte dominates Vernazza’s skyline, once a formidable protector against impending pirate attacks, it now houses a beautifully elegant restaurant. The only town in the Cinque Terre to have a natural harbor, Vernazza’s placid, glass-like waters remain partially shaded by the watchful presence of Belforte high above. Piazza Marconi, the town’s main piazza, is inhabited by colorful, barnacled fishing boats and locals alike. Nets lay out to dry in the golden sunshine, while fisherman share an afternoon drink and ladies shuffle along the cobblestone visiting friends at every storefront. Adjacent to the piazza and situated as if cut right from the rocky cliffs above, lies the serene Santa Margherita di Antiochia. Built in 1318, the church has stood for centuries as a beautiful beacon of welcome to weary sailors returning home from months at sea. A refuge from storms and a place of tranquility for its parishioners, the church’s small medieval windows look out to an endless horizon of sky meeting sea.
Where the once thriving fishing villages of Cinque Terre have given way to becoming tourist hubs for day-trippers, Vernazza is perhaps one of the last vestiges of a true Ligurian seaside community. The Vernazzese are intensely proud of where they come from and make it a priority to preserve the integrity of what it means to be local, as demonstrated by the fact that cars are prohibited from entering into town and large scale hotels are simply non-existent. Where in other parts of Cinque Terre one might hear English and German echoing from corridor to portico, Italian or perhaps even the sing-song local dialect, inhabit the soundscape of Vernazza. It is the quintessential Cinque Terre, a place that encompasses the very best of what one perhaps imagines when dreaming about this fabled stretch of land, and although Vernazza is by no means a secret, it remains a gentle ripple amidst the thunderous swells of its nearby cousins.
About the author
Dejou Marano is Co-Founder of CountryBred and Founding Editor of The Bred Blog. Splitting her time between Los Angeles and Europe, Dejou seeks to bring the imagination and wonder of Europe to all travelers through her never-ending pursuit of undiscovered cultural gems and experiences, which she shares through her travel writing.
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