CINQUE TERRE — Vernazza

Vernazza which is the second village along the Cinque Terre from Monterosso al Mare and is considered by many to be the prettiest of the villages. This is due in part to its natural setting around the harbour and the cobblestoned main street leading up from the harbour to the station that is lined with the brightly coloured buildings housing small shops, cafes and houses. The town is surrounded by steeply terraced olive groves which produce some of the finest olive oil in Italy. The Vernazza region is also where pesto was invented and there is plenty of this most delicious of Italian sauces to be found in the shops to be bought and to eat in the restaurants and cafes in the village.

Vernazza dates from the year 1000AD and the town was named after a Roman family whose slaves that they freed started the town. Vernazza was once the wealthiest of the five towns and this is shown even today in the historical centre where you will see the many beautiful balconies on the houses, the arcades and the gateways scattered around the town. The town has developed around a amphitheatre-shaped natural harbour that is the only proper harbour in the Cinque Terre and it remains one of the true fishing villages in this part of Italy. This harbour has played an important role in Maritime history and was used by the Romans in Ancient times as a departure point for their navy to protect them from their enemies — the Saracens. It was also in the past of strategic importance to its nearest large city, Genoa. The importance of its maritime history is evidenced in the numerous defensive buildings still found in the village such as tower houses and the former castle of the Doria family.

Vernazza is best reached by the train from Genoa or La Spezia as the town itself has no car traffic but there is a road that leads into the parking lot which is found less than a kilometre to the north of the village. The closest airport is at Pisa which is 80 kilometres away. Vernazzia is reached by the other towns in the Cinque Terre by frequent trains or by ferry. The station is a 10 minute walk above the harbour. You can also walk the path that links each of the villages and it will take you around 90 minutes to reach Monterosso al Mare. The trail is found on the north side of the main street between the train station and the harbour but it is not well signposted so you will need to ask where it is. The hike on this route will involve some climbing but it isn’t too steep. The hike in the opposite direction from Vernazza to Corniglia starts just above the station and this one is well marked. The full hike to Corniglia will take around 90 minutes and it passes through olive groves and lots of greenery. It is also quite steep in parts and on a hot day can be quite hard going.

Traveller's Tip

If you don’t feel up to walking the full length of the trail from Vernazza to Corniglia at least do the first part of the walk for 10 minutes or so and you will be rewarded for your effort. The first part of the trail goes around the watchtower of the castle and the views are just stunning.

The sights found here are:
The Church of Santa Margherita di Antiochia
The Doria Castle
Il Torrione
The Sanctuary of our Lady of Regio in Vernazza

The Church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia

The Church of Santa Margherita di Antiochia
This church was built in 1318 in the Ligurian Gothic style on the site of a former 11th century building. It was built on a cliff overlooking the sea and has an impressive 40 metre high bell tower with an octagonal dome. Inside the church is a nave and two aisles and the church was widened in the 16th and 17th centuries. Legend says that the church was built because a wooden box containing the bones of St Margaret was found on the beach. The villagers built a church elsewhere to house the relics but after damaging storms the church was destroyed and the relics were lost. The wooden box then reappeared in the same spot where it was first found so a new church was built where you find it today.

Traveller's Tip

If you are in Vernazza on July 20 you can join in the celebrations of the Feast of Santa Margherita di Antiochia. In the daytime there are lots of stalls found along the main street and at night there is a fireworks display.
The Doria Castle

The Doria Castle
This castle is found at the top of a cliff in the centre of the harbour and dominates the skyline of Vernazza. It was built in the 15th century by the Obertenghi family to defend the town from attacks from the sea. On top of the castle is a cylindrical watchtower with a quadrangular base called the Belforte. There is a great view from the castle of the surrounding area.

Il Torrione
This tower is found on the opposite side of the Doria castle inside the garden of the Convent of St Francis. It dates back to the 16th century. Originally, the old town-walls of Vernazza started here and parts of these can still be seen.

The Sanctuary of our Lady of Regio in Vernazza

The Sanctuary of our Lady of Regio in Vernazza
This shrine dedicated to the Lady of Regio was built in the 11th century on the site of a former crypt. The interior of the church has three aisles. The church has been renovated over time and the only remaining feature of the original is the Romanesque facade. This church is also known as the Sanctuary of the African Madonna which refers to the black effigy of the Virgin Mary that is housed in the church and was supposedly bought back by Crusaders returning from the Holy Land. A festival dedicated to this Black Madonna is celebrated the first Sunday in August. To get to this church you will need to hike up a steep trail found north of Vernazza near the graveyard which leads to a square that is found above Vernazza. The hike will take around 45 minutes and it is all uphill.