Top Thirteen Best Quaint Cities, Towns & Villages in Europe
Most Charming Towns and Villages to Visit! (Discovered on Road Trips and Holidays in Europe off the Beaten Track)I was recently inspired to blog my Top Ten Quaintest Towns and Villages that we have come across on our road trips and holidays in Europe so far. Since our holiday to Corsica and the South of France I have have fallen in love with two more quaint little villages and added them - Eze, and Pigna...
Most of these places are best reached by hiring a car in Europe or perhaps using trains, busses or other European public transport. Some of them are not all within easy reach of main airports or all that easy to travel to from main cities. That is, of course a big part of their appeal as they are such genuine little places which are full of unique character... Enjoy!
Annecy Vielle Ville (old town) is a colourful, rustic, cobbly affair in Haute Savoie - France. It has a canal weaving through the centre, past the castle on the hill. The natural setting is incredible, giving you lots of outdoors things to do. All around are high mountains, sheer rock faces, and the clearest lake you have ever seen! Take in the restaurants, shops, patisseries and bakeries as you stroll around this wonderful little town and if the weather is good, hire a pedal boat on Lake Annecy.
An excellent hotel for value, cleanliness and friendly staff is Hotel Alexandra (2/3 stars). It is right in the centre, and the shores of the lake are within a 2 minute walk. The rooms can be small and there is no lift, but rooms are ensuite and with a TV. The service is excellent and it's such a cute little one-off non-chain hotel. Expect to pay around 70 EUR per room, per night. Get a parking permit from reception if you've got a car.
Winding narrow alleyways within a tall, intact medieval wall, shop windows littered with gorgeous biscuits and cakes, and stunning Renaissance churches make this town both alluring and mysterious. The red-tiled roofs of the numerous buildings which are crammed within the walls, complimented by the surrounding rolling Tuscan hills and mountains can be seen if you climb one of the towers in the town (e.g. Tower Guinigi).
The streets and banks of the canal in Colmar’s Vielle Ville are lined with colourful beamed buildings, traditional Wistub restaurants, and all things Alsatian. This is an extremely picturesque town with various churches built in various types of stone (such as pink sandstone). Colmar has a different feel in each season, but if you happen to be here over the holidays, don’t miss the Christmas and Easter markets which are set in the main square with its gloriously traditional surroundings. There are some lovely crafty bits on offer as well as some tasty treats!
This charming little Swiss town is a little more on the tourist trail, due to its enormous ski domain, and hiking pilgrimage in summer - it is a perfect location for outdoors holidays. It is a delightful, majestic and traditional town with some lovely gift shops and awe-inspiring hiking trails ranging from easy to absolutely expert. Surrounded by the lushest of fields only fitting for Heidi or The Sound of Music, Grindelwald boasts the Eiger Alp as a dramatic backdrop, and the blueish tinged Oberer Glacier can be seen lying nestled among the mountains. It can be visited via over 100 precarious log steps up the mountainside, and a swing bridge over a gorge with a waterfall. It’s fantastic. In summer the glacier may have retreated significantly so for nearer views spring is better.
This tiny little fishing port in the Adriatic sea, on the isolated island of Vis, is a bustling little town with a very local feel. The natural surroundings of the crystal aqua sea and steep olive and vine-cloaked hillsides are reason enough to visit. This tiny place really is somewhere to sit on a pebble beach and ponder, or take a walk up in the hills and drink in the view of the tiny sun-bathed town below. Typically Mediterranean, it is reliably sunny and dry in the months around summer.
Thun isnot far from the tourist hub of Interlaken, but as a university town it retains a hip, young, authentic feel. The cobbled streets, traditional buildings and turquoise (yes turquoise) river make this town visually stunning. The castle in the centre is a big attraction (housing a museum) and the shops in the main street and the side streets are individual and full of excellent gifts and trinkets. There is an excellent selection of restaurants, and the ones with the best setting for sitting outside are behind the main street towards the canal, over-looking the water.
An good hotel for value and rustic Swiss charm is Hotel Emmental (3 stars). It has an atmospheric bar downstairs and big characteristic but simple rooms. It is a one-off hotel which doesn't belong to a chain. If you're lucky you'll get a room with a view of the castle! Hotels are expensive in Switzerland, expect to pay around 80CHF per room. This is a normal price at the time of writing.
San Gimignano, Italy
San Gimignano is a medieval town home to a series of medieval stone and brick towers which used to belong to one family each. The families would build their towers taller and taller to exert their power. These plain, oblong constructions rise up into the sky with a slightly foreboding feel, and you can feel the history of the place, despite the tourist shops and abundance of cameras. This town is largely a tourist destination, but the shops house some exquisite art, pottery and sweet treats. Not to mention the attraction of the surrounding Tuscan landscape views from the edge of the town by the car park.
Spittal An Der Drau, Austria
This colourful and picturesque town has such an ‘Austrian’ feel, for want of a better word! The architecture belongs in a picture-book and the beautifully kept Stadpark gardens further compliment this town. There are also some good gift shops and a good choice of restaurants in the main street.
St Gervais-Les-Bains, France
This town is well-touristed due to its ski domain and its famous Mont Blanc Thermes (thermal spa), however this heavy tourist footfall is for good reason. St Gervais retains its old-town charm and it is a genuine place to be. Its cafes, patisseries, shops and magnificent church with murals all add to its appeal. The town is up the mountain from Le Fayet (where the main busses depart) and a short local bus ride up into St Gervais will only set you back a couple of euros. The town’s position on a valley edge makes the walk over to the cable cars for the ski domain, a spectacular one.
We stayed in a lovely apartment within a large chalet, about a minute walk from the town centre. It was booked through interhome who let a wide range of chalets and apartments all over Europe. Prices vary a great deal but expect to pay around £30-40a night per person for a regular 3 star chalet or apartment.
Eze is a beautiful medieval town on a steep hill, wrapped tightly within city walls, with just one entrance and exit. The delightful art and artisan shops squeezed into the steep and narrow alleyways add to the uniqueness of this atmospheric village. At the top is a wonderful cactus garden (entrance fees apply) with stunning sculptures celebrating femininity by French sculptor Jean-Phillippe Richard.
Accommodation and Dining Suggestions
An excellent four star restaurant and hotel is Chateau Eza, serving traditional French cuisine to a very high standard and with an outdoors terrace with exquisite views of the med and the surrounding hills of the Cote d’Azur.
A divine four star guesthouse nearby (around a half-hour walk inland from Eze) is ‘La Bastide Aux Camelias.’ The owners Fred and Sylvianne are so friendly and rooms are luxuriously decorated. There is a fantastic little pool, a sauna, Jacuzzi, lounge and wonderful little gardens, also a great continental breakfast is included.
Pigna is a small picturesque little Corsican village crammed with some wonderful individual little shops. It is an excellent location on the ‘Route des Artisans’ – a trail in the Balagne region of Corsica which is promoting local crafts from workshops and shops in various towns and villages in the area. Pigna has some excellent little cafes with stunning views down to the turquoise coastline.
The wonderful shops and little crooked buildings are delightful, and there is a good designated car park for 2 euros which is a relief when driving up from the coast on the narrow roads, as you feel the distinct possibility of having to park on the roadside like in many little places in hillside Corsica.
This town is no big tourist hotspot. The draw is its genuine French feel and the fact that not many people speak English. It is a great place in France for practising your French and soaking up a genuine atmosphere. There is a selection of gift and clothes shops, and some good low-key restaurants and pizzerias (always expect good tasty food in France!) If you’re driving, on the way into the town from the North, there is a fantastic late 1800s viaduct.
Text and Images Copyright © Lise Griffiths, 2012
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Most authentic, charming and quaint towns and villages to visit on holiday and travels in Europe, off the beaten track