Thursday, August 09, 2007

July 2007 - Vernazza, Italy - The Pearl of the Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre, part of the Italian Riviera, is made up of 5 fishing villages (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Conrniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso) perched on cliffs and/or the shoreline of the Ligurian coast between Portofino (to the west) and La Spezia (to the east). The characterisitic colorful buildings and small fishing boats have been pristinely preserved despite hords of tourists trampling through here every summer. The towns have resisted the urge to develop resorts, hotels and condos so that from any angle these towns look as they did a century or more ago. Vernazza is considered the jewel of the Cinque Terre. It is quaint, colorful and right up against the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean.The best views of Vernazza are from the hiking trail connecting Vernazza to Monterosso, the next and last of the five villages.We hiked this trail with Casandra's childhood friend Alex and his friend Dimmie. The trail is only a bit treacherous, the main difficulties come from the heat and the lack of shade. The trail also has steep points but overall can be hiked by just about anyone in about an hour. Our first evening in Vernazza, we had dinner on the main street and then strolled down to the small port which is covered in colorful fishing boats. They are so perfectly kept that we assume they must be just for decoration and most of them are no longer in use.Apparently, the cats have learned to make good use of the boats so that cute kitties can often be seen curled up together sleeping in these boats.

Casandra managed to lure a fat black cat out of one of the boats and over for a pat on the head. How did the Cat Whisperer do it? With some leftover sardines she took from her dinnerplate. Fried sardines are the local specialty and they are caught just offshore. Sardines are one of the few fresh fish dishes available here since fishing is no longer very profitable (or at least not as profitable as catering to tourists).
After our stroll on main street, we headed to the breakwater which is the most romantic spot in Vernazza. The waves crash violently on this dimly lit wall of rocks and concrete. Couples sit around sharing a bottle of wine and whispering quietly while kids run up to the edge and then back again in an attempt to avoid being splashed squealing the whole time. We really enjoyed the atmosphere out on wall and in the small port area behind it.During the day, we spent some time walking around Vernazza's colorful main street (this is really the only street in town leading from the train station down to the port and breakwater) looking for a gelato shop and an internet point. When not in use, small fishing and row boats of the town's residents line the main street, including this one where this kitty settled for its afternoon nap.

We stopped at an internet point, in order to update the blog, and we discovered some more fat cats (apparently they are famous here in Vernazza - fed by the locals and the tourists). There favorite place to sleep is in these Prada shoe boxes (so000 Italian!) inside the internet shop.

Here we are in the main square in front of the church's bell tower and some of Vernazza's colorful waterfront buildings.

We also stopped to relax at Vernazza's tiny little beach. Honestly, after all the beautiful beaches we experienced in Sardinia, we could not bring ourselves to get in the murky water. It is turquoise naturally, but made murky by all the tourism boats that manage to wedge themselves into this little port several times per day. So we hung out and enjoyed the pretty architecture and the sound of the waves crashing on the breakwater, but we did not even dip a toe in the water.
At the top of Vernazza is a picturesque, small cemetery containing former residents of this small town which have been buried over the last 3 centuries. From the cemetery there are incredible views of the town and the sea around it.

Italians continue to express an old world respect for the dead so cemeteries, which enjoy some of the best real estate in town, are usually covered in flowers changed on a weekly basis.

From the hilltop cemetery we enjoyed the sunset's amazing glow against the bright colored buildings.
As you can see the pastel colors are magnified by the pink and gold tones of the sun. Also, at this time the sea breeze blowing over Vernazza is marvelous and a much-needed break from the heat of the daytime.

On our last night in Vernazza we had dinner at the Ristorante Castello located at the top of Vernazza in the ruins of the city's medieval fortifications.This restaurant offers tasty homemade food and spectacular sunset views of the town.

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