Charming Cinque Terre 2012: Part 1—Monterosso al Mare and Vernazza

Sunset on the Cinque Terra

In late October 2011, devastating floods ripped through two of the five Cinque Terra villages, sweeping through the bottom level of homes and shops and leaving tons of debris behind. People had little time to scramble to higher ground, and today survivors continue to feel horror and terror when rain begins to fall. Torrential rains caused the flooding, which began in the hills above Monterosso and Vernazza, the two northernmost villages. Although the photos and videos are chilling, the citizens of Monterosso al Mare and Vernazza don’t know the words “quit” or “give up.” Today the villages sparkle with new paint, and most of the rubbish has been removed from the streets and shops. Restoring property has taken a heavy toll, and many proprietors who had a little extra cash in 2011 are now deep in debt.

View from Il Parco B&B dining terrace

We spent four nights in Monterosso and visited all of the Cinque Terre—Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore—colorful, lovely villages that spill down the steep hills into the Ligurian Sea. Our spotless bed and breakfast, Il Parco B&B, located in the “new” town, proved to be the perfect spot for relaxing. The owners—Marta, her husband, and her mom—and their charming staff were friendly and efficient, and the mom made heavenly breakfast cakes each morning. All of us looked forward to breakfast on the terrace, where the selection was good, including apricots right off a tree in the garden and delicious and unusually large cappuccinos. The great food, the view of the sea, and the lovely breeze made it tough to leave the terrace in the morning, but every room had its own small terrace with a sea view, and sprawling there for a quick game of Scrabble made leaving the dining terrace a little more bearable. Each room also had air-conditioning, which was SUCH a welcome relief after our accommodations in Tuscany, and Cade was thrilled to find a swimming pool on the property. We all loved this place, except for the walk down to the new town and back (a half mile or so PLUS 160-some stairs). And cabs weren’t easy to catch back up the hill.

Main square in Vernazza

The Cinque Terre lie just south of Genoa (Genova). Monterosso, the largest of the Cinque Terre, was my favorite, although I enjoyed all five villages. While all of the villages were quite hilly, Monterosso and Vernazza offered more gentle climbs than did their neighbors to the south. The villagers in the Cinque Terre grow grapes (harvesting grapes on those hilly slopes must be such a challenge!) and catch fish, and the area is remarkably laid back and restful (except when you have to climb the hills!). To travel through the Cinque Terra, many people hike the Cinque Terre National Park trail that links the five villages, but we took the local train for one euro each way.

Steve, Jenny, and Cade climbed to the top of the hill above Vernazza and have gorgeous photos from there. I don’t have Steve’s photos, unfortunately, but Wiki has a nice photo, so you can see what a stunning place Vernazza is.

Rocky shore of the Cinque Terre

In Vernazza we stopped at Gocce di Byron, which was one of my favorite things we did. Gocce di Byron makes scents—perfumes, lotions, and bath gel—that smell divine. Julie, Jenny, and I all bought something, and we each chose a different one of the five scents. Julie bought No. 4 (which was inspired by figs), and I bought No. 2 (which was described as citrusy) body wash and bath gel that smell like sunshine (if that’s possible). Every time I use them, I’m sure that I smell divine! The salesman at Gocce di Byron became very emotional speaking about the flood. Water must have filled his shop, which is a few steps down from the main street.

Parish church in Monterosso’s old town

As you might imagine with all of the fresh fish in the Cinque Terre, we had great food in Monterosso and Vernazza. In Monterosso we had dinner at Ristorante Il Moretto in the “old” town (which is separated from the new town by a hill—pedestrians and autos use an old railroad tunnel to get back and forth between the two parts of town), and we had a late lunch with delicious seafood (my mussels were sublime) at Cantina di Miky (in the new town), which has an enclosed patio next to the restaurant and tables along the boardwalk. In Vernazza we enjoyed lunch at Trattoria Gianni Franzi in the main square. I had a caprese salad that included capers—a surprisingly nice addition.

If you’ve read or heard about the 2011 flood and are concerned about visiting Monterosso and Vernazza, stop right now! They are largely restored and astoundingly beautiful. Go, spend money, and support the determined, courageous citizens of these villages.

Ciao!

Monterosso Giant – a statue of Neptune, constructed in 1910, bombed in World War II, located at the north end of Fegina Beach in new town Monterosso

Building near the church in old town Monterosso

Monterosso window

Church window in old town Monterosso

Beach in the new town in Monterosso

Beach in the old town in Monterosso

Ligurian Sea

Old tower in the harbor in Vernazza

A church in Vernazza

Vernazza harbor

Vineyards above Vernazza

Vernazza’s main street from the train station

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