Vernazza is one of the cinque terre villages on the stunning Italian Riviera. I first visited this magical place in 2001. It’s become much busier since then, but it was still the perfect setting for The Lemon Tree Hotel.
These five villages with narrow cobblestone streets and tall skinny houses of dusky pink, ochre and earthy green are built on terraced hillsides where villagers have grown vines and harvested olives for centuries. It’s a tough living, but now a protected environment – they need to ensure they are helped rather than destroyed by tourism.
The Lemon Tree Hotel itself is sadly fictional… I wanted it to be a restored convent set amidst an olive grove – easy, since most of the hillside is one big olive grove – and so we set off on the coastal path to Corniglia (another of the cinque terre villages) find the spot and take photos of the hotel’s potential view. The scent of mountain thyme is in the air, and below the juniper and prickly pears, the Mediterranean sea glitters invitingly. If this hotel really existed, you wouldn’t be able to drag me away.
From here, we walk down the steep path through chestnut trees to the clutter of rooftops that is Vernazza. At every twist and turn, we catch a tantalising snatch of the clear blue ocean. Vernazza has a tiny harbour and a rocky bay with a patch of sand where local children play football. The main piazza is harbourside, a glorious square of cobbles, orange parasols and tamarisk trees. Boats, not cars, are parked in the streets.
If it’s not too hot, it’s wonderful to hike up to the Sanctuary of Reggio, along an ancient pilgrims’ route dotted with shrines which winds uphill to the church. There’s a sense of tranquillity here that seems to hang in the air amidst the wise olive trees. High above, stands a magnificent spread-eagled oak tree where you can sit and admire the view – or write a scene for a novel maybe?
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