Vernazza is part of the Cinque Terre National Park and also includes the towns of Monterosso al Mare, Corniglia, Manarola and Rio Maggiore. Since 1997, this spectacular, almost other-worldly stretch of the Ligurian coast has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Aside from enjoying the obvious, the pristine sea, there is a lot to see and do in Vernazza.
Cinque Terre is one of the most picturesque coastlines in the entire world: the brightly-colored houses, the sheer cliffs, the everchanging color of the water depending on the sun’s rays. It is nothing short of magical.
Vernazza is the only town on the coast with a natural port and this served it well around a thousand years ago when it was defending the coastline from pirate attacks. Later, it became an important fishing village, and surprisingly, still is today.
Fortunately for tourists, Vernazza, and all of the towns of Cinque Terre, is not overwhelming like so many of the art cities. Sometimes, it’s nice to simply roam around and enjoy the view from every vantage point. That isn’t to say that there aren’t important sights here, but they are completely manageable in a day trip and will still leave you with loads of time to spare to simply soak up the sun and enjoy a gelato.
First and foremost, you’ll want to see the Church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia (St. Margaret of Antioch). Legend has it that a wooden box containing bones of the saint’s finger washed up on the shore in Vernazza and the people decided to build a church in her honor. The church as we see it today dates to the 13th century and is in classic Gothic-Ligurian style. It is also unusual because its entry faces east rather than west.
Next up is the Doria Castle. Doria (meaning “sons of Auria”) was a prominent noble family in the Republic of Genoa from the 12th-16th centuries. The castle dates to the 11th century and today, the main sight is the stone cylindrical tower that juts into the sky from the promontory.
Vernazza’s little beach is accessible right off the main piazza and is mostly sandy. Each of the five towns has its own signature beach, some with umbrellas and chaise lounges for rent.
One of the main reasons people of all ages come to this area is for the hiking trail that connects all five towns. It is strenuous in parts but you can choose to do portions of it and take the train the rest of the way. Each portion of the trail contains various sites such as sanctuaries high up on the hillside.
The park’s official website is a great resource and has up-to-date information about trail closures and tips before visiting.
Keep in mind that Vernazza is closed to traffic and so the best way to get here is by train. If you are planning to stay overnight and see all of the Cinque Terre, Vernazza is a great choice!
The Flavors of Cinque Terre
This part of Liguria is of course, famous for its fresh seafood. Pesto sauce (created in Genoa) topped on various types of pasta, or even lasagna, is also a signature dish. Another delicious dish that is unique to Liguria and Tuscany is a sort of pizza made out of garbanzo bean flour and, in this area, is known as farinata. A must try! Focaccia bread is also delectable here either with onions or cheese.
Pair any of these dishes with the delicious white wine, Vernaccia or a Cinque Terre Sciacchetrà DOC.