Popular yet Surprisingly Traditional and Unspoilt Towns to Visit in Europe
Here are some of my favourite popular yet traditional towns in Europe. Unspoilt places that, quite simply, have not yet been overtaken by mass-tourism or globalisation, but are total must-sees.
Clean and medieval, with pretty red roofs, and surrounding forested Transylvanian mountains. A fairytale. Brasov has a cable car for stunning views of this traditional town, a great selection of delicious cafés and restaurants, and some interesting little gift and craft shops. It is a great base for exploring parts of Transyvania such as Bran Castle and Rasnov fortress.
My favourite thing about Brasov the view from above - it looks like a tiny toy town, dwarfed by the big cathedral in the middle and the surrounding mountains. I also loved the large main square, so many photo opportunities there and in the surrounding streets... Also the cathedral's two painted clock faces with stars and icons are quite unusual and magical.
Bergen allegedly served as part of the inspiration alongside Arundel for the town Arendelle in Disney's Frozen. It's not hard to see a similarity either, with the setting of the town and its port. Bergen is a fairly small place with a big identity and often dubbed 'the gateway to the fjords' - quite rightfully so. At the South-Western edge of Norway, fascinating fjordland simply could not be closer.
I fell in love with the traditional colourful wooden buildings at Bryggen along by the port, and the town's position on the water with the mountains rising steeply behind. The fjords are truly magnificent; on a Fjord excursion I physically had to stop myself from taking photos constantly and just enjoy the view.
Lavenham is one of those quaint little historic Engish towns that you just know has hardly changed for decades. Totally unspoilt. Tearooms, gift shops, and beamed-buildings, standing crooked in the pretty streets. Lavenham is in the picturesque and sunny county of Suffolk, where many of the cottages dotted around the countryside are painted a traditional and pretty shade of pink called 'Suffolk pink.'
I particularly like the stunning beamed Guildhall building in Lavenham and and the friendly little tearoom next door. I also adore the unusual glass-art gift shop Water Street Glass, in Water Street.
Picturesque and elegant, with the Seine river coursing through, Auxerre is an exciting little place in Burgundy with great little sloping narrow streets to wander around and buy pretty things and yummy chocolate. Not far from Auxerre to the West is a medieval castle 'Guedelon' being built using traditional methods as if it were being built in the 1300s.
I mostly enjoyed the walks along the river and the narrow cobbled streets, Auxerre has a quaint storybook appeal and is another very photogenic little town with its grand cathedral and clock tower rising up behind the river on the hill.
Anney's position on the crystal clear Lake Annecy in the French Alps region with surrounding mountains, makes it a strikingly scenic place to be, and that's before even considering the romantic, crumbly and colourful old town. It is simply a delightful place so full of character that it feels like it couldn't possibly be real and must be a filmset!
I love the stone archways and the little bridges over the river, with so many delicious restaurants and cafes lining the stone streets that it's impossible to choose. We also had the best morning on a pedal boat on the lake. It's yet another place where my camera ran out of battery...
Another town in Burgundy, Beaune has a great history of wine-making and is well-worth a visit for its sights and culture of which most are strongly linked to wine-making. The resplendent Hotel de Dieu is a major sight, with its magnificent tiled roof, typical of Burgundy.
One of my favourite things to di in Beaune was the wine tour and tasting at Marche Aux Vins which takes visitors into the atmospheric cellars; the rich, aged burgundies somehow tasting all the stronger...
Narrow little streets cobbled together on this hilltop Cote d'Azur village make for a beautiful place to have lunch al fresco and soak up some sun. Biot is known for its glass -making and the shops have some great pieces, colourful and unusual with the distinctive tiny bubbles inside.
Lucca and its surrounding landscape of green Tuscan hills is best viewed from up high in one of Lucca's fascinating towers. The renaissance is tangible here, with the traditional Tuscan marble buildings and their striped façades...
Our favourite thing about Lucca was the intact and historic city walls and how cars aren't ordinarily allowed within them. It feels like a special place to be. Also the traditional Italian sweets and biscuits lining the shelves of many of the shops was a true bonus!
Cinque Terre, Italy
Ahh, the Cinque Terre... the five villages strung along this stunning part of Italian riviera coast are all only accessible by rail or on foot via the beautiful walkways along the cliffs through the olive groves, vines and trees. The area is famed for its traditional growing and producing of the region's greatest wines, olives and other mediterranean foods. This hard work has been going on in the same manual ways for centuries, with no road links, and with monorails for collecting grapes on the steep hillsides.
High seasons in the Cinque Terre are more than likely off-limits as it's so well-protected from its well-deserved popularity, but this over-protection is what keeps it so organic and traditional.
The colourful collection of buildings clinging to the steep cliffs in front of the turquoise sea are my favoutite scenes which emerge through the trees and vines on the hillsides when taking the 1-2 hour-long hikes between the villages. I just couldn't believe how beautiful this place was and how well-respected by all who visit.
Toledo is the ancient capital, and its stone buildings and narrow streets certainly tell a tale of history, with acreal mix of Muslim, Christian and Jewish influences and the tall, ornate cathedral stands high over the town.
I loved the narrow streets and pretty painted tiles around the town, the Moorish and Arabic influences quite tangible in the building styles and decor.
Split is an ancient Roman city often overlooked by thise seeking large-scale history in the Mediterranean, as the obvious choices (e.g. Rome) make popular city breaks. However Split's ancient Roman palace 'Diocletian's Palace,' its beautiful seaside setting, and its access to many stunning unspoilt Croatian islands, make it an excellent choice many reasons. The town is largely un-commercialised and without a mass-package-tourism vibe which is a major draw!
I distinctly remember sliding around in my flip-flops in the rain on the smooth marble paving in Split and still having the best time. The ancient stone alleyways and palm-lined seafront are just full of character.
The pretty little harbour with its gift shop and cafe-lined promenade is undoubtedly enjoyed by many tourists, however the trendy fishing port of Fiskardo retains a genuinely Kefallonian feel. The cafés and snack-bars right on the curved, enclosed stretch of beach make it a sociable and buzzing little place, popular with families but not one high-rise or large resort complex in sight.
I really loved the calm waters of the enclosed beach, and the wonderful upmarket Greek food on offer. Fiskardo struck me as a classy and traditional place which locals and holidaymakers both seemed to enjoy. Although I did regret not taking the short trip over the water to neighbouring Ithaca.
If you have further info on exciting and traditional things to do in any of these places, share in the comments!
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