Cinque Terre Day 1: Vernazza to Monterosso

Today was a perfect, beautiful day. We slept in, popped the prosecco, and drank it on the porch overlooking Vernazza, alternatively consumed with reading and talking.

At 11 we set out to the train station to get hiking passes and then back down into the village and through a maze of stairs to the official hiking trail from Vernazza to the northernmost and largest town of the cinque terre: Monterosso. Before leaving the main street we popped into a bakery and grabbed focaccia topped in garlic and salty cheese. It was heavenly. Here, instead of pizza (although there’s plenty of that too), several shops in every town will sell squares of thick bread covered in cheese and a variety of simple toppings, but no sauce. Morning bread+cheese snack: check.

The trails are thin, narrow, and windy, guiding you through cliff-edges, forest, and terraces of vineyards and olive trees. But that made them perfect: it wasn’t a paved, quick stroll; we got tired, sweaty, out of breath, and thirsty. But we were surrounded by THIS.

The classic views I have been ogling and dreaming of stretched out right before me. And the two hours of work made the gelato at the end all that sweeter. And the beer, sandwich, and cappuccino were just as rejuvenating as the chair at the cafe that they came with, a place to rest shaky knees and wary feet. And then off again to explore.

We climbed more stairs to overlook the fort below – a relic of when turkish pirates haunted these shores. Pirates and weather forced the small villages to build high onto the cliff-sides. Coastal housing and sandy beaches are modern tourist-driven installations. St. Francis of Assisi is perched at one of the stair platforms, one arm on his pet wolf the other outstretched toward the other four towns of the cinque terre, each a small speck on the craggy coastline.

Up more stairs sits a monastery with one remaining monk. Up a final set of stairs is the cemetery of Monterosso. Half columbarium and half New-Orleans-esque above ground city of the dead, the walls and crypts seemed to continue forever into the hillside. True locals could probably visit generations of their family here and many stones had adornments like they do.

We boarded a ferry to return back to Vernazza from the water. By this time, large tour groups filled with the elderly or Asians had descended upon Monterosso, the gaggles blindly following an umbrella or flag sticking up over herd. Hilariously, one of these groups was in front of us in line for the ferry when suddenly a whistle went up, the flag went in another direction, and the sea of elderly parted to allow us immediate access to the ferry and empty seats in the back.

There are no true docks in the cinque terre – when the ferry “docks” near the concrete walk and wall abutting the tides, a one-person-wide gangplank is deployed with tires on the end. As the waves swing the boat up and down, the tires roll back and forth, as if debating on how close to the edge to let you off. It’s a slow, unnerving process. But overall the ferry is your cheapest leisurely cruise of the mediterranean shoreline.

Back in Vernazza, we took a nap. When sunset approached, we walked back down to the main street, grabbed a pizza to go, and sat on the large pile of rocks protruding out into the water to protect the small harbor. The sun set as we stuffed our faces with cheese in blissful peace.

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