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Vernazza Italy: the Colorful UNESCO Masterpiece of Cinque Terre

Vernazza Italy is the picturesque second village of the Cinque Terre and stands out as the jewel of these 5 stunning villages.  One of Rick Steves’ favorite villages of the Cinque Terre, Vernazza is a photographer’s dream!

Stunning Coastal Photography in this Perfect Medieval Village

Medieval Village in Italy
Medieval Village in Italy

The names of the five villages that make up the Cinque Terre are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. These villages date back to the late Middle Ages. Vernazza is the fourth village heading north and there are good reasons why it is considered the “jewel in the crown.”

Extending 1 km between Levanto and La Spezia, the steep jagged Ligurian coastline and the five villages were once virtually inaccessible except by sea. It wasn’t until the Genoa-La-Spezia railway was completed in the late 1800s that the area became known.

These days over 2.5 million tourists visit every year. With hiking between vineyards and along coastal paths, a castle, fortifications, olive trees, ciàn (private gardens), and the stunning Santa Margherita di Antiocchia church, there are breathtaking views around every corner. Its winding pedestrian streets separate riotously colored multi-storied buildings that empty onto the picture-perfect piazza and harbor.

Even if you can’t spare the time to stay in these lovely villages, there are also some excellent tours that can get you to and from the Cinque Terre villages quickly so that you can enjoy all of them in one go, like this Private Tour of Cinque Terre from Levanto by Musement.

Hiking in the Cinque Terre

Manarola village, trekking trail. Cinque Terre, Italy
Manarola village, trekking trail in Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre was recognized in 1997 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and in 1999 the National Park of the Cinque Terre was created. This UNESCO status allowed the land in the Cinque Terre to be preserved by becoming a National Park and creating walking trails from each village.

The most popular hike in the Cinque Terre National Park is the Blue Path which connects all five of these beautiful villages. It is around a 7.5-mile (12 km hike).  There is a small entry fee of around 5-8 euros to help maintain the walkways.

One of the best ways to revel in the splendor of this coastline is to walk these trails. Hikers say that the trail between Vernazza and Corniglia is particularly breathtaking. You will wind your way through citrus trees and olive grove. You will never forget your first site of Vernazza from the path with its pastel-hued houses and its small sandy beach and harbor protected by the cliffs that surround it.

Cinque Terre Hiking Trail
Cinque Terre Hiking Trail

Vernazza Port and Fortifications

Vernazza was founded about 1000 A.D. by the Obertenghi family from Genoa. They built the town as a way to secure the Ligurian coast and establish a naval base which gave them a landing point on the coastline. They also developed fortifications to protect the harbor and coast from frequent Saracen pirate attacks.

Every year the village celebrates the Festa dei Pirati, re-enacting the famous Saracen raids of hundreds of years ago. This is a floating festival that takes place during the summer months.

View on roof landscape and castle of Vernazza, village in the Cinque Terre, Liguria Italy Europe
View on roof landscape and castle of Vernazza, village in the Cinque Terre, Liguria Italy Europe

Beyond the town of Vernazza are olive groves and miles of terraces that grow the famed grape most wine lovers believe is from San Gimignano and create the famous Vernaccia wine. Outside of Tuscany few people know that San Gimignano’s famous wine originated in Vernazza and the people insist that the village gave its name to the grape.

Most of these vineyards are owned by local families, and although wine production has become less in the past decade, there are still families who still grow the grape and make small batches of wine for themselves and the village. Olive oil is also produced here.

Vernazza village With San Francesco Church. Hill slope with vineyards, Cinque Terre coastal area. Liguria region in Italy.
Vernazza village with San Francesco Church

Vernazza Town

The town of Vernazza has around 1000 or so inhabitants and approximately 850,000 visitors a year. A car-free village Vernazza only allows vehicles to enter is on Tuesday morning for the market that is the highlight of the week for both tourists and locals.

Streets of Vernazza
Streets of Vernazza

For a town that has had to defend itself since the 11th century, it was shocking to see the damage caused by a 2012 earthquake. Vernazza was near the epicenter of the earthquake that caused massive landslides. The stone streets and centuries-old architecture were left buried in mud.

Thankfully this UNESCO village came together and rebuilt the town with an emphasis on sustainability and created an organization to overcome not only the ravages of the earthquake but to develop Vernazza as a sustainable tourism destination.

How to get to Vernazza

Passenger Train Departing Vernazza Italy
Passenger Train Departing Vernazza Italy

Since Vernazza is so isolated with no cars allowed the easiest way to get there is via train from La Spezia or Levanto.

If you are driving there is a car park called Vernazzola around a kilometer above the village and you can take a shuttle down to the town. Parking will cost you 15 Euros a day and the shuttle into the village is free. If you plan on the train from La Spezia be aware that the parking there will cost you 26 euros a day and you can take the train to Vernazza for 4 euros.

You can also hike the trails of the Cinque Terre between all the villages which will give you those scenic views that you dream about for years to come.

Vernazza Streets

A street in Vernazza, Italy
A street in Vernazza, Italy

The town is divided into two halves. There is the shady side called Luvegu and the sunny side known as Sciuiu. To give a sense of lightness the Regional government dictates that all the buildings are painted in Ligurian pastels.

Vernazza’s main street is Via Roma and it connects the railway station to the Piazza Marconi. Since the entire village is pedestrian-only you may find yourself wandering the narrow streets and alleyways to find stunning views of the sea below.

Beautiful Vernazza streets
Beautiful Vernazza streets

Vernazza Piazza (Piazza Marconi)

Of course, Vernazza’s main square is also where you will find some great restaurants serving fresh seafood and beautiful local wines. This is the perfect place to simply sit and watch as the locals indulge in gelato while taking their passeggiata, or evening walk. The beach is just next to Piazza Marco.

Church of Santa Margherita di Antiocchia

Near the harbourfront, you will find the fourteenth-century parish church of Santa Margherita di Antiocchia. This is the patron saint of Vernazza and legends say that a chest with the bones of her hand was washed up on the beach and the people saw this as a sign to build the church on that spot. It is built on a former Romanesque site.

This small church is one of the most recognizable in photos of Italy because of its location on the Ligurian sea but also because of its wonderful octagonal tower.

The village also celebrates The Feast of Santa Margherita on July 20th with fireworks and a festival.

Santa Margherita di Antiochia Church Vernazza
Santa Margherita di Antiochia Church Vernazza

Doria Castle (the Citadel)

A good walk from Vernazza beach and the Piazza is the Doria Castle or Citadel. This was believed to have been built in the Middle Ages to protect the area from the Saracen pirates. (Vernazza’s wall dates from the 15th century).

The medieval Castle is on a steep outcrop and topped with an impressive tower called the Belforte, which offers incredible views of Vernazza.  The walk to the castle is uphill and with lots of steps so be prepared!

Castle in Vernazza
Castle in Vernazza

During the day you may see the few remaining fishermen pulling in their catch to sell to the local restaurants. One of the only real fishing villages on the Italian Riviera you can find the catch of the day served at one of the best restaurants in Veranzza – the Belforte Restaurant in Vernazza’s Castle with superb views across the Ligurian sea.

Where to stay in Vernazza

There are no luxury chain hotels in Veranzaa with spas and pools but there is a range of accommodation. Affittacamere are rooms rented by locals in their homes or apartments, like Air BnB, and there are no hostels in Vernazza.

Below I have the best options for staying in Vernazza. If you’re not sure if this is the best Cinque Terre village for you to stay in, click on my comprehensive post, Where to Stay in Cinque Terre: A Guide to Choosing Your Perfect Village which lists the best accommodation options in all five villages (Monterosso al Mare, Riomaggiore, Corniglia, and Manarola) and surrounding Ligurian towns.

MaDa Charm Apartments Terrace and Carugio

MaDa Charm Apartments Terrace and Carugio
MaDa Charm Apartments Terrace and Carugio

If you do want some luxury, take a look at the MaDa Charm Apartments Terrace & Carugio it provides sea views, views of Vernazza beach and small harbor, free wifi, and all the modern conveniences such as air conditioning, and a full kitchen with cooking facilities.

The location is superb as it is within walking distance of the train station but a little higher up in the village and has stunning views over the harbor.

Hotel Gianni Franzi

Hotel Gianni Franzi
Hotel Gianni Franzi

Centrally located below Doria Castle and the Belforte bastion, and a short walk from the train station, the hotel has jaw-dropping views of the Ligurian sea and the village. The hotel is comprised of 3 buildings. There is free wifi in public areas and each room comes with fans. The Hotel is steps from a tiny sandy beach and there are lots of hiking trails nearby.

Vintage Apartment

Vintage Apartment
Vintage Apartment, Vernazza

Vintage Apartment is a centrally located self-catering apartment a short walk from the train station and main street. It sleeps up to five and has all the modern conveniences from air conditioning to wifi. It has city views, a full kitchen, and a living room and is modern, clean, and spacious.

Ventu de Ma Sea View

Ventu de Ma Sea View Room
Ventu de Ma Sea View Room

If you are looking for a “budget” in the area it can be tough to find but Ventu de Ma Sea View which is located beachfront is pretty good. It has a lovely little terrace, free wifi, and the sea views are fabulous.

Affittacamere Elisabetta

Affittacamere Elisabetta
Affittacamere Elisabetta

Located in the center of Vernazza, Elisabetta is a small room with private facilities but be prepared for a good climb up a series of narrow alleyways and stairs to the property. There are superb views of the town and the ocean and the bedrooms do have terraces with sea views. There is free wifi, a compact kitchen that has all you need for self-catering.

The Terrace

The Terrace
The Terrace, Vernazza

A great option for families and it offers a concierge service. The family suite is huge by Italian standards and has a beautiful balcony, free wifi, and a fully functional kitchen.

  • For a comprehensive post on the best place to stay in each of the villages of Cinque Terre or the broader Cinque Terre area, see Where to Stay in Cinque Terre: A Guide to Choosing Your Favorite Village
  • There are so many things to do in the villages of Cinque Terre, Italy. See all of the best things to do in the Cinque Terre, from Get Your Guide here
  • If you’re on a lovers’ trip to Europe, consider that other iconic destination, Santorini. Read about Athens and Santorini here