After two nights in Vernazza we still hadn’t had enough of the Cinque Terra. However, while Vernazza is probably the most immediately beautiful of the five Cinque Terre villages (Rick Steves describes it as the “cover girl” of the area) and has a good mix of everything the other villages offer, we still wanted to spend the night in another town.

Over our first couple of days in the region we had visited all five villages, and so it didn’t take us long to decide that we wanted to spend our last night in Corniglia. Perched on top of a hill and lacking anything even close to a beach, Corniglia is the smallest and least touristy of the five towns. It has been famous for its wine since Roman times, and is still surrounded by ancient grapevine terraces.

We arrived in Corniglia one morning and climbed the nearly 400 deep, sloping stairs up to the village. The sun was out and while 400 steeps might not seem like a lot, we were pretty hot by the time we got to the top. Once we were in the town’s main square we saw a small alley and figured that would be a good place to start looking for rooms to rent.

Sure enough, around a corner and up a precarious stone stairway we found a sign for rooms. We knocked and were greeted by an elderly woman in a muumuu. She didn’t speak a word of English, but by pointing at her sign, a calendar and gesturing we were able to communicate our need for a room. Using my Portuguese  and Laura’s uncanny knack for understanding foreign languages we were able to determine that the room was 60 euros (and that the lady was sorry she wasn’t wearing something nicer to receive us.) We thought that sounded decent, but we also were paying less in Vernazza, so we wanted to look around a bit before committing to anything. Communicating that, however, proved to futile. We gestured, I tried some Portuguese, and in the end the woman just called her grandson who sort of spoke English. I told him that we were going to look around and come back later, then I passed the phone to the woman so the grandson could translate.

Apparently the woman wasn’t used to people coming but not committing, and as soon as she got off the phone she offered us the room for 50 euros. At that point, Laura and I looked at each other and then told the woman we’d take it. We would have liked to check it out first, but 50 euros was a good price and we figured there was no way we were going to be able to communicate our desire to see the room. We also figured no one else in the tiny village would speak much more English.

Later, we went and got our bags back in Vernazza and returned to Corniglia. We hiked up the 400 steps, and visited the woman again. She was now wearing a different, nicer muumuu and she showed us to our room. I have to admit, I was a little bit worried it was going to be a dump. We hadn’t seen it first and we really couldn’t understand the lady, so we braced ourselves for the worst.

The lady led us out of her house—which was a surprise as we thought she had rented us a room in her own home—and down into a medieval alleyway. She stopped at a nondescript door and let us in to what we were astonished to discover was basically a studio apartment. There was a big bathroom, a kitchenette, and a full-length window that opened to the alley. It was by far the most comfortable place we had found on our trip and, amazingly, it was inexpensive and located in a great spot. We couldn’t believe it.

The above picture is the inside of our room in Corniglia.


Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Urbanism and travel writer. Also a journalist covering the news.

One comment

  1. Corniglia was my favorite of the Cinque Terre…but I stayed in a hotel up in Monterosso al Mare. Your room looks SO much more awesome.

    I’ve liked how you’ve had good interactions with locals throughout your whole trip! (And how you’re blogging as you go…smart.)

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