Late October of last year, floods swept through this little village and landslides buried its once charming winding routes in 14 feet of mud. I was devastated. It was, after all, my favorite destination in Europe.
Today, I came by a recent CBS report on the small town and how it’s picking up the pieces, recovering after a year. I became nostalgic and found myself spending hours, digging through the memoires of my trip there in 2008.
On the Road this week is dedicated to the village of Vernazza.
A tucked-away gem
It is one of those places where sun streaks fill your room with warmth, waking you up each morning. You would head for your window to take in the ocean breeze, and as you rub your sleepy eyes away, blurs of colors would pop into vision, before dispelling into a clear, panoramic view of a perfect seaside village, painted picturesquely across the horizon.
This is Vernazza, the 4th of 5 Riviera villages perching on coast-side cliffs in Italy’s northwestern region of Liguria- facing the Tyrrhenia Sea.The village collective is known as Cinque Terre (Italian for Five Lands) and while I believe it’s a popular summer getaway for Italians, it still remains quite off the beaten track for tourists.
A journey well worth it
After experiencing France’s smooth TGV trains, the bumpy journey on Italy’s crowded local train, where the farthest thing you could see was a co-passenger’s nose hair, was in short, memorable.
To get to Cinque Terre, my study abroad friend, Amy and I, took a 2.5 hour train ride from Nice to Genoa – the capital of Liguria. Another hour landed us in La Spezia, from where it would be possible to take another more local train to any one of 5 villages. We chose Vernazza to be our base, not because it was recommended, but more so for the fact that it was reviewed as being one of the quieter and more isolated of the 5.
All I can remember is the expression of disbelief on Amy’s face, standing there with her huge, 3-week-packed, 4-wheel suitcase, as a local man pointed up an endless flight of stone steps and said: “Only 400 steps!“.
It took 30 minutes, but we heaved our way through the maze of stairs, barely squeezed our luggage through a tiny red door into our rented room, before standing mouth-opened upon looking out the window. A mosaic of colorful houses tucked between the ocean on one side and slopes of cascading vineyards, akin to Asia’s stairs of paddies on the other, the village clings onto seemingly impossible cliffs.
A village of warmth
It is one of those places where every neighbor knows the next, people pat your shoulders as you take a stroll down its steep alleys, and at times, creepy old Italian men approach you, in open-arm- I-haven’t-seen-you-in-years gesture: “Ahhhh Bellissima“. Not many people spoke English, but the smiles were almost contagious.
Down at the beach tucked neatly in the moon arc that is Vernazza, dozens of cats lay lazily, sunbathing while nearby, groups of fishermen peer out to the waves, anticipating their next trip.
It was April, the perfect time to be in Vernazza, perhaps not for a swim yet, but definitely to avoid the crowds of sunburnt Italian tourists, and take in the simple charm and warmth that so characterize this place.
Picking up the pieces
It was heartbreaking to watch how the flood had ravaged Cinque Terre and Vernazza in particular, but today, also very heartwarming to know that the village is slowly shaking itself out of the rubbles.
Do find out more about the ongoing recovery efforts of Vernazza and the Cinque Terre villages at:
- Save Vernazza Campaign
- One year of the flood – Italy’s Cinque Terre Revisited
- Once in a Lifetime Travel
My memories attach me most to Vernazza, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t discover the rest of the villages: Monterosso, Corniglia, Riomaggiore and Maranola, as well as the beautiful region around La Spezia. The hikes between the villages are intense but your destinations reward you with beyond anything you could imagine.
Enjoy some more photos of Vernazza!