Cinque Terre, Italy
Along the Italian Riviera, five colorful seaside towns make up the Cinque Terre, one of Italy's most famous destinations. From south to north: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Vernazza, Corniglia, and Monterosso al Mare. The Cinque Terre is not technically part of Tuscany, but it's so close that from Pisa you can practically hear it calling to you. Board a train, and you'll be from the leaning tower to Riomaggiore in about an hour.
Because you can't see all of Cinque Terre in one day, plan to spend a night or two in one of the villages (there's no wrong choice) or in neighboring Levanto. Driving traffic is so restricted here that it's easier not to bring a car at all. The trains that run from town to town are the quickest way to get around, and from the end of March to the beginning of November ferries also run along the coast, offering some pretty spectacular views.
A series of hiking paths also connect the villages, about eight miles in total from Riomaggiore to Monterosso al Mare. However, trail closures are frequent, due to weather and occasional rockslides. The famous Via dell'Amore path that links Riomaggiore and Manarola has been closed for a couple years, and doesn't look to be reopening anytime soon. If you'd like to hike just one leg of the journey, opt for the scenic trail between Monterosso al Mare and Vernazza.
One of the wonderful things about Cinque Terre is the fact that there aren't too many things to do or attractions to see. As a protected national park and UNESCO world heritage site, these five towns are free of chain stores or restaurants, and so many unsightly aspects of modern life. Despite its surging popularity, Cinque Terre maintains an impressive old-world charm, bringing you back to the simpler times of a tiny Italian fishing village.
Your days will move at a slower pace than in Milan or Venice, and you'll have far fewer decisions to make. Just pick a town to explore, have a drink with a view or a picnic on the harbor rocks, head down to the beach or up to the hiking trails - and always, always stop to watch the sun set over the sea.
Each village has its own unique charm, its own maze of back streets, and its own collage of colorful buildings. Between the delicious street food (a cone of gelato or fresh fritto misto) and wonderful local restaurants, you can rest easy knowing that you really can't go wrong no matter what you choose.
Riomaggiore is the place to watch the sunsets in Cinque Terre - the smallest village, and very photogenic with its brightly colored buildings. Settle in for dinner with a view at A Piè de Mà, or pick up a pizza for a picnic on the harbor rocks.
Manarola is home to the harbor view you've seen all over Pinterest. Enjoy an even better view over an Aperol spritz at Nessun Dorma, find some excellent seafood at Trattoria dal Billy, or join the ever-present handful of daredevils rock jumping into the harbor.
Vernazza is perhaps the prettiest of the five towns, with a domed church and a castle tower framing the pastel harbor. Have a delicious (and healthy) breakfast or lunch at Lunch Box, relax at Gianni Franzi wine bar, or book a table at the incredibly romantic Ristorante Belforte for dinner. Take in the panoramic views, either from the top of Castello Doria tower or from the beginning of the hiking trail to Monterosso al Mare.
Corniglia sits high above the water, and visitors follow 365 steps (one for each day of the year) up the hillside to reach it. With no harbour, you'll have to arrive by train, but there's often a small shuttle running up to town for those who can't take the stairs. The slightly inconvenient location may be why this village is quieter than the rest, making it a peaceful afternoon retreat. Make it even sweeter with a visit to Alberto Gelateria.
Monterosso al Mare is a sprawling town compared to its neighbors, and feels slightly more modern. It is home to Cinque Terre's only proper beaches, and Spiaggia di Fegina is begging you to spend a day under one of its striped umbrellas. When it's time to break from beaching for a meal, leave your towel on your lounger and head to Da Eraldo.
If you have just one day to spend in Cinque Terre, here's what I'd suggest:
Arrive to Vernazza as early as possible, and walk through this pretty town in the morning light. Get a takeaway breakfast at Lunch Box before you make the hour-and-a-half hike to Monterosso al Mare. At Spiaggia di Fegina, skip the lounge chairs in favor of a quick dip in the water and a rest on the rocks. If you're a fan of seafood, a cone of fritto misto makes for the perfect lunch before boarding the ferry towards Riomaggiore. Sail past Corniglia (you don't have time for those 365 steps!), but spend an hour or two in beautiful Manarola before you end the day with a sunset dinner at A Piè de Mà in Riomaggiore.