As I slowly work my way towards finishing my first photobook of our 2011 holiday in Europe and the rain continues to pour down I am reminded that it has been a while since I provided updated information on the progress of cleaning up Vernazza and Cinque Terre after flooding and mudslides in October last year.
The best sites for getting up to date information and photographs are two of my favourite travel blogs (I have quite a few favourites): Cultural Comments and Once in a Lifetime Travel, the other important website to check out is Save Vernazza, through this site you can make donations to help with the rebuilding. I don’t need to repeat everything they have written, but it is important to acknowledge the hard work that all the residents, volunteers and emergency services are doing in order to clean up and restore the town to its former beauty. Monterosso, another of the 5 villages of the Cinque Terre was also devastated by the flooding and badly needs your support, local residents have worked tirelessly to restore Monterosso, go to the Rebuild Monterosso site for more information on their progress and on how you can help.
My husband and I are planning another trip to Europe for 2014 and will definitely be heading back to Cinque Terre, I know it is a long way off but the income from tourism will be essential for the rebuilding of Vernazza and Monterosso.
Two glorious Spring days in Cinque Terre, but we only spent a couple of hours in Monterosso and that was mainly at the station as we waited for the next train to Vernazza. The station was noisy, bells ringing so loud that we couldn’t hear the announcements and the large crowds waiting for trains didn’t help. Eventually our train arrived and we squeezed ourselves and our luggage into the carriage, standing room only was not a problem for us, it wasn’t long before we were getting off the train at Vernazza.
We spend our first afternoon wandering around Vernazza, taking a break to sit every now and then to watch the boats come in or just to enjoy the view. The next day will be a big day for us, we plan to buy a Cinque Terre card tomorrow and explore some of the other villages that make up the Cinque Terre: Riomaggiore, Manarola and Corniglia. The Cinque Terre Card is not expensive (10 euros), it is one ticket that includes train travel and entry to the Cinque Terre trail which is National Park.
We started our day by catching a train to Riomaggiore, along with many others, the platform was packed with people and all of them seemed to have the same idea as us. The weather was perfect, blue skies and balmy temperatures, great for enjoying a day outdoors. In our bags were bottles of water, fresh bread, pesto, cheese and salami, a picnic lunch the choice of budget travellers everywhere and with such delicious ingredients available why would you choose anything else.
Riomaggiore sits on a cliff beside the sea, the houses look like they could tumble into the water at any moment, the water is deep blue green and Marty is itching to go for a swim. Access to town is via a tunnel from the station, the views of houses, gardens and playgrounds are delightful and I take many photos. While Marty takes the chance to sit and watch passersby, I head down into the town via narrow streets and tiny stairs until I find a spot to take photos of the marina and a couple of playful seagulls. It would be nice to spend the whole day exploring the town, but the Via dell’Amore calls and we make our way back towards the station.
We run into two Queenslanders, Kristy and Elias as we start the Via dell’Amore walk, we had met them on the train from Milan to Monterosso and being such a friendly couple we joined them for the walk. Via dell’Amore is the shortest and easiest walk on the entire trail, it is also the only time we walk between two villages of the Cinque Terre, opting to use the trains for the rest of the day. Along the way we stop to listen to a busker and take in the spectacular views of the coast line, messages of love are carved into the different surfaces and padlocks are attached to fences.
We say goodbye to Kristy and Elias, they are planning to walk to Corniglia however we want to see more of Manarola and find a shady spot to eat our lunch. The streets are filled with people and we follow the scent of fried fish down to the water front, the water is a deep blue green and looks extremely inviting. Marty finds his way down to where the boats come in, the breeze is refreshing after walking in the sun. One of the more amusing sights we see is a woman carrying a rather large labrador pup, he must have tired of walking and given his owner the look that no dog owner can resist. We find a shady spot under the balcony of a restaurant, it is closed and yet there are tables and chairs for people to sit on, a lucky find.
The train to Corniglia is packed, lots of smelly sweaty bodies crammed into each carriage, we meet a Kiwi couple who tell us that the path between Manarola and Corniglia is closed hence the heavy use of the train. There are a couple of options for getting from Corniglia station to the town, walk up the 365 stairs or catch a connecting bus, we choose the less energetic option. Corniglia is the only town not on the edge of the sea, it is up in the hills and surrounded by vineyards. It is a small town, with narrow winding streets and a lookout that provides you with a view of the vineyards on one side and Manarola and the sea on the other side. The gelati here is sublime, it is difficult for me to choose a flavour, Marty always goes for the hazelnut or coffee flavours. To get back to the station we take the stairs, it is a pleasant walk, cloud cover has taken the heat out of the day and the stairs are shaded in various places.
Once back in Vernazza Marty decides to walk around town and maybe go for a swim, I take a walk along the trail behind Vernazza, as though I was heading towards Monterosso. The sun has not yet set and many people are walking along the trail, heading towards a point on the track where you can stop and look back towards Vernazza and it’s beautiful harbour. The track runs alongside vineyards and vegetable gardens, bright red poppies contrast with the lush green of the grassy hills, some parts of the track are paved both most of it is gravel and rock. The view of Vernazza really is special, the setting sun provides a warmth and a glow that soaks the village in wonderful colour. I stand there wishing we never had to leave. Back in town Marty has been shopping, he has bought Mortadella, cheese, pesto and panini for our train trip to Florence the next day, however he is still yet to go for a swim, perhaps he will when we reach Sorrento.
When I wrote my last post about the beauty of Tuscany complete with images that I took while exploring the region, little did I know that one of our favourite little towns, Vernazza, had been devastated by torrential rain and a mudslide. When my husband and I saw the news about flooding in Liguria we did not realise that the area we had fallen in love with earlier this year had been so dramatically and tragically affected. I found out about the disaster through a Rick Steve’s newsletter, but more information is provided on the Cultural Comments blog and after reading it I felt as though I needed to put something in writing about our time in Vernazza.
Vernazza is one of five towns on the Cinque Terre, I wrote about it briefly along with Venice and Varenna in an earlier blog. A small, picturesque town on the coast of Italy, there are no large hotels and traffic is restricted to locals, the surrounding hills are covered in grape vines and the bay is home to numerous, colourful fishing boats. Warm and tasty foccacia fresh from the oven could be bought as a snack, we dined on fresh seafood, pesto al trofie and creamy gelato. It was a truly wonderful time and we left reluctantly, vowing to return as soon as we could afford to.
We stayed in one of Tonino Basso’s rooms, lovely rooms overlooking the street and next to Il Pirata, a great place to enjoy breakfast and a laugh with the hosts Lucca and Massimo. In this video on the Cinque Terre blog you can see the cars being swept away by the flood, below is a photo of the same street, taken during our stay.
Vernazza, like many locations affected by the extremes of mother nature will need time and support to get back on its feet. The work to make this happen began soon after the event and with a bit of luck, no to mention alot of hard work and funding, the town will again be open to visitors in the not-too-distant future. I will be following the blog Cultural Comments to see how the future pans out for Vernazza, but in the meantime will share a few photos taken during our stay and keep my fingers crossed that the town and its people are returned to their former glory.
It was here, on the border of the harbour, that we met two American travellers, a husband and wife enjoying a romantic, short break away from their children. A lovely, chatty couple, possibly more so because of the bottle of Limoncello they were drinking, the conversation was pleasant and did much to dispell the myth of the ‘ugly american’ traveler, we certainly enjoyed the opportunity to speak English with someone other than ourselves.
The water looked cool and inviting, around the edges of the harbour people were sunbathing and children were wading, my husband debated the merits of going for a swim but I was quite comfortable to sit in the sun and soak up the ambience of such a pretty place. Ferries came and went, dropping off tourists and picking more up, the options for getting between town are train, boat or walking along the Cinque Terre trail however the boats apparently only operate during the warmer months.
So far I have loved every place we have visited, they are all special and magical in their own unique ways but the three Vs: Venice, Varenna and Vernazza really made an impression on me and on Marty as well. Venice for the decaying beauty, brilliant colour and absence of motor vehicles, Varenna for the serenity, cheese and lake views and Vernazza for the spectacular location, village atmosphere (after day trippers have left) and tasty trofie al pesto.
We stayed in Venice for 4 nights, too many for some people however this enabled us to spend some time in Trieste, a port city on the Adriatic Sea and about 2 hours from Venice by train. Our hotel room was a cosy little room separate to the actual hotel and with views of a construction site that never seemed to be active, a little hard to find at first but not far from the vaporetto stops that lined the esplanade leading to St Mark’s Square. Breakfast was forgettable yet we won’t forget the prepackaged croissant filled with gooey fake chocolate, melba toast and bread roll, not to mention the awful coffee. A short walk away was a snack bar, we had our best Venetian coffee there when we needed a fix, pizzerias, trattorias and enotecas were also in abundance in our area, Castello or sestieri as they are called in Venice. One of the little places we ate at was run by a Bangladeshi family, the men were very chatty and one in particular was a huge cricket fan so he and Marty had plenty to talk about, the evening we ate there they presented us with a Spritz on the house. A Spritz is a bright orange drink, we had seen many people drinking it but hadn’t known what it was and as we tasted the Prosecco-Aperol cocktail, one of the Bangladeshi (sorry if that is incorrect term) explained to us that it is a drink of the Gondoliers after they have finished a long day on the canals, the drink smells strongly of sweet oranges but has a kick that was a tad too strong for me.
Moving around Venice is easy, except for the constant dodging of other tourists and their elbows, there is no chance of maintaining a comfortable personal space here at least not in the day time. The canals are jam-packed with tourists in gondolas and water taxis, early in the day there are also small barges that navigate the canals and carry out the daily garbage collection. At night time the day trippers, tour groups and cruise liner passengers have gone and although the square is busy it is a more enjoyable time of day to listen to the classical music played at Florians and take photos of the monuments and buildings as the light changes. Walking through the campos (small squares usually dominated by a church) and taking time to eat gelato or watch people from a shady spot while eating salami and mozarella paninis is one of the best ways to ‘see’ Venice. There are plenty of museums and galleries to explore, but Venice is such a different city to any other I have been to that I find walking the streets just as exciting as seeing the artwork, mosaics and decoration within churches and galleries. The men selling fake designer goods, toys and roses are annoying and worth avoiding if you can, it is illegal to sell and purchase fake designer goods in Italy, when the sellers get a hint of the police coming their way they pack up their goods and head into the side streets. “Hello missus, I give you special price” is their opening line, they’re nearly all dressed very well so we figure that the fake designer goods industry is bringing in good money.
Varenna and Vernazza don’t have the fake designer goods, there are only a few hundred residents in each town and no supermarkets, only small market shops providing a minimal range of goods and the best range of delicatessen goods you will find. Both towns are on the water, Varenna is located on Lake Como and Vernazza is one of the five towns of Cinque Terre on the Mediterranean. either of these places would be a good place to semi-retire, renovate a couple of rooms and make them available for rent during holiday seasons. Such beautiful and peaceful places even with an influx of tourists during Spring and Summer, come nightfall, most have left the towns to the locals who fill up the bars and osterias until late in the evening.
Rick Steves is a fan of Varenna and Vernazza, watching his dvds and reading his guidebooks inspired us to stay in the two towns, that and the beautiful imagery I saw on websites devoted to the two locations. At our hotel in Varenna a photo of Rick Steves with the owners of Eremo Gaudio was stuck on the wall at reception and christmas cards sent from Rick Steves and family were pasted all over the door of Il Pirata, our breakfast place in Vernazza. It is common to see travellers carrying Rick Steves guidebooks, we have spoken to a few American devotees who created their entire itinerary around his advice. Varenna is across the lake from Bellagio, home to George Clooney and popular with all visitors to the region. We spent a few hours walking around the streets of Bellagio, lunch was in the company of other tourists watching their budget, all of us eating a picnic of some sort only we had forgotten to bring a bottle of wine. Along the water front is a pretty garden and a variety of expensive shops, the restaurants are full of well dressed patrons and day trippers like us pile on and off the ferries. In the narrow backstreets you can do a bit of wine tasting, buy shoes and homewares or sit in a cafe near the church – we chose the latter. In addition to Bellagio we spent time in Milan and Menaggio, neither place thrilled us much but we were glad to have made the effort.
Vernazza is one of the best placed towns on the Cinque Terre, transport is close and the town is small enough that you don’t have to carry or wheel your bags far to get to any accommodation. There is a lovely little bay encircled by cafes, the church and tower, when we arrived in the afternoon there were children swimming and sunbathers lying all over the rocks soaking up the sun. Marty was keen for a swim, the colour of the water looked very inviting, a clear deep blue green, I was happy to sit in the shade and dangle my feet over the edge of the breakwall. This area is known for its pesto, foccacia and a sweet wine called sciacchetra, we tried all three and loved each one, we also dined on fried calamari, fresh cheese, salami, mortadella and gelati. The Sicilian brothers Massimo and Lucca that own Il Pirata offer up sicilian treats such as cannoli and frozen fruit slushies, the two of them are real characters and treat all the girls like princesses, they also claim that they can pick the nationality of customers by what they eat. Eating there is a fun experience.
Vernazza at night
To get around the Cinque Terre you can either hike between each of the towns, catch trains or do a combination of the two, you have to pay to walk the path between towns and for a little extra train and bus travel is included. We didn’t want to spend all of our time hiking so we used the train to get to Riomaggiore, from there we walked with another Aussie couple along the Dell Amore walk to Manarola and then we used trains to get from Manarola to Corniglia, Corniglia to Vernazza. Trains aren’t terribly frequent or they weren’t during our stay, so each train was packed with tired and sweaty tourists. We didn’t make it to Monterossa, a larger seaside resort town didn’t hold much appeal for us and sitting at a cafe eating nice food and drinking local wine was a much more attractive option.
The three Vs were for us, a great way to introduce ourselves to Italy and the Italian way of life, the next destination in Italy is Florence and I knew that it would be a completely different place to visit.