A camera and a sturdy pair of shoes are all you really need to keep you busy in Vernazza. There are a few small shops to browse and ristorantes for kicking back with a glass of wine but pottering up and down the hills and steep, narrow little streets is what it’s really all about.
Here and there you’ll find remnants of medieval structures that once defended this pirate-plagued village: the “castle” with the tower on the promontory high above the harbor dates to the 11th century. That tower that was restored after the original was bombed during the German occupation in WWII and provides an excellent vantage point for shutterbugs.
The square-ish fortress just below it (now Ristorante Belforte) provided additional protection from its crenellated parapets, and yet another ancient watchtower (and snap-happy spot) perches on the #2 trail that leads to Corniglia. Even if the trail is temporarily closed to hikers (as it is as at the time of this writing), there is a restaurant and some guesthouses along this section so it should always be open.
Disclaimer: a vivid setting was used for many of my shots: colors of the structures are not as bright/intense in reality as they may appear here.
If your first look at Vernazza isn’t from the #2 trail to/from Monterosso, one of the prettiest views is from the cemetery perched waaaaay up above the village. Getting there can be accomplished from the road that snakes up the hill from just north of the train station (Via Brigate Partigiane) or hiking trail #8. It’s an interesting combination of old tombstones and newer wall-type mausoleums; a space-saving necessity in this rocky, coastal region where level ground is difficult to find.
Visiting one’s Dearly Departed is an effort here but the reward is a magnificent panorama over which to catch your breath!
A report on a Vernazza visit would be incomplete if it did not include some views of the its setting - i.e. the mountainsides surrounding the village. Many of the terraced slopes have long been terraced and planted in the vineyards which make Liguria's signature wines possible. The famous hiking part linking the five villages of La Cinque Terre winds through these fields.
These hillsides are responsible for the disastrous mud slide of 2011. Torrential rains brought a deluge of water and mud down these slopes and into the village of Vernazza.
"Sentiero Azzurro" The trails between towns offers you a great way to work out the kinks and get some great vista in the bargain.
The trails run from challenging to dead easy. They seem to get more challenging as you go north. So if you are not sure of how much you want to take on start At Riomaggiore and go as far as you wish. You can then hop on the train and take it home.
These trails are well designed, marked and maintained so they are straight forward. You will need to get a pass as this is a national park. It was just a few euros. We paid for ours at the train station.
While here at least do one section of this trail system. It will offer some breathtaking views of the Ligurian Sea and will be a highlight of any trip to Italy.
I did the trail between Corniglia and Manarola trought the vyniards...gorgeous, although it tooks us 4 hours and tiring, but worth it, because there is less tourists, the scenery is beautiful and if you are lucky can eat some grapes on the way.
This is the longest of the four trails, its also the most difficult and strenuous as well. The hike takes about two hours and has the steepest inclines of all the trails. However the reward is that this is the most beautiful of all the trails as well. With stunning views of Vernazza and Monterosso combined with the backdrop of the deep blue ocean this is the one trail that sums up what Cinque Terre is all about. The trail will take you through the woods and past the terrace farming that makes the region famous. The essence of the Meditrannean resides along this path with the scents of oranges and olives lingering in the air. The path is rocky and up and down, not 15 minutes into the hike you will encounter the steepest ascent of the entire trail, stone stairs that rise up into the mountain. For the avid hiker this is a tough trail but for a novice plan on more than two hours and bring lots of water and don't be ashamed to take a lot of breaks. I actually stopped quite a bit, partly to rest, but mostly to take in the amazing views. If you only had time to do one trail, this would be the one to take!
From Vernazza you can walk to either Monterosso al Mare (that is the longest trail, but as I heard the most beautiful one as well) or to Corniglia. Since these trails are part of the National Park, you will have to pay an entrance fee of € 3 (for the whole day and any of the trails). We did not do either one of these two trails, but those who did them were really overwhelmed!
If you like "wild" Italian roads - this is the place to start. Narrow, twisting and steep - but beautiful countryside! You can hike the footpath to Corniglia through terraced vineyards and steep drops to the sea.
The hikes don't really require any special gear. You can go out with just a comfortable pair of shoes and some H2O. Be sure not to forget the latter, because some trips will take approximately 3 hours and there isn't a QuikTrip up there.
The hike from RioMaggiore(1st town) to Manarola(2nd) is the easiest, a plain walk in relativel flat and wide path. Kind of like a bicycle path inthe States. But it drastically changes when you ty to go to the next town, Corniglia(3rd). The views will be great, but do to the rock structure, you should check to see that it is open before heading down it. Making it to Vernazza(4th) from there is one of the tougher hikes, but when you arrive into Vernazza you are rewarded with one of the best views of your life. Here you will have a toll booth that is sually manned, but the fareis a paltry 2 or 3 Euro. The last hike to Monterosso(5th) is spectacular with changing elevations and winding trails.
On this last hike there is an old man that sells fruit out of his garden and it is amazing to think of how many years he has lived up in thosse hills, doing his daily life.
Also, there is a village of sorts for cats on the top of one of the ridges. There is a donation box so the sponsor can provide food for them. They have quite an interesting life up there.
The views you get from up on the hill are fantastic. Breathe the fresh sea air and absorb the view. Even though I'm from sunny SoCal with tons of beaches, I was still awed by the ocean views from here.
The highlight of a trip to the Cinque Terre is a hike between the 5 villages. The distance from Riomaggiore to Monterosso al Mare is 12kms, and a lot of the trail is steep and rocky.
The walk from Riomaggiore to Manarola is the easiest. It is paved all the way, and the hardest part is probably the flight of stairs from the station at Riomaggiore up to the start of the path. Other than that the path is fairly flat and suitable for prams and high heels. This section of the trail is called the Lovers Lane. The walk from Riomaggiore to Manarola is 1km long and takes about 15-20 minutes, depending on how long you stop to gaze at the view!
The next section of the walk is from Manarola to Corniglia. This section is 3km long and takes about 1 hour. Parts of this trail are again pretty easy, but it is steeper and at times the ground is uneven under foot. The most exhausting part of this section is at the end, once you arrive at Corniglia train station. The station is located at the bottom of the hill, by the ocean, but the town of Corniglia is located on top of the hill....and there are approx 365 stairs to climb up to get up to the village!!
My favourite part of the hike is the section between Corniglia and Vernazza. This is the most scenic part, through varied landscapes - you walk through olive groves and forest, and then along the cliff edge, with spectacular views coming into Vernazza. This section is 4km long and takes about 1.5 hours to complete, though we found ourselves stopping quite a bit to admire the views - not because we were tired or anything ; )
The section between Vernazza and Monterosso is the most difficult. It is 4kms long and has lots of ups and downs and steep stairs. It is little less scenic than the others, but you do get a good view of some of the local vineyards. The beauty of Monterosso makes up for it all, plus the availability of a gelato or refreshing vino bianco at one of the many bars helps to ease those weary legs!!
From Vernazza you can walk still another part of the Sentiero Azurro, to Monterosso al Mare. The hike starts in the centre of town. It's the most difficult and also the most spectacular hike of the Sentiero Azzuro hikes. A good physical condition is essential as there's a lot of climbing and descending involved. Total hiking time: about 2 hours.
The Italian Riviera provides exceptional hikes with stunning sea views. If your time is limited in the Cinque Terre, at least take the 1 1/2 hour walk from Vernazza to Corniglia. The trail begins with a steep climb up carved rock stairs, ending with a sweeping view of the Ligurian Sea and a picture-perfect glimpse of Vernazza. The trail winds through the terraced hills, passing through quiet olive groves. Notice the nets spread on the ground to catch the olives. Along the path, stop to absorb brilliant views of the Italian coast and search for grapes and basil growing nearby. The final stretch of trail to Corniglia snakes up and down over small bridges and along small vineyards before ending in a parking lot at the top of town.
The only true way to enjoy the Cinque Terre at its best is by foot. The Cinque Terre is criss-crossed by a mesh of footpaths. The routes are numerous. We chose the coastal route that links all five villages and takes about 5 hours. You don't have to walk the entire route. The train stops at each village allowing you to hop on and continue to the next town or go back to where you started.
There is a small fee of about $3 (in 2001) to go on the coastal trail known as "Villa dell'Amore"
And then plan to "escape" for as much time as you can spare.... This is the R&R part of your vacation!