the cinque terre: a crowded hike to vernazza

After wandering around the old town of Monterosso al Mare in the Cinque Terre, we began our hike to Vernazza. Little did we know we’d be on that path for two and a quarter hours with no exit, no bathrooms, huge bottlenecks because of single tracking, rocky and muddy surfaces, and a ticket checkpoint at the most inopportune spot. It was hot, I was sweaty and cranky, especially at one point going up when we couldn’t move forward or backward but were trapped at a standstill line on a steep narrow cliff.  After escaping the bottleneck, we went around a couple of capes, through some terraced farmland, and more up and down climbs. It seemed that we would never see the town of Vernazza, but finally we did.


hike from Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza


hike from Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza


hike from Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza


hike from Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza


hike from Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza


hike from Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza


hike from Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza

Vernazza rises tightly from a central square sitting adjacent to the best natural harbor of the five towns.  It has a ruined castle and a stone church, hidden amidst a labyrinth of tightly clustered lanes, or Genoa-style caruggi. Outdoor cafés crowd around the harbor.  We walked up a little alleyway to find a lunch café and seated ourselves outside at Trattoria Incadasè da Piva.  We shared Pansotti with walnut sauce (delicious!) and Mike got a side dish of spinach.  We also shared a half liter of white wine and a bottle of sparkling water.

As I stood in line to use the toilet, a guy from Paris complained about Trump, and I agreed with him wholeheartedly.  Maybe he thought he’d insult me, but it’s hard to insult someone who agrees with you!


alleyway in Vernazza to Trattoria Incadasè da Piva

People lived in the hills above Vernazza before the 12th-century because pirates made the coast uninhabitable. The town itself – towers, fortified walls, and hillside terraces – grew from the 12th-15th centuries.  In the Middle Ages, there was no beach or square.  The water went right up to the buildings, where boats would tie up.

In the harbor, waves crashed over the molo (breakwater, built in 1972), while children and tourists oohed and aahed.  Apparently waves have rearranged the huge rocks even depositing them onto the piazza and its benches.  Freak waves have even washed away tourists. The boats in the square by the harbor sported blue and white striped covers.  Huddled all around the harbor were pastel and terra cotta buildings, flapping laundry, yellow awnings, umbrellas of every hue, and green hills all around.

On the harbor sat Chiesa di Santa Margherita d’Antiochia, a Gothic-Ligurian church built in 1318.  It is notable for its 40m tall octagonal tower.


Chiesa di Santa Margherita d’Antiochia on Vernazza’s harbor


Vernazza’s harbor

We walked up to the top of Castello Doria, now a grassy park with great views, which looks over the town. This is the oldest surviving fortification in Cinque Terre. Dating from around 1000, it’s now a ruin except for its circular tower in the center of the esplanade. From the harbor, we took the stairs by Trattoria Gianni and followed Ristorante al Castello signs to the tower.  In pirate days, this was the town’s watchtower, and in World War II, it was a Nazi lookout.  The castle tower was rebuilt after the British bombed it, chasing out the Germans.


walk up to Castello Doria


walk up to Castello Doria


walk up to Castello Doria


me at Castello Doria


Mike at Castello Doria

When it was time to leave the town, we headed to the train station where we saw a huge queue snaking through the streets of the town. Mike said, “I hope that isn’t for the train!” Soon enough, we realized it was. We decided to avoid the queue by hiking the 1 1/2 hour trail to Corniglia, the next town, but as we climbed we encountered people coming down who said the trail was closed.

We walked around the other side of the train station and found a shorter queue to an elevator that took people up to the platform. Behind us was a young couple from California who were on their honeymoon. They had come to the Cinque Terre as a day trip from Florence.  Another French guy told us he had walked on the road the day before from Vernazza to Corniglia for two hours, running all the way downhill.  There were no options to get out of the town other than the train or to walk on the road.  We almost opted for the road, but then the line slowly started moving and we decided to stick it out.




grotto in Vernazza


laundry in Vernazza

Once on the train, we sat without moving in a dark tunnel for way too long, and I hated feeling so trapped.  I realized I just can’t take big crowds of people and being stuck anywhere. Finally, we were released from the train in La Spezia, where we walked back to our Airbnb apartment, eating granola bars as we walked. We were exhausted.

We relaxed in our apartment for a while after showering (we were both sweating!) and had a glass of wine with cheese and crackers.


view from our Airbnb in La Spezia

Mike found us a place to eat, Il Papeoto, an Osteria Vegetariana. We walked there and were the first to be seated at 7:30.  We had a glass of wine each, sparkling water, and a MIX Appetizer (black rice balls with cheese inside, fava bean mini-tacos, pastry cigars filled with cheese and broken bread mixed with red onions and tomato, like a bruschetta). I ordered “Potetoe’s gnocchi with rocket, asparagus, pumpkin cream an licorice.”  Mike ordered “black cheakpeas velvety cream with cauliflower peaks and parsley gelly.”  We shared a delicious sponge cake with chocolate icing for dessert.

An Italian family had their Border collie lying beside their table in the restaurant; he reminded us of our dog Bailey who died in 2014.

We were captured by the restaurant’s security camera, so they sent me the photo of us through WhatsApp. The waiter was very friendly.  He said the wine he’d opened was from a local winemaker and artist who made the beautiful label.  I took a photo of Mike, the bottle, and the waiter. 🙂

*Steps: 24,130, or 10.23 miles* (whole day, including the cinque terre: monterosso al mare)

*Saturday, April 27, 2019*


On Sundays, I post about hikes or walks that I have taken in my travels; I may also post on other unrelated subjects. I will use these posts to participate in Jo’s Monday Walks or any other challenges that catch my fancy.

This post is in response to Jo’s Monday Walk: Castelo de Vide.