Adventure International

Walking Italy’s Cinque Terre Trail in Vernazza

Walking Italy’s Cinque Terre Trail in Vernazza is indelibly written on my mind. Vernazza is one of five saltwater pearls linked together in the necklace known as Cinque de Terre (Five Lands) in northwestern Italy.

Vernazza is 1,100 years old; the hilltop town boasts vineyards, olive groves, and lemon trees.

Lonely Planet rhapsodizes about this beguiling mountainside community in the Italian Rivera: “. . . the five fishing communities of the Cinque Terre are its most iconic highlight.”

Idyllic Harbor

After 18 months of pandemic lockdown, people are ready to travel. The Wall Street Journal reports Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast are filling up with walkers.

“The village of Vernazza, part of Cinque Terre, has surged in popularity with travelers.”

Eric Sylvers, WSJ

A dazzling sapphire cove stretches out to sea. The mouth of the village is the harbor, which is dotted with sailboats and ships. Once upon a time, Vernazza was a maritime base used to fight pirates that prowled the rugged coastline. It is Cinque Terre’s only natural port.

Instead of a flat retreat back from the harbor, the village tilts upward. The rugged mountain is the face of Vernazza when arriving by sea. Pale lemon, melon, seafoam, and pastel-colored homes totter at the top. There are no cars allowed. Access is two-way: ferry or train. Walking Italy’s Cinque Terre Trail is always on foot.

The little villages remind me of ancient towns in Southern Italy, such as Ostuni and Locorotondo.

I saw a sign on the hiking path that included this description of the landscape: “This hike leads to the perception that of the landscape, this is characterized from the juxtaposition, often without transition, of cultivated lands (sunny slopes cultivated in terraces of vines and olives) and maquis. The planted vines testify that man has lived a hard life with persistence and has created an admirable landscape.”

“The path from Vernazza to Monteroso is wild and most rewarding.”

UNESCO World Heritage Site

Since Italy’s Cinque Terre Trail became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999, tourists have flocked to hike the trails that link the five villages. Walks can be leisurely or rugged depending on the terrain. If there are heavy rains, trails may be closed. My knees get a significant workout from climbing the steep stone steps. But I am also able to pull green grapes off vines from the vineyards that lined the paths.

Glorious scents waft in the air as the sun climbs hiking Italy’s Cinque Terre Trail in Vernazza. Rosemary, lemon, and thyme grow wild. Their fragrant oil releases in the air when I brush a tree or bush. I close my eyes so the olfactory sensation deepens.

When I visit Cinque Terre in July 2016, I chose to devote whole days to each of the villages. My mornings start with an espresso grabbed at the local coffee shop followed by a hastily purchased ferry ticket in Portovenere.

Portovenere Ferry

The ferry is the fastest way to travel to the five different villages—Monterosdo al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore—but I can also connect by train. During the summer the crowds are enormous. I met so many Australians escaping their Aussie winter by hiking in Europe.

Picture if you will the seaport town of Vernazza. It is that glorious breed of Italian town—part beach town, part mountain village. And oh the views perched at the top will give you such delight (and vertigo). I promise that you will never forget the experience of walking Italy’s Cinque Terre Trail in Vernazza.

Cinque Terre Wineries

Vernazza gave its name to Vernaccia (the grape) which is lovingly grown in Cinque Terre by the wine-growing cooperative. It also found its way to be transplanted in Tuscany in San Gimignano by the 1300s. White wine is the region’s mainstay. Many families bottle their own wine.

Vernazza Wine Tasting

I spend a lovely morning dawdling at a local wine shop in Vernazza. I can choose between multiple menus for a wine tasting. The owner checks on me frequently as I sip his recommended local wines and nibble on crusty homemade bread.

But it is no surprise that my favorite wine was bottled by a female winemaker (a Scia). I buy 12 bottles including a mix of red and white wines as well as one bottle of Sciacchetrà, a golden honey dessert wine. Like Portugal’s port wine, this is a costly dessert wine. The price ratchets up based on the vintage (10, 20 or 30 years). My investment costs me USD $400 (including shipping) but my Christmas shopping for my wine-loving family is now complete.

Family-Run Shops

Leaving the wine shop feeling slightly tipsy, I meander down the main thoroughfare lined with family-run shops. Every Italian village in Cinque Terre seems to boast a florist, perfumery, bakery, salummerie,  and specialty grocery. Eating and drinking well is an Italian birthright.

There are skinny arteries bisecting the heart of Vernazza where you will peek underwear and shirts flung out to air dry on homes’ balconies. I also spy village dogs that are sprawled on the sidewalk napping before noon.

The scent of margarita pizza baking in a wood-fired oven reminds me it is lunch hour. And of yes there must be dessert too. Children clutch cups of melting gelato. Will it be dark chocolate and hazelnut gelato today?

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  • B
    August 17, 2019 at 10:32 am

    Very beautiful. I always wondered why it was called Cinque Terri. I thought they named it after you