The colourful cliffside towns are bucket list-worthy, but once you get there, you discover you've been sucked in.
The colourful, cliffside villages of Cinque Terre have been on my list for years.
Something about the brightly painted homes, the spectacular citrus orchards built on near-vertical slopes, and the summer sunshine proved irresistible.
I visited with my parents, on our first trip to Italy. We started in Rome and finished in Venice, and Cinque Terre was an easy day trip on a big red bus from Florence.
I was incredibly excited to visit.
Ever since I was little, I've been filling a shoebox with photos clipped from Escape, and more than a few of them showed these five villages on the rocks.
As an adult, my travel inspiration became only slightly more sophisticated when I downloaded Instagram and slowly started following travel bloggers.
I've always been captivated by the technicolour dreamhouses, however, it turns out they've been lying to me this whole time.
Our first stop was Manarola. We walked down the steps from the carpark, admired the rugged coastline, saw countless grapevines, and entered the village.
It's incredibly cute, don't get me wrong. The houses are small, the streets are cobbled, and everyone's in a good mood because they're on holiday.
But the buildings don't look anything like the pictures.
Sure, you can pick out greens, oranges, yellows and pinks, but they're all in muted shades of pastel. In real life, the colours are actually quite dull.
It's no surprise the images I'd clipped from newspapers and liked on Facebook were touched-up. Enhancing light and correcting colours is part of the art of photography.
When it comes to Cinque Terre, however, I'd argue the images have been doctored so much they're actually fake.
It's like every single person who visits — be they tourist or photographer — is in cahoots, determined to keep perpetuating the technicolour dreams.
I snapped a few photos on my smartphone, and my parents and I wandered to the station and caught a train to Vernazza.
It's home to a gorgeous church and a tiny harbour with exceptionally clear water. My mum and I climbed the steep, spiralling steps to the top of the Castello Doria, the oldest surviving fortification in the area, and soaked up the view.
The sun was shining, the waves were lapping, and the leaves were rustling among the crops planted in terraces on the sides of the steep hills.
I had nothing to complain about, and yet I felt a sharp twinge of disappointment every time I snapped a picture.
They looked nothing like the over-saturated pictures I was familiar with.
On to Monterosso, we had a delicious lunch of freshly-caught fish.
Led by my dad's uncanny ability to sniff out ice-cream, we were in full tourist-mode. We sampled the locally-brewed limoncino (think limoncello, the famous Italian liqueur, but with a bit of extra kick) and browsed the wares at market stalls.
By the time we caught the train to Riomaggiore, our last stop, I made up my mind. I set to work as soon as I found a stable wi-fi connection.
I opened an image in Instagram. Up with the contrast. Up with the structure. Way up with the saturation, and why not add a vignette?
Like so many others, I lied about what I'd seen.
I'd been charmed senseless by the five (four in my case) tiny villages perched perilously on the edge of the cliffs.
If I were more noble, I'd say I doctored the image because I enjoyed the visit so much and I wanted to paint the villages in the best light possible.
The truth is, however, these villages have a winning combination of sea breezes, delicious food, and stunning views. They really don't need my help.
Like so many others, my millennial self sought validation in the form of squeezing as many likes as possible out of Instagram.
Don't be like me. Be like my parents, who snapped all kinds of goofy selfies so they could show their friends over a cuppa when they got home.