I just came across your website and it made me smile. I backpacked Europe March of 2001 and while my entire trip floods me with amazing memories nothing compares to these two towns.
My sister and I were eating at a restaurant in Florence trying to decide what or where to go the next day (our plan for Europe was to not have a plan until in the moment) We read somewhere about Cinque Terre and couldn’t decide whether to make the trip my rail to that coast or head the other direction to Venice. A woman in the restaurant overheard our conversation, approached us, and said that if we didn’t make the trip to Cinque Terre there would be something significantly missing from our trip. Boy was she right!
The next morning we boarded a train for a town/s we didn’t even know the location of — but that was the adventure. After a long ride on what we considered a “milk train” we headed through a mountain and could see through little cracks bursts of sunlight, bright blue water and PALM TREES! We got off the train and we felt in heaven!
Immediately we entered the station and tried to call our mom when an old Italian man approached us, threw his hands in the air and in the most authentic accent said, “Ah, you beautiful women brought the sunshine to Cinque Terre!” It was the best welcome we had received all trip. I dipped my feet in the Med Sea, ate Gelatti on the street, kicked a soccer ball with a little boy in an alley and drank wine with local vendors. To this day thoughts of Cinque Terre make me smile and for me I think if will always remain magical.
As a quick side note, we traveled through Gimmelwald while staying in Interlaken (both of which I would recommend). By luck or chance we stopped to eat at a restaurant (or I should say “the restaurant”) we met the owner who encouraged us to travel to Basel for festival. Tomorrow would be the last day and we shouldn’t miss it. So once again, the next morning we boarded a train for Basel (not knowing where it was) and once again had an incredible experience!
For backpackers-Europe is an amazing place but it is whatever you make it! Listen to your instincts but even more to locals because you never know what you might find.