Save Vernazza Blog

Three American women embark on an incredible journey when they join together to form a non-profit organization in response to the catastrophe in Vernazza on October 25, 2011.
Here we blog our thoughts, feelings, stories, joys, frustrations, etc. about life in & out of town and our work to ‘Save Vernazza’.
“Take the high road!”
May 31, 2012
by Michele Sherman

A few days ago someone told me that trail number 2 from Manarola to Corniglia had reopened. I found this hard to believe because a) I am a skeptic by nature and b) this particular trail has been closed more than open over the past few years, even before the floods & mudslides of October 25, 2011, it being very prone to slides. I checked the Cinque Terre National Park website and it was still marked as closed, but that didn’t convince me because a) again, I am a skeptic by nature and b) Italian websites rarely operate in real time. The only way to truly know? Go.

I decided to start a bit further south and walk the “Via Dell’Amore”, the stretch of trail connecting the southern most Cinque Terre villages of Riomaggiore and Manarola. This “path of love” is undoubtedly the Cinque Terre’s most traveled trail and one I hadn’t done in years. It is more a stroll than a hike, being just a bit over 1 kilometer, with incredible coastal and hillside views the entire way.

The history of this trail goes back many many years, it being one of the few connectors between the isolated villages. In the 1920s, as the second train line and tunnel were being constructed and blasted, the trail was further developed in order to house an explosives depot far enough away from the villagers and yet close enough for the workers. Thereafter, the trail became a popular meeting point for young men & women of the two villages and as a result relationships, marriages & families developed…hence the name “Via Dell’Amore”. The explosives depot is now a bar, and expressions of love by way of graffiti, padlocks, knots & ties of sorts decorate the path of this world famous & well-traveled trail.

As I arrived in Manarola and started for the number 2 trailhead I prepared myself mentally for a deviation of plan. The locals I had talked with earlier did confirm what I suspected; trail number 2 from Manarola to Corniglia was still closed. But on I went anyway because a) my skepticism and b) things change here everyday and today could very well been opening day. Who knows, I could be one of the first hikers allowed on the newly opened trail. That was not the case, however.

Deviation of plan: The high road.

These days if one wants to hike from Manarola to Corniglia one must take the high road (not a road really, but rather a series of trails). What this equates to is an uphill climb from Manarola on trail number 6, going through the hamlet of Groppo and on to the village of Volastra. In Volastra one can appreciate the coastal views, visit the church, walk the alleyways and rehydrate at the local mini market. From there, trail number 6d snakes through the hillsides to meet trail 7a and it is all downhill from there, bringing you into Corniglia.

A few words of advice: if you experience vertigo and/or have an aversion to stairs, take the train.

These trails were new to me. Over the years I have done a fair amount of hiking within the Cinque Terre, but never this route. All this time I had been missing out on what I now know to be, not only one of the most scenic hikes in the area, but a walk back in time to life as it once was in this part of Liguria. I came across people tending to their vegetables and vineyards, constructing dry stone walls along the terraced hillsides, singing in dialect and whistling as they worked their land. If it had been September harvest time I wouldn’t have been surprised to see women walking the trails with baskets of grapes balanced on their heads. In fact, I was reminded during this walk of a time about 6 years ago when I saw an older woman along the side of the road near Volastra balancing a big heavy basket on her head. I didn’t get to my camera fast enough, but at that time I thought for sure there were be endless opportunities for such a picture. I was in Italy! The land of old lady head basket balancing, wasn’t I? Surely this was a common sight. I still to this day regret having missed the moment for I have not witnessed it since.

Take the high road friends! If you want a glimpse into the past, if you want to walk amongst the vineyards, if you want to say a “buon lavoro” to a man tending to his hillside garden with its Mediterranean blue backdrop and a glimpse an old coastal fishing village way down below, take the high road! And please, should you see an old woman balancing a basket on her head, first ask if it is okay that you take her photo (“Posso fare la sua foto per favore?”) and then, please send me a copy.

Enjoy the high road! I sure did.

To see more photos of the hike on trails 6, 6d and 7a click here

“Some roads aren’t meant to be travelled alone…”
Vernazza unites in tradition at the Sanctuary of N.S. Reggio

May 15, 2012
by Michele Lilley

On Saturday, Save Vernazza sponsored a Trail 8 clean up from Vernazza to the Sanctuary of N.S. Reggio in anticipation of one of the Sanctuary’s traditional celebration days known as “Christo” the second Sunday in May.

This feast day is in honor of Christ, not be confused with the artist, Cristo, who bears a version of the same name in Italian and who has daringly canvased celebrated landscapes around the world. I must admit that I have often fantasized on my way to Reggio from Vernazza about what the artist, Cristo, might do with the cappella’s (small chapels) that house faded depictions of the final days of Christ and the terraced olive groves on the edge of this pilgrimage path known as the Via Crucis (Path of the Cross).

Doing as the pilgrims did so many years ago and pushing my fantasies aside, myself, my daughter Magdalena, along with her friends Niccolò, Manuel and their moms, began our climb up the hill to Reggio, skipping the particular tradition of placing a flower and a rock at each of the chapels to bring us good fortune. As it was, luck was on our side and small rays of light peeked through the storm clouds high above and our children gathered wild flowers, happily sharing their bright colors and perfumed centers with us.

The sweet, smoky smell of roasted chicken greeted us as we arrived in the piazzale (a vast green and tree lined square) at the Sanctuary and several of the men from town were busy cooking in the kitchen. While the mostly older generation attended their first mass in the church since October 25th, Jenny and I went to work to set up tables and chairs while the children played in the thick of the leaves with branches and stones. On each of the tables we placed a bottle of “house” red wine, made by someone in the hills above, accompanied by a small bottle of water half its size, reminding me that this was a traditional celebration day, in which case wine was as good as water… if not better.

Mass let out and the towns people (about one hundred in all) gathered at the tables in anticipation of Corrado’s ravioli and the chicken roasting over the fire. The 20 somethings arrived at the last minute, picnic blankets in hand and the “festa” began. Our own Yana Pietra and friend Megan from S5T was in attendance as well, soaking up her last week in Italy with friends from Vernazza.

It was nice to see Vernazzans reunited in the beauty and quiet of the Sanctuary – young and old and middle-agers chatting it up, children running in groups chasing each other, babies playing with their older cousins, and families gathering from neighboring towns. And for the first time in months, since the devastation of October 25th, the clock seemed to have turned back time, the detour in the road our lives had taken reunited us on the path that had been travelled by many before us to the peace and tranquility of the Sanctuary high above Vernazza.

“We’re Back!”
April 23, 2012
by Michele Lilley

My family and I recently moved back home to Vernazza from our more than five month stay in Levanto. We are truly grateful to the community of Levanto for offering so many of us their hospitality and continued support during the past months.

I was a little nervous about returning to Vernazza as we still have no gas, one hot water heater the size of a dime and portable electric burners to cook with; not to mention the fact that we don’t have a grocery store to shop in and most of us go by train to La Spezia or Levanto to do our daily shopping. But, despite the small inconveniences it is nice to be home with my family, in the familiarity of our “caruggio” (small street) chatting with our neighbors about the weather, the work in progress and family members’ comings and goings, as we carry on with our daily lives.
Life seems “almost” normal now. Many homes tucked into the maze of the caruggi from which familiar faces often peek out to say “ciao” remain empty, but at least in the piazza residents gather and typical Vernazza social life continues. The oral tradition of storytelling is alive and well, as locals meet in the square to discuss the latest happenings in town as told by many a colorful source.

So what’s new in Vernazza this week?

The parking lot is open at the top of the hill and the green shuttle bus is transporting people every hour to and from the “parcheggio” to town. Shuttle bus service to and from the hamlet of San Bernardino has been reinstated making five trips a day to and from town as well. This is confirmed information as I discovered it for myself this week upon my return walk down the road from San Bernadino to Vernazza.

I woke up feeling good and thought that I would beat the blustery weather and make the climb up what I refer to as “goat trail” number 7 from Vernazza to San Bernardino. I put on my running shoes and wandered through the caruggi (small back streets) to the Corniglia trailhead where, 100 yds ahead, I made a sharp left onto trail number 7. I climbed my way up to “Locanda Valeria”, high above terraced hillsides above Vernazza. The views of town and the hillsides were gorgeous and reminded me why I had come to love Vernazza in the first place. Its natural beauty and the overwhelming diverse terrain had captured me at first sight. Reminiscent of my initial “love at first sight”, I found myself a bit too distracted considering the steep, narrow climb I faced so I took one last photo, looked upward and started to climb. I soon came upon Locanda Valeria and took the long road toward the main road that connects the five towns to La Spezia from the south and Levanto to the north. Upon exiting the drive, I crossed the road deciding to continue on the poorly marked trail to San Bernardino instead of taking the road left to Corniglia I finally arrived in San Bernardino an hour after beginning my hike, happily wandering through vineyards and densely green hillsides.

For photos of the hike up trail 7 (Vernazza to San Bernadino) and back down the road into Vernazza click here.

San Bernardino is a tidy little hamlet which seems to have been deserted by its inhabitants who have moved down the hill to Vernazza chasing the dream of prosperity known as tourism. It’s a shame really since from high above the sea in the silence of this small town you can see picturesque views of Corniglia and imagine what life must have been like “back in the day”. Remembering that I live in the present, I pinched myself once again, thinking how lucky I am to live here despite the challenges of the last six months and continued on down the hill, taking the winding paved road to Vernazza, my family and my home.

April 16, 2012
by Ruth Manfredi

Yesterday Michele (Lilley) and I gave our first informational walk in Vernazza to one of the five winners from the February 2012 “With Love, From Vernazza” fundraising contest. We met Karan and her travel companions and we spent the morning together. It was a delight for us to share our enthusiasm for our cause and for Vernazza, especially to be in the company of such a lovely group of people who enjoyed the tour as much as we loved giving it.

These days, Vernazza is a town of contrasts and I believe that it is a special time to be visiting Vernazza. Our group was able to see first hand the devastation of the October 25 floods and hear Michele recount her narrow escape from her shop. We observed (and definitely heard) the remodelling going on along via Roma, as businesses prepare to reopen their shops and restaurants and work trucks pass. The travelers commented on the beauty of the painted doorways in locations where new doors have not yet been installed.

Once in the piazza, it can be difficult to reconcile the rebuilding of via Roma with the seemingly “normalness” of the piazza. Three restaurants are open, with their multicolored umbrellas and outdoor seating ready for breakfast, lunch and dinner guests. This past Sunday, as on Easter Sunday last week, the piazza was full of Vernazzesi, coming to town for the day to socialize. The piazza also contains 4 Fiats, 1 truck and 2 ambulances parked in the square and in front of the Church of Santa Margherita di Antiochia. Of course, they are all parked here because Vernazza no longer has a parking lot and its access road is still in the early stages of reconstruction. A visual reminder that Vernazza is still on the road to recovery.

The sheer beauty of Vernazza has not changed. We enjoyed a short hike up to start of Trail 8 on the pilgrimage road from Vernazza to the Sanctuary of Nostra Madonna di Reggio. Everyone took pictures of the breathtaking views below us of the sea and Vernazza. We also saw the “trenino” (monorail) train that is used by farmers during the vendemmia (grape harvest). It led to a discussion about wine (did you know that Italians in the past centuries got up to 30% of their daily calories from wine and it was essential to introducing antioxidants during the winter? Our group joked about some of them getting 50% of their current calories from wine on their travels through Italy!). We also discussed Vernazza’s territory and the amount of work over the centuries to create this man-made environment of drystone wall terracing, agriculture’s historical importance to the economy and the current challenges of maintaining the territory, a goal that is dear to Save Vernazza.

There is a particular feeling to being in Vernazza these days, a sense of rebirth and a desire on the part of the townspeople to welcome back visitors. We were thankful that the Taverna di Capitano was open, as it started pouring rain just as we reentered the piazza for the end of our walk. We ducked into the Capitano and decided that you can better understand culture by living it: we shared a luncheon feast of trofie pasta with pesto sauce, spaghetti al frutti di mare and excellent local Cheo (Vernazza’s only commercial vineyard) Cinque Terre DOC wine.

Save Vernazza hopes that providing informational walks will promote sustainable tourism by educating visitors about Vernazza’s unique terroritory of natural beauty and traditional, man-made drystone wall terracing, the devastation of October 25, 2011 and the consequences for the preservation of Vernazza’s territory and culture. We are sharing Vernazza’s road to recovery and rebirth with people and making a few new friends along the way!
















Click here to read blog posts from November 2011 to March 2012