When you think of Europe, what comes to mind at first are its most well-known cities like Paris, Barcelona, Berlin etc. These big cities are of course great to visit and offer everything that a traveller wants, however I truly believe that the real charm of Europe is in its smaller towns. That’s where you can feel the real culture of a place, meet some friendly locals, taste the real local cuisine and most of all, be relaxed & explore some nature. Every time I’ve travelled to Europe, I’ve made it a point to hire a car and drive off to a quaint town for at least a few days, and each time I’ve been mesmerised by the small-town European beauty and life. Take the road less travelled next time you are in Europe and experience one of the many small towns. This list is not exhaustive, but these are towns I have visited and would highly recommend you to add to your itineraries.1. Giethoorn, Netherlands -This little dreamy canal town which some people call the “Dutch Venice” is just 1.5 hours away from Amsterdam. It’s one of the oldest towns in Netherlands and is today home to some of their richest. The main town is still accessible only through boats, and the best way to explore the town is to take a guided boat tour on a “Whisper Boat” which will take you through the charms of the town via the small canals and waterways. The town is extremely quiet and the only sounds you will hear is probably some ducks quacking away. Go there to experience the Dutch slow life.2. Colmar, France -France is spotted with beautiful little towns, but Colmar is probably the prettiest of them. Situated on the North-Eastern Alsace region on the German border, this town is one of the bigger towns on the Alsace Wine Route, a region that produces some of the finest white wines in the world. This fairy-tale town has an interesting blend of French and German influences in terms of architecture, food, culture and more. The town is dotted with small canals on which you can take a boat ride and see the local sides of this country town, little eateries, small markets and lots and lots of wine degustations where you can go and taste some local wines. I was awestruck by such fairy-tale like colourful houses with floral arrangements, artistic expressions in everything including shop signages and of course the beautiful wines. The next time you are in France, rent a car, make Colmar your base and drive around the beautiful wine route.3. Ronda, Spain -Perched on a plateau, Ronda is one of the prettiest & oldest towns in the Southern Andalucia region of Spain, the region featured in Paulo Coelho’s book The Alchemist. Many famous people like Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles decided to make this town their home for its beauty, laid back life and beautiful weather. If you are looking for a spot still unspoilt by tourism, this is the place to go to. It is most famous for the Puente Nuevo bridge, a beautiful site with gorgeous views of the cliff and the pueblos blancos (white villages). It’s got a lot of the quintessential Spanish cultural aspects like a beautiful bull fighting arena in the middle of the town that’s still in use on one side and a lot of Arab Moorish influences seen all over the town on the other, which adds to its charm. It’s easy to reach Ronda both from Seville and Malaga and a perfect stopover for a couple of days. Make Ronda the base and explore the beautiful white villages of the region which are really frozen in time. 4. Monsaraz, Portugal -Monsaraz is a walled ancient hilltop village is a must visit in the Alentejo region of Portugal. This is a quaint little town with fortifications on all sides from the times of the Knights Templar; it has cobbled streets and an amazing medieval feel with 16th century whitewashed houses lining its narrow streets. It is inhabited by only 150 people and is a traveller’s delight with its numerous homestays, little restaurants and wine shops. It’s on the little known but amazing Alentejo Wine Route – s another great reason to go and experience country life in Portugal. 5.Telč, Czech Republic -Telč is a Unesco-protected, sleepy little town on the border of Bohemia and Moravia. It showcases Czech Republic’s best-preserved historic town square. The main attraction is the beauty of the square itself, lined by Renaissance and baroque houses, with their brightly coloured yellow, pink and green facades. The best of the town is visible once the bus tours leave. Stay overnight at least to experience the calm and quiet of this pretty town with a Renaissance Chateau as well as manmade ponds surrounding it. Have a drink in local bars and explore the local market of this town and feel like you have been transported to another world.6. Kotor, Montenegro -If you are visiting Dubrovnik, do not miss out on this little medieval trader town in Montenegro, just an hour’s drive. Settled around the beautiful Bay of Kotor, legend says it was formed over a period of time as sailors passed by it and kept dropping rocks here for good luck – eventually a town developed and they still have a church called the “Our Lady of the Rocks” church to commemorate their past. Kotor has a fort that’s fun to climb up with some gorgeous views. It is one of the best maintained medieval old towns, has lovely cafes and a great vibe to it. Don’t get perturbed by the number of cats in the town, they are probably a part of the medieval leftovers! So if you want a break from the hustle and bustle and experience a place stuck in time capsule, this low key, yet supremely charming town should be your pick.7. Beune, France -Beune (pronounced as Bone) has probably the best mix of offerings for all types of travellers. It is at the heart of France’s Burgundy wine region so people usually make this a base to experience the Route des Grands Crus (Wine Route). There are many ancient wine cellars in the town where you can taste some of the finest French wines. If wine is not your thing – go there to experience the 15th century medieval town and the Hospice De Beune, enjoy some fine French cuisine like coq au vin, beef bourguigon & some of the best cheeses which this region is home to, hike the wine country or sail a barge on the canals or attend one of the many festivals that happen here. Make this your base an explore the amazing Burgundy region. 8. Mittenwald, Germany -Tucked in the South Bavarian Alps, this is a town hidden away from the crowds, even though it is very close to Munich! Visit this town for its architecture and devour on the frescoed houses, the beautiful Alps surrounding the town, skiing in winters and hiking & cycling summers in the most virgin natural surroundings, taking a dip in some of the most beautiful lakes you will ever see and of course enjoying the world’s best Bavarian beers in one of the many Biergartens. This town is historically known for its master violin makers, and you can still see the obsession with violins all over town. The food options are superb & the air is so clean that you feel like your lungs have come alive. And if this doesn’t sound good enough, you can hop over to Austria and visit Innsbruck which is only about 30 kms away. Go there before it becomes famous.
Go on, be different and dare to go beyond the usual.