During college, I found a random photo online of an Italian village jutting into the sea; cue sunset backdrop.
I posted the no-name land on Facebook with the caption, "Hello, place I will someday go."
More than four years later, I stood, awed, with a backpack & a group of European friends, taking a picture at that exact spot.
My friend had unknowingly tracked down My Dream Town as a fun place to visit.
Cinque Terre, a group of five villages along the western Mediterranean coast, can be accessed by car, train, and foot. Summer days are hot & the hike is rough at points, but I'd recommend walking from at least one village to another (an hour or so from Vernazza and it's sister town, Corniglia).
Finding the trail itself is a mysterious adventure, & the sights, sounds, and tastes (diverse plant life and vegetation, thirstily-sucked cactus fruit, & jaw-dropping views over the cliffs) can't be missed. All the villages are filled with shops & cafes, although ironically Manarola ended up my favorite town. Fewer tourists seemed to make it that far out, leaving us with a more authentic feel.
We ordered fries & seafood to-go at a local stand & watched the fishermen draw their boats, one by one, high above the cliff faces after a day of work. Dozens of people swam & jumped from rocks and crags below.
Manarola has no (findable) beach, but Corniglia does outside of town, beckoning travelers to strip down to undergarments & climb the broken ladder to the sand and clear waters.