Vernazza is the pearl of the Cinque Terre, simply breathtaking. Unfortunately it is packed with tourists but mornings and evenings are quieter and low season months are very pleasant. Vernazza – along with Manarola – is registered among the most beautiful small villages of Italy (I borghi piú belli d'Italia).
No one knows exactly where the name Vernazza comes from. It might have been named after the Vernaccia wine.
Vernazza was the only village with a natural harbour so ships departed from here to the Republic of Genoa and other countries. As a result, Vernazza was the most prosperous village with economical and political power. This wealth is shown even today by beautiful arcades, archways and balconies. In medieval times there was no main square, beach or breakwater, the waves were splashing at the houses. Boats were also moored to the walls, so Vernazza was a bit like Venice.
The backbone of the village is the main street; smaller streets (carruggi) run parallel with it. The main street runs to the main square (Piazza Marconi), this is the center, the heart of the village, the "gossip corner", with several bars and restaurants, colourful houses, drying clothes, boats, piles of fishing nets and lazy cats. Just by the piazza, there is a small sandy beach and a harbour.
After a strenuous hike in the summer, I usually can't wait to jump into the water. If you are a good swimmer, go to the end of the pier and dive into the water, or simply walk down the ladder. It's a fabulous experience to swim around the colourful fishing boats, with the magnificent piazza in the background. There are fewer people here and the water is cleaner. Of course, if you are with kids, it is better to bathe at the sandy beach. In the harbour, locals often play waterpolo. In the 1970s, the waterpolo team of Vernazza was among the best.
The view of Vernazza is determined by the defense system which was built by the Genoan people to protect Vernazza against Saracens, barbarian tribes and pirate attacks. Castles and bastions have been reinforced several times, their remains can still be seen today.
In my opinion you have to see Vernazza at least from 4 different points. Every view is different and stunning!
1. From the path, as you arrive from Corniglia.
2. From the path, as you start walking towards Monterosso. Once you have walked up many steps and are high enough, don't forget to look back. From this point, you can enjoy one of the most beautiful sceneries of the Cinque Terre. (I think it is worth hiking up here even if you don't go all the way to Monterosso.) The bastion, the belltower and the pier wonderfully surround the small harbour, the turquoise water and the colourful fishing boats.
3. From the end of the pier, with the colourful boats in the foreground and the houses of the main square in the background.
4. From the tower of the Doria castle.
During the horrible flood of October 25, 2011 Vernazza was devastated. The town was buried in mud and rocks, the ground floor basically disappeared. Homes and businesses were ruined. Thanks to the incredibly hard work of local people and all the help received from outside, Vernazza is beautiful as ever. However, you can still see some signs of the disaster. Probably the only advantage of the flood is a new rocky beach, created by the power of nature. You can reach it from the main street, crossing a small tunnel.
The church, which stands on the main square of Vernazza, was constructed in 1318 in Ligurian Gothic style. Its belltower is 40 meters high and has an octogonal shape. At an open-air art festival, there was a rope connecting the belltower with a temporary tower on the other side of the beach. As part of the show, the belltower went up in flames and a rope dancer escaped, walking on the rope high above the little harbour. It was an amazing experience!
The round tower of the castle of this Genoan noble family is still an important building in Vernazza. From the Belforte tower, you can enjoy a magnificent view of the village and its colourful harbour.