Before writing anything else: I know, I’m lucky. I grew up in Vernazza, the gem of Cinque Terre. A charming tiny village that got world-famous for its being so special.
But well, lately living in Vernazza and enjoying its uniqueness is getting really difficult.
Thanks to Rick Steves first and Lonely Planet and other travel guides later, Cinque Terre got very popular, and everybody wants to visit them and take pictures and tick the correspondent box on their bucket list. It’s cool, and we are all very proud of it, actually. It’s just that these five villages are very peculiar and tiny and get quickly overcrowded.
Their history and their being so unique is due to our ancestors’ hard work and strength, and one should be aware of these details when stepping on these amazing waterfront hiking trails once built to reach olive trees and vineyards or when taking pictures of our charming elderly ladies trying to sit on the village’s benches…
You might have found this introduction long and boring enough, so let’s start visiting 😉
Long cut off from the modern world, and it only became easily accessible with the train’s coming. No cars enter my village of more or less 500 people, except on Tuesday morning for our weekly tailgate-party street market.
Vernazza has the only natural harbor in the Cinque Terre, and till the Republic of Genoa domain, it had no beach or square. The water went right up to the buildings in the actual via Roma, where boats would tie-up. Kind of a little Venice… and actually, the Latin name of Vernazza is Vulnetia!
You can find detailed infos about the history of Vernazza on this Wikipedia page.
A different and very personal itinerary through Vernazza
Being my “home sweet home” and nothing like aromas having the power to project people in places and situations, to me, Vernazza is mapped based on scents and smells…
Brackish always brings me back to Ventegà, no matter where I am when I sniff it. Ventegà is the small square below the ancient Belforte bastion. During summertime, touristic ferries dock and where local children learn to dive from one of the village’s most important rocks Gaggiaèlla… yeah, in Vernazza even rocks have a name!
Out of season, this corner is just magic and silence and if you come across someone is a lonely fisherman or a cat in search of pampering. A perfect place to let thoughts wandering and muse lulled by the sea and the salty scent, which is more concentrated here than anywhere else.
Then there is another kind of brackish smell, the one given by the colorful wooden boats, gozzi, when they are up-side-down in the village.
They normally remain on buoys, except in winter for the yearly maintenance or when the red storm flag indicates bad seas – especially with south-west wind and the salty swallow the entire village. When this happens, the main square, normally occupied by restaurants’ beautiful parasols, is filled with boats going up until Roma’s right-hand side. The shady side is known as Lùvegu halves (from Vernazzan dialect “dank”), opposing the flowery sunny side of Sciuiu.
Lùvegu it is not properly a perfume, but there is one particular variant emanating from old thick walls that you can smell visiting both our amazing harbor-front church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia with its unusual entryway on the altar side and an incredible view on the sea and the Doria Castle, know as Castê.
It was built around the XI century to defend the village, and its perimeter is completely irregular. If you stop to look at it from above the watchtower at the beginning of the path that leads to Corniglia, you’ll note how the stone walls follow the cliff. In fact, I recommend that you walk from Corniglia to Vernazza to enjoy the breathtaking view getting here.
On both sides of the village houses were connected by an interior arcade — ideal for fleeing attacks.
In these narrow streets, the so-called caruggi, scents mix and mingle. Here you can smell washed clothes hanging to dry from a house to the other, creating a rainbow of laundry flaps; private wineries; fresh seafood during the preparation of salted anchovy’s arbanelle (glass jars covered with flat round stones to press the anchovies during the salting period); oregano spread out of kitchens’ windows to dry… a Babel of odors, but what a charm!
Then there is an odor of the alleys that even I have never smelt, but have often imagined Today’s Via del Santo, on the right walking down the stairs of the train station, was formerly called ‘Caruggiu dell’axéu‘ (i.e., vinegar alley) because not having running water in the cellars people used to take advantage of rainy days to wash carboys and other vessels containing wine that poured out of the various doors soaking both the air and the stony street.
Vernazza’s countryside face
Vernazza, like the rest of the region, is not the only sea! Here you can feel and smell the rich and ancient countryside tradition which I love, and that makes me travel like on a cloud among beautiful moments of my childhood…
I accompanied my grandfather every morning, and I was very proud of it. I would spend hours watching him work in the fields, digging furrows, planting, watering, and when he was assigned a task, any real joy. His allotments were scattered in various parts of the village, but here are the ones I prefer:
- the one along with the remains of the ancient city wall, above the deconsecrated church of Fratti, the Reformed Friars Minor of St. Francis, the current seat of the municipality. I really liked this garden. After all, from there, I could see our home, in the upper neighborhood of Fontanavecchia (i.e., old fountain), and then because I could eat peaches, apricots, pears, and kumquats directly from plants. In midsummer then I would feast with blackberries 🙂 If you pass by, stop to admire the view from the church first and then on an upper level from the cemetery!
- the one below the beautiful Shrine of Reggio. To reach it, you cross vineyards, olive groves, and lots of ciàn (i.e., private gardens). The origins of this Sanctuary are ancient, but beyond its history, the beauty of the landscape, and its peace, this is a place dear to everyone in Vernazza. The first Sunday of August, we celebrate Our Lady of Reggio: the day before there is a procession to the Sanctuary and children are dressed as pilgrims (my own persona tragedy and a delight to my grandmother…), and on Sunday, we meet in the yard to eat all together ending the meal with a glass of Sciachetrà, the renowned local dessert wine. If you ever come to Vernazza, you can’t set out along the path that leads to Reggio! You could actually get there by bike! I did it a few months ago and loved the experience. For more info about it, you can read my post “e-bike, eastern Liguria and satisfactions.”
- the one along the path that leads to Monterosso, which actually is the olive grove from which everybody is now taking the classic photo of Vernazza …
- another garden that I loved very much was unfortunately taken away by the flood in 2011. In a few hours, massive flooding and mudslides devastated Vernazza, burying the town under 4m/13ft on that awful day. Of mud and debris. Floodwaters reached second-story windows, wiped out road and rail connections, and left residents without water, gas, or electricity. Three people tragically drowned. Homes, businesses, and territory were destroyed. If you wish, you can read the post I wrote last year, collecting my thoughts and emotions about the flood that devastated my Vernazza on October 25th.
Not that common nowadays, but another very local smell is that of the cellar: a mix of wood, must, wine … everything that revolves around the vintage was for me a celebration! It gathered all family and friends for many days and we had so much fun despite the fatigue. Beautiful and precious days.
There are very few vineries left in Vernazza though, but I suggest you visit Bartalo Lercari’s one. Bartalo is a vernazzese who – with his wife Lise and the trusty dog Diva – deserves a monument and I wrote this post “Between vineyard and sea, Cheo’s paradise in Vernazza” to explain you why.
This is my Vernazza, and I always carry it with me because the beauty of a fragrance is that you can take it off without taking anything away from the plant, place, or person from which it emanates.
P.S. For further information regarding 2011 flood you can visit Save Vernazza official web site.