|Caroline Roy in Vernazza, one of the five coastal villages of Cinque Terre.|
WHO: Janis Owens, 58, and Caroline Roy, 56, both of Duxbury.
WHEN: 12 days in October.
WHY: "We're in the same book group, and we always gravitate toward travel books," Owens said. "Caroline said, 'I've always wanted to go to Cinque Terre,' then I saw an article on it. We decided to go with a small group because we're two single women traveling together, and it's a wonderful way to meet people."
FEMALE BONDING: They signed up for a weeklong walking tour in Tuscany and Cinque Terre through Experience Plus, starting with three days in Lucca, near Pisa. The women met the seven other Americans in the group there. "The only man was part of a couple. I told him, 'You're getting a real window into women here,' " Owens said. Their tour guide was an Italian woman, who was joined by local guides in both locations.
OLD AND OLDER: "Lucca is a walled medieval city on a Roman ruin," Owens said. "You see parts of the wall from the coliseum and then it's mostly medieval on top of that. We did a walking tour, and also went to Pisa to visit the leaning tower. We ate a lot, too. Our first meal was an eight-course meal at a local restaurant."
FOLLOWING HIS FOOTSTEPS: One long walk they took started in the hills west of Lucca to Torre del Lago, where Puccini wrote many of his operas. "We hiked down to Lake Massaciuccoli, then down a Roman road and through a vineyard to have lunch in Torre del Lago, then we ended at the beach."
HILL TOWNS: A two-hour van drive took them north to Cinque Terre, five coastal villages. The first day they hiked from Levanto to their home base in Monterosso, while the van driver deposited their gear at the hotel. "After that we did day hikes from Monterosso. Marco was our local guide. His English was so broken, it was adorable. The hiking in Cinque Terre was totally different because the towns are clinging to the side of the hill, and they're difficult to get in and out of. We were very excited to be there." The group walked about 5 to 7 miles a day under sunny skies in the high 70s.
MEMORABLE MEAL: Their favorite meal was at Marina Piccola in Manarola. "We hiked to it in the morning, had lunch for two hours on the patio, and hiked back. It seemed to be the most authentic local place we ate at. We had a seafood pasta dish and squid ink pasta in a creamy tomato sauce. Everything had a seafood base, and the sauces were very light."
HAPPY HIKING: The hikes to and from towns were pleasantly challenging. "You're climbing up rocky steps that take you up out of the villages. The hills are terraced vineyards and olive groves. Then you reach wooded areas, with very steep paths through pinewoods. The sea was blue and clear, and the shore was rocky."
ONE LAST LOOK: Owens and Roy spent a couple days on their own in Varenna on Lake Como. "It's an adorable little town," she said. They loved their stay at Hotel Eremo Gaudio. "It's an old nunnery on the side of the hill. We had to take funiculars to go up to the room and back to the lobby."