As I packed my bags for a two-week getaway to Italy, I gave myself a brisk pep talk. “You’ll love Rome,” my inner cheerleader promised, “and you know Florence will be awesome.” But as I tossed jeans and Fodor’s guides into my suitcase, I dreamed only of Manarola, an out-of-the-way village perched on the cliffs of the northwestern coast.
In planning this vacation, a second honeymoon for my husband and me after 16 years of marriage, we’d cut a deal with each other. Dan—my bustle-loving, cosmopolitan spouse—would get his week of sightseeing in Italy’s megacities; in exchange, I’d get my week of serenity in the tiny town of Manarola.
When I’d first read the description in the Manarola hotel’s brochure—“a small and quiet inn on the sea, in a village of multicolored bungalows and terraced vineyards”—I’d actually sat down, nearly overcome by longing. I’ve always been something of a tranquility junkie—drawn to the kind of locales that might soothe, rather than stimulate, my easily overheated brain. This Mediterranean fishing village called to me.
During our first week in Italy visiting Rome and Florence, we took in some breathtaking art, but also contended with hordes of motorbiking locals who swerved without warning from the streets onto narrow, jam-packed sidewalks. Crowds of chattering, photo-snapping tourists accompanied us wherever we went, from the Uffizi Palace to the corner café. “Breathe,” I instructed myself, but I didn’t, not really,…