Welcome back to Ask a Local, a series of posts in which I interview locals all over the world about what to see, where to go, what to eat, and how to fit in in their city or town. The following interview was originally published in my Italy guide.
Today I’m happy to introduce you to Miriana Rovaron, a travel agent and Cinque Terre enthusiast and promoter here to tell us all about Vernazza.
First, tell us about you.
I was born in La Spezia and have lived here all my life, but we are so close to Cinque Terre (just a few minutes by train) and I have been visiting them since I was a child—first as a day-tripper, then for longer holidays, and now as a travel agent.
I have been working with Cinque Terre, promoting them and renting properties, since 2005 through my agency, originally located in La Spezia. Then, last year, we opened our office in Vernazza, right on the main street, Via Roma 24.
If someone is visiting the Cinque Terre for the first time, what do you recommend they see or do?
First of all, stay a bit longer than a few nights; that way you can relax, visit all the villages (Vernazza is our favorite, but they are all nice and each has its own charm), and try a lot of different area activities, including boat tours, wine tasting, and cooking classes. This way you’ll really get the most out of the region.
Cinque Terre is actually a national park and trails connect each of the five major villages. The views you experience while walking the trails will be amazing. One interesting fact: until about 50 years ago, the trails were the only roads that locals used to get around (apart from riding in their boats).
There is a hike for everyone. The shortest is 25 minutes; the longest can take about two hours. When you review the trail maps, you’ll see that there are two different types of trails that connect the villages: the trails that run closer to sea level (easy/intermediate trails) and the trails that run along the tops of the hills (a bit more difficult). While you are hiking the high trails, you can find a spot to jump into the sea.
What neighborhoods or parts of town are best to stay in?
Vernazza is the most visited village of the five. So, for those who want a relaxing holiday, especially during the day, staying in San Bernardino or Fornacchi areas (just 4.5 kilometers from the village center) above the village, might be a better choice.
Monterosso is the biggest of the five villages, as well as the most accessible and the only one with an amazing, almost sandy beach (the other Cinque Terre beaches are smooth pebble beaches). Here, apartments are a bit larger, so it’s a great option for families on vacation.
Corniglia is the hiker’s paradise. Manarola is a simple village that slopes uphill and tends to have great sea views. And Riomaggiore is the easternmost town, with a steep slope and beautiful sunsets.
Let’s talk about day trips…what nearby places should everyone make sure to visit?
From here, you can visit easily Tuscany and Piedmont. For really nice closer spots, try lively La Spezia, scenic Portovenere and Lerici, Medieval Sarzana, and the Luni Roman ruins, plus all the Cinque Terre countryside, including the Val Di Vara.
Tell us about the local dishes. What should people try here?
My top choices? Handmade pasta with pesto (which originated in this region), seafood, and fish and vegetable pies.
I’d also recommend acciughe al tegame (fried anchovies), coniglio alla Ligure (Ligurian-style rabbit), pesto lasagna, ravioli alla Ligure (Ligurian ravioli, featuring beets, meat, and pine nuts), spaghetti allo scoglio (seafood spaghetti), mussels in marinara sauce, baked white fish, stocafisso In umido (stockfish in sauce), fried triglie (red mullet), mesciua (bean soup), cima (stuffed veal breast), minestrone soup, and spaghetti with mussels.
What are your top three favorite bars and restaurants?
Taverna del Capitano at Piazza Guglielmo Marconi 21/24 in Vernazza, Micky Restaurant (located at Via Fegina 104) in Monterosso, and A Pie de Ma (at Viale Giovanni Amendola) in Riomaggiore.
Is there anything tourists do that locals find rude or strange? What can we do to better fit in with the culture?
The only things we ask are that you respect nature, do not leave garbage all over, do not ask for air conditioning, which is often not necessary for this kind of architecture (thick stone walls keep houses cool in summer and warm in winter), do not invade villages in huge day trip groups (it is mostly an area for individual visitors and small groups, not 100-person groups), and do keep quiet at night (it is not a disco-type region).
What is the best way to meet locals and make friends?
Stay longer, learn basic Italian words, go shopping at local stores, and talk to locals, even in simple Italian or basic English.
Why should people make sure to visit the Cinque Terre?
It is still an unspoiled region, extremely natural, not yet invaded by McDonalds and other fast food chains or big brand luxury stores.
There are no cars and no traffic in all the villages.
Anything else you want us to know?
When you imagine the Cinque Terre, imagine century-old vineyards built onto the sides of steep rocks by fishermen. It’s like the Amalfi Coast of the north. Pesto, grapes for white wines, and anchovies (served about two dozen different ways) here are king and a deep source of pride.
Italians refer to the Cinque Terre as “terre tra cielo e mare” (the land between sky and sea). When you see it, you’ll know what they mean.