Vernazza (Part of Cinque Terre), Italy
Some say the French Riviera has the best that the Mediterranean has to offer. If so, the Cinque Terre must be part of the French Riviera. I think this place is just as nice if not nicer than the Côte d'Azur. Cinque Terre is on the Italian Riviera near the town of La Spezia. The name means "five lands" or "five coasts", and it got that name because of the five fishing towns that make up the Cinque Terre. Starting from the west there are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.
A beachfront hiking path connects the five towns, and each town has its own flavor. We stayed in the second town (Vernazza), which in our opinion was the best of the five. The towns are literally carved out of the ocean side hills, which are lined with grapevines and olive groves. The scenery was unparalleled and unspoiled by modern development. Crisp clean waters contrast with the green mountains! Man, wish I could live here.
This is the small marina / beach / town square in Vernazza called Piazza Marconi. The place we stayed is just a few feet up the road from the big red building.
Here are Doug, Carol, and I embarking on the hike from Vernazza to Riomaggiore (3/4 of the total hike). That's Vernazza below us. We all look pretty happy at the moment, but that's because we just barely started on this strenuous trek.
A death plant (sorry, for those of you who haven't gone on one of my Flatiron hikes, death plant = century plant) in bloom on the trail. The blue Med is below us, and the town of Corniglia is ahead. If you look carefully, you can see the town of Manarola on the next rock outcropping past Corniglia.
Entering Manarola. The hike is getting easier as we go along. We're all grateful for that. The last stretch from Manarola to Riomaggiore is actually flat and well paved. As a matter of fact, the path has a name - Via dell'Amore, named after the numerous courting couples that stroll down the road at night.
Back in Vernazza. It felt so good to jump into the cool sea after a hot day of hiking in the sun. Now there's just enough time to catch the sunset and head out to a nice dinner of fresh seafood and pasta! "It just doesn't get any better than this." (Actually, it did a few weeks later in Greece.)
The next day we headed off in the other direction to spend the day in Monterosso al Mare. That's the long sandy beach of Monterosso behind us. (I've always thought Doug was a shady character!)
We found this dude at the end of that long sandy beach. He's about 25-ft tall and very impressive looking.
A parting shot from the window of the train station as we were leaving Monterosso. The surf coming in on the beach.