My tiny paradise in the Cinque Terre area.
As I told you in my first post I’m very lucky, because I live in Vernazza.
Long cut off from the modern world, it only became easily accessible with the coming of the train.
No cars enter my village of more or less 500 people, except on Tuesday morning for our weekly tailgate-party street market.
Vernazza has the only natural harbor in the Cinque Terre and till the Republic of Genoa domain it had no beach or square. The water went right up to the buildings in the actual via Roma, where boats would tie up. Kind of a little Venice… and actually the latin name of Vernazza is Vuletia!
Being my “home sweet home” and nothing like aromas having the power to project people in places and situations, to me Vernazza is mapped on the basis of scents and smells…
Brackish always brings me back in Ventegà, no matter where I am when I sniff it. Ventegà is the small square below the ancient Belforte bastion, where during summer time touristic ferries dock and where local children learn to dive from one of the village most important rocks Gaggiaèlla… yeah, in Vernazza even rocks have a name!
Out of season this corner is just magic and silence and if you come across someone is a lonely fisherman or a cat in search of pampering. A perfect place to let thoughts wandering and muse lulled by the sea and the salty scent, which is more concentrated here than anywhere else.
Then there is another kind of brackish smell, the one given by the colorful wooden boats, gozzi, when they are up-side-down in the village.
They normally remain on buoys, except in winter for the yearly maintenance or when the red storm flag indicates bad seas – especially with south-west wind and the salty swallow the entire village. When this happen the main square, normally occupied by restaurants beautiful parasols, is filled with boats going up till via Roma right-hand side, the shady side known as Lùvegu halve (from Vernazzan dialect “dank”) opposing the flowery sunny side of Sciuiu.
Lùvegu it is not properly a perfume, but there is one particular variant emanating from old thick walls that you can smell visiting both our amazing harbor-front church of Santa Margerita d’Antiochia with its unusual entryway on the altar side and an incredible view on the sea and the Doria Castle, know as Castê.
It was built around the XI century to defend the village and its perimeter is completely irregular. If you stop to look at it from above the watchtower at the beginning of the path that leads to Corniglia, you’ll note how the stone walls follow the cliff: in fact, I recommend that you walk from Corniglia to Vernazza to enjoy the breathtaking view getting here.
On both sides of the village houses were connected by an interior arcade — ideal for fleeing attacks.
In these narrow streets, the so called caruggi, scents mix and mingle. Here you can smell washed clothes hanging to dry from a house to the other creating a rainbow of laundry flaps; private wineries; fresh seafood during the preparation of salted anchovy’s arbanelle (glass jars covered with flat round stones to press the anchovies during the salting period); oregano spread out of kitchens’ windows to dry… a Babel of odors, but what a charm!
Then there is an odor of the alleys that even I have never smelt, but have often imagined 🙂 Today’s Via del Santo, on the right walking down the stairs of the train station, was formerly called ‘Caruggiu dell’axéu‘ (i.e. vinegar alley) because not having running water in the cellars people used to take advantage of rainy days to wash carboys and other vessels containing wine that poured out of the various doors soaking both the air and the stony street.
But Vernazza, as the rest of Italian Riviera, is not only sea… here you can feel and smell the rich and ancient countryside tradition.
Walking up to the beautiful Shrine of Reggio you’ll cross vineyards, olive groves and lots of ciàn (i.e. private gardens). The origins of this Sanctuary are very old, but beyond its history, the beauty of the landscape and its peace, this is a place dear to everyone in Vernazza.
The first Sunday of August we celebrate Our Lady of Reggio: the day before there is a procession to the Sanctuary and children are dressed as pilgrims (to me a tragedy), and on Sunday we meet in the yard to eat all together ending the meal with a glass of Sciachetrà, the renowned local dessert wine.
If you come to Vernazza – and I highly recommend it 😉 — you can not set out along the path that leads to Reggio!
On your way up, stop to admire the view from the deconsecrated church of Fratti, the Reformed Friars Minor of St. Francis, the current seat of the municipality and then again from the tiny cemetery.
This is my Vernazza and I always carry it with me, because the beauty of a fragrance is that you can take it off without taking anything away from the plant, place or person from which it emanates…
P.S. On October 25, 2011 massive flooding and mudslides devastated Vernazza, burying the town under 4m/13ft. of mud and debris. Floodwaters reached second story windows, wiped out road and rail connections and left residents without water, gas or electricity. Three people tragically drowned. Homes, businesses and territory were destroyed. For further information visit Save Vernazza official web site.