The ancient Cinque Terre gem rebuilds gracefully

When massive landslides hit Italy’s Ligurian coast 18 months ago, damage to the medieval town of Vernazza was devastating, its stone streets, centuries-old landmarks, and picturesque waterfront left buried in mud. But in the disaster’s aftermath, this jewel of the Cinque Terre—a group of five villages designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site—is rebuilding in a sustainable and eco-friendly fashion. Pritzker Prize–winning British architect Richard Rogers, who has vacationed in the town for more than 50 years, is spearheading (with Italian architect Ernesto Bartolini) a master plan for the public areas that is funded by nonprofit organizations such as Save Vernazza.

The main square, Piazza Marconi, lined with pastel-color buildings, is being repaved with stones from the area; repurposed-wood benches and enhanced lighting are being added; and all phone and electrical wiring is being put underground. “We want to give more order to the services and civic spaces while returning Vernazza to what it was—one of the most beautiful small villages on the Mediterranean coast,” Rogers says.

Vernazza’s essential appeals are as they’ve always been—wandering the pedestrian-only streets out to its medieval castle with panoramic vistas; lounging on the little sandy beach with locals; poking into shops along Via Visconti. There are no big luxury hotels, though the guesthouse La Malà offers smart minimalist rooms with stunning views. Alternatively, atmospheric apartments can be rented through Trattoria Gianni Franzi, a terrific restaurant that dishes up just-caught anchovies, whole-grilled fish, and trofie, the preferred Ligurian short pasta, with pesto.

Breathtaking hiking trails wend along the surrounding cliffs, with an especially unforgettable stretch between Vernazza and Corniglia. For those more inclined toward an excursion by boat, there are many compelling side trips. One of the most memorable is the village of San Fruttuoso, home to a magnificent 13th-century Benedictine abbey and wonderful, simple trattorias like Da Laura, which serves spectacular fritto misto right on the beach.