Italy, Day 7
(Spoiler Alert! You might want to start with Day 1 to follow this trip from the beginning...)
We dragged ourselves away from another wonderful breakfast with Beppe to explore the famous Blue Trail, the Sentiero Azzurro. The Cinque Terre's "five lands" of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites and linked by the seven mile path.
We headed down to the station via the Lardarina which consists of the 33 flights of stairs or 382 brick steps to be exact. We paid €20 for two one day passes to hike the trail to Vernazza. The pass was also good for the local trains that ran between the villages but we felt confident enough in the weather and our hiking skills not to need the option.
From the station, we climbed the streets back into Corniglia. We followed the trail through town, passing vineyards and crossing a road when the trail quickly dove headlong into nature.
We followed a narrow rolling path around gorgeous meadows and over stone bridges before looking back to view Corniglia off in the distance. The village was surreal with its colorful buildings and winding vineyards perched above the waves. For a moment, I felt a bit of sadness for leaving, even if only for the afternoon. What more could anyone want — our new home couldn't have been more perfect.
Despite my sudden reluctance, we turned back to the trail, weaving in and out of the groups of travelers that came from around the world. From groups of French children to retirees from Germany, the trail to Vernazza was as rich in accents as it was wildflowers.
After an hour or so of climbing we made a steady decent into town as we approached Vernazza from above. While the village was reminiscent of Corniglia with its pastel-colored houses stacked haphazardly atop one another, it was situated at sea level like the rest of the villages of the Cinque Terre.
With the tower of an ancient castle rising from the tip of the peninsula, Vernazza remains one of the truest fishing villages on the Italian Riviera. The first records of the area date back to the year 1080 when it was a likely point of departure for naval forces in defense of pirates. Si, America — I said pirates!
Our first sign of village life was a fluffy white dog standing guard on his stone terrace. I couldn't tell if he was blind or just seriously disinterested in us but I tried not to let my feelings be hurt. We descended the final staircase into the center of town and toured around a bit before sitting for lunch. Pizza two of the trip was scrumptious as were the hip, young couple that worked the restaurant. Did I mention that Italians can be seriously sexy beasts? Yow.
Vernazza was much larger and busier than Corniglia and Zan and I agreed that we liked our village better. Yes, life is about keeping score and so far we are winning! (Insert winking emoticon here.) Lunch was followed by an obligatory trip to the marina and our customary gelato. By this point we were even learning how to order it properly — you first specify "coni" (cone) or "copetta" (cup) then the preferred flavors or "gusto." Nessun problema.
We strolled through the crowds as they waxed and waned with tour groups coming in off local trains or returning to their apartments after lunch. We decided to head back to avoid hiking in the dark and jogged back in record time (mostly because I had to pass the crazy french dude running with a backpack full of baby. I just couldn't bare to see them trip and fall off the side of the mountain.)
Showered and well fed, we were ready to crash hard but also as eager as ever for the morning Italian lesson with Beppe. Our exploration of the bucolic coast reminded us that no matter how breathtaking a view, nothing compares to connecting with another beautiful human being. Beppe, our gracious host, was most certainly one of the highlights of our journey.