Vernazza, one of the five villages in the Cinque Terra, is an impossibly perfect slice of Italian life. During the day, waves of sightseers wash down from the train station into the square and then onto the ferry to the next town. Later in the afternoon, guided walking groups stagger down steep stairs still gasping from their hike over the mountains, high five, and then head off up the opposite stairs for more feats of endurance. In the morning and the evening, except for a few strays like us, Verrnazza returns to the locals.
We are staying in an apartment owned by Alessandro. He offered to meet us at the station which I thought was a kindness until we started heading up the steep steps to the apartment. He hauled both bags up in a Herculean effort which still brings a sweat to the brow thinking about it. Alessandro must have taken a while to recover because for the next few days he seemed to spend all his time sitting in the sun at Ananasso Bar in the morning and then working his way around to the Enoteca for late afternoon drinks which continued into the evening. No wonder Alessandro is ‘very ‘appy’ living in Vernazza. Whenever we spotted him in the square, we gave him a cherry wave to embarrass him in front of his cool friends. The mystery of Alessandro’s leisured life in the Piazza remains unresolved. Is he a professional footballer, or an artist (the bookshelf in the apartment is full of art books), or a village entrepreneur with many little income earning apartments scattered around Vernazza?
Walking in the Cinque Terra is tough. After the big flood of 2011, many of the paths are still closed and there iis continual confusion about what is open. The paths they tell you are definitely closed, are open, though often in poor condition and those that are definitely closed and fenced off, are never mentioned until you come across the gate. It is all worked out by word of mouth by stopping the walkers coming the other way and asking ‘did you get through? Is the path open?’.
But of course the walking is only the prelude to justify the eating of three large meals a day. The food in the village is based around seafood and is fresh and delicious. Sardines dressed simply in lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper, followed by a whole baked bream with crispy potatoes. One night, for a change, I had veal cooked in wine which was the sweetest and ‘vealiest’ veal I had tasted for some time. All of the meals come with salads made with astringent radicchio and peppery rocket. The local Cinque Terra white wine is dry and delicious and perfectly matches the seafood. Each meal is pronounced the ‘best ever’ until the next day’s eating starts.
The charms of Vernazza are many. There is a small beach with easy access to swimming, lovely views of the surrounding hills and vineyards and a central piazza full of great food at extremely reasonable prices. As well as the pleasures of sitting in the sun with your morning coffee at Ananasso Bar waiting for the day to unfold.