Here I meet the Mediterranean Sea. I can walk all the way up to its powerful, rolling, green body and stare directly into its eyes. The salt spray clings to my hair and the humid wind draws sweat from my pores. Behind me stand rusted orange, yellow and pale pink buildings with dark green shutters sprawled open on every window. From behind them peaks the little dome of the cream-colored chapel halfway up the hill. A train passes along the sea cliff and disappears into the rock tunnel beneath stripes of grape vines stretching wildly in every direction.
The sea is a translucent green, defined by a line of navy blue as the water deepens farther out from the pier. It pushes its waves around the rocky cliffs with intensity; where they collide, big white sprays leap into the air and drop again, leaving dimples for a split-second before melting back into churning currents.
I’m staying in an Inn where a resident cat greets me each morning with a raspy meow. In 30 seconds from my door, I’m at the water’s edge, glistening under morning sun. I’m two months into my travels, and I’ve seen a lot of incredible places, but Vernazza feels like a dream. It’s so piercingly beautiful and idyllic, it’s hard to fathom it’s real, and that I’m somehow here.
Vernazza is one of five colorful cliff-side villages that make up the famed Cinque Terre in Tuscany, Northern Italy. Today I’ll hike to Monterrosso Al Mare, a village north of here, but first, I need an espresso.
Her hands move skillfully with ease as she flicks milk foam atop the fragrant brown liquid. I smile widely out of excitement, and she stares back indifferently, swatting the flies now gathering above a piping hot plate of focaccia vuota on the counter. A graying mass of wild curls frames her tan, sun-soaked cheeks and full lips. The brown mole above her left upper lip twitches momentarily as she slides the cappuccino my direction. “Grazie,” I say, blushing at the sound of my obvious American accent.
Next I head to the only grocer in town, which is stocked with local produce, fresh pesto in gallon glass jars, cured meats, olives, cheeses and the other necessary items like toilet paper and pasta. I buy a container of pesto, a hunk of cheese and some prosciutto to take with me for lunch on the trail.
The sun is already hot on my shoulders, so it’s time to get a move on! As I make my way toward the trail and begin climbing up through the hillside vineyards, I look back over my shoulder and fall even more in love with Vernazza.
The view down the trail wasn’t too bad either!