The Coastal Trail from Monterosso to Vernazza

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Oh what day again! It took me nearly 30 minutes to walk down all the stairs, around the footpath, order warm chocolate croissants and coffee, and make the trek all the way back up to our “penthouse suite.” I worked off my croissant calories before I even sat down!

IMG_4355 manarola

After enjoying our breakfast on the balcony overlooking the town and harbor below, we took the train to Monterosso. This may have been the busiest place we’ve been since we’ve arrived in Italy. There were tourists everywhere, pouring down every street. Monterosso wraps around both sides of the train station with the busier side being to the east, so we followed the mobs from the harbor, along the stone path, and through the tunnel to check out the town.

Monterosso has a few main streets lined with cafés, souvenir shops, and of course churches while a few palaces perch on the hillside for protection. It is also offers a coast of beaches for sunbathing. We were happy to find three ATMs too, as Manarola’s only cash machine didn’t work. Though so far, it seems restaurants have taken credit cards (we had heard otherwise).

The first church we visited, San Giovanni Battista, with its black and white stripe facade is a lovely example of Ligurian Gothic architecture. It was constructed between 1244 and 1307 under the Genoese maritime republic rule. Next door to the church stood the Mortis et Orationis Confraternitas. Dating back to the 17th century, the con fraternity which dressed in black robes aided widows, orphans and even the shipwrecked. Skeletons were carved into the eves and the trim and were even painted over the entrance.

As we wandered away from the harbor and up the wide streets, we veered onto a narrow stone street where we found the Santa Croce Oratory. Here the con fraternity wore white robes, cared for the sick, and ran the hospital until the mid-seventeenth century.

We attempted to venture up to the palace, but it did not appear open, so after meandering around the town and harbor we thought we’d take the Coastal Path to Vernazza for lunch. The lady we met from California last night said it required admission, and it was easy.

We climbed the stairs to the ticket booth where a sign warned no high heels allowed and paid 7.50 euros each for our chance to pass through the national park. The path led us along the coast providing magnificent views of Monterosso before it turned into the shade of trees. The trail climbed and climbed as we took step after step up the stone stairs dotted with wildflowers and flanked by old wooden gates, stone walls, and of course vineyards.

We continued following the red and white trail markers for SVA 2, though it was impossible to get lost as the path was well cut and heavily traveled. Narrow at times, we stepped aside for those traveling from Vernazza to Monterroso, though it seemed like the masses were going in our direction. Snapping a picture without a stranger in it was a feat and keeping the pace was important, otherwise a whole tour may have overtaken us.

I skipped taking a picture of a lovely, stone bridge that arched over a trickling waterfall, as I’m not sure it ever would have been clear of people and a secluded gate with “WC? Please not here” painted in blue. That was pretty funny. Wish I would have gotten that one.

Eventually, Vernazza finally came into view, much to the elation of Heidi. Here we also found locks of love dangling from a wire, and upon descending into town we found the trolley car that follows a raised cable bar along the path. I couldn’t for the life of me figure how they harvested their lemons and grapes climbing up and down all these stairs. What a great invention…the cable car! At the end of the path, we were greeted by musicians who played Italian tunes.

We considered it our celebration song, as frankly, I would have to say the “Coastal Walk” was a bit of a misnomer. We gained 600 feet in elevation almost immediately and spent the rest of the time walking well above the coast in a blanket of humidity. The 4km took us at least 1.5 hours! I don’t think the vertical distance of the 750+ stairs we climbed up and down is counted.

I thoroughly enjoyed the variety and beauty the hike had to offer, though if I had to do it over, I may have started earlier for cooler temperatures and less crowds, and I may have headed in the direction of Monterosso so there wasn’t always someone fore and aft, though I may have felt like a salmon swimming upstream, and we would have missed out on an awesome lunch at Belforte Ristorante (more on this later).

Vernazza, though smaller than Monterosso, with only one Main Street was equally as busy. The main street featured cute clothing shops, jewelry, the typical souvenirs, THREE gelaterias, and a handful of trattorias. Down by the harbor, tables shaded with umbrellas covered the stone street where tourists filled every seat.

We walked down to the point to try our luck at Belforte Ristorante, a three level restaurant on the cliff’s edge where the lower balcony gets sprayed by water during high seas. Nothing was available, so we made a reservation for 2pm, an hour away, and browsed in the town.

Once again, we stopped at the local church, Santa Margherita di Antiochia. Its windows offered a lovely view of the harbor (that’s probably where I’d be looking if I were sitting in a pew). I also found the confessionals intriguing, as the confessors kneel in public. I imagine anyone could hear ones wishes for forgiveness.

We also ventured through a tunnel carved out of the rock that led us to a beach. Kids were swimming despite the red flag warning due to an impending storm! Waves crashed over the rocks, and looking up behind us made me wonder if and when a house will just topple off the cliff, especially given the warning signs for falling rock.

Finally, lunchtime! We got the top deck of the restaurant…more stairs. My aunt recently gave me a fit bit, I’m anxious to see how many flights we climbed today. We walked 10,000 steps by noon, and at least 1,000 of them had to be straight up. Upon reviewing my iphone data, we walked 26,058 steps and 11.22 miles for the day (though it wasn’t adjusted for the Italy time zone, so it might be slightly off). It doesn’t tell me how many flights of stairs…oh well…A LOT!

I had the best pesto trofie pasta in the world! Heidi had pasta with shrimp and zucchini that was full of flavor. I’m not the biggest pasta lover at home, but in Italy, it’s a different story. Freshly made pasta is divine! And to top it off, the restaurant serves a free glass of Prosecco. We settled up our tab just as the sprinkles fell onto the bamboo roof of the outdoor patio and trekked to the train station (that sounded far, not really).

We don’t have the trains down yet. We just tell the ticket seller where we want to go, ask what platform to stand on, and know they come every 30 minutes or so. We’d be in a bit of trouble if we had to buy a ticket ourselves or read a schedule without taking 15 minutes to concentrate on it. And thankfully, the attendant reminded us to validate our ticket…no need to risk a hefty fifty euro fine for two euro one-way fare and short ride!

We had considered hiking to Corniglia from Vernazza, though we read the path was closed from the landslides a few years ago. Then we briefly considered stopping off in Corniglia on our way back because it is a one street town too, but the rain was heavy. Sweaty, tired, and knowing we had to climb at least four more flights of stairs to our “penthouse” if we walked the “long way” to avoid twice as many otherwise, we opted for home. We got a good soaking as we exited the train, but the rain lightened by the time we made it to the gelateria…caffe and chocolate for me…lots of pistachio for Heidi.

IMG_4961 gelato

After a relaxing late afternoon at our apartment, we attempted to walk to Riomaggiore for dinner. The map Heidi purchased claimed it took 20 minutes. We saw a trail sign near our place and followed at minimum 200 stairs up the mountain, and we weren’t to the top. This was not the 20 minute stroll along the SVA trail. It was another trail, number 531. This area has trails everywhere! After asking in the coffee shop, we found out the SVA trail was closed from Manarola to Riomaggiore as well. It also sounded like it would be hard to return on the train with a limited evening schedule, so we chose to stay in Manarola and eat at Marina Piccola Ristorante on the harbor. Awesome seafood risotto! After dinner we wandered out to the point for a beautiful view of Manarola lit up by lights. What a lovely sight! And what a busy and amazing day…we’ll sleep well tonight! ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

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