Tiny towns that are big on beauty
Dramatically perched on the cliffs of the Amalfi Coast, there’s no doubting Positano is a postcard-perfect town. Follow the stony streets, lined with flowering lemon, orange and olive groves, down to the crisp Mediterranean sea while gawping at the stunning architecture. In idyllic Italian fashion these streets are also littered with an avalanche of alluring restaurants, boutiques and chic places to rest your head.
Whether a winter wonderland or a summer sunspot, the quaint town of Bled is just one of many reasons to visit Slovenia. Commanding a wondrous view over Lake Bled, tourists are drawn here year-round to experience the panoramic vistas. In summer you can join in activities such as rafting and kayaking, while skiing and snowboarding are on offer in the snowy winters.
Penglipuran Village, Bali
Up in the highlands of Bali’s Mount Batur is Penglipuran Village, 700 meters above sea level. While the village has modern amenities, including a supermarket and phone shop, the surroundings may fool you into believing you’ve stepped into a time warp. Locals proudly look after their homes, many of which are adorned with intricate engravings and original rooftops, lining the winding pathways up to the grand temple.
Baracoa was Cuba’s first settlement and is also one of the island’s most remote towns, lying on the far northeastern coast in the Bahia de Miel (Bay of Honey). Getting here can be a challenge with tourists often unaware of the enchantment which lies beyond the mighty Sierra del Purial mountain range. Take a boat or bike excursion to scout out the scenery, or stroll through the harlequin-esque streets, admiring the artistry and listening to the music floating on the breeze.
Jinhae, South Korea
A suburban region of Changwon City and home to 172,000 people, Jinhae is a quiet and unassuming naval town most of the year. However its stunning spring blooms mean two million visitors flock here to see the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. Painting the town pink, the festival also features performers, markets and light shows.
On Malta’s southeast coast you’ll find the fishing village of Marsaxlokk (pronounced marsa-schlock). A popular dining spot, you can sample catches of the day at the myriad restaurants which line the seafront promenade. Unlike most of Malta, it’s virtually untouched by developers. Aside from the Sunday markets, visitors are attracted to Marsaxlokk by the fleet of traditional Luzzu boats which bob in the harbor.
When the Spanish occupied Guatemala in the early 16th century they left their signature baroque mark on the country, especially in the candy-colored town of Antigua. Its zesty paintwork pops against the active volcanoes that loom over the UNESCO-protected town – a far cry from the concrete jungle of the country’s capital, Guatemala City, an hours’ drive away.
Jim Thorpe, USA
Named after the legendary Native American athlete, the pretty Pennsylvanian town of Jim Thorpe is also known as the ‘Switzerland of America’. Nested in the ridge of the Pocono mountains, it borrows alpine aesthetics and Victorian architecture to accentuate its winding streets. The dramatic scenery nearby includes the Lehigh Gorge – a spectacular state park with thick woodlands and tumbling waterfalls.
Set at the edge of the rolling hills of the Cotswolds, Cirencester is your typical English town. Though small, it has a lively history with ruins dating back to the Roman occupation of Britain – something you can take in as you meander along the babbling brook of the River Churn and wander around the medieval Church of St John the Baptist (pictured). Explore more pretty towns and villages in the UK here.
Erected on an island between the Croatian coast and the Adriatic island of Čiovo, Trogir looks like it leapt from a Hollywood period drama. The tiny town’s seductive Venetian influence makes it no stranger to the small screen, having appeared in episodes of Game of Thrones. Surrounded by 15th-century stone walls, the Romanesque-Gothic complex has been identified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. By day, explore the marble maze of fortified streets and holy buildings and, during hazy summer nights, stroll along the promenade in search of the perfect beer.
San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Though a small town, San Pedro de Atacama is one of Chile’s main tourist destinations. It predominantly serves as a base from which to explore the natural wonders of the Andes mountains. Yet the town itself is a thing of beauty in its own right: visit the Archaeological Museum or the iconic Church of San Pedro de Atacama.
Set among the striking violet mountains of western Iceland, the winter wonderland of Stykkisholmur is a rural gem. Made up of a few very well-preserved old homes in its center, it’s also an eco-town and has been labeled a European Destination of Excellence for its environmental efforts. Find out more information about spots in Iceland beyond the tourist routes here.
A designated Japanese National Geopark, the chocolate box tourist town of Hakone is a Japanese paradise. Only 90 minutes by train from Tokyo, urban dwellers will be forgiven for thinking they’ve been transported to another world. Peach-colored cherry blossoms line the streets in spring and there are plenty of onsen (hot springs) for a health-giving dip. Hop on the mountain railway for fantastic views, which are especially beautiful when the hydrangeas bloom in June. However, the centerpiece is Lake Ashinoko, where the snow-dusted Mount Fuji looms in the distance. Visit our guide to more great weekend trips from Tokyo here.
Giverny is most famous for once being home to the founder of the Impressionist art movement, Claude Monet. His house and gardens are the Normandy village’s main attraction, particularly in the summertime while in bloom. However, there are also many walking and cycling trails in the area, giving you a further excuse to stay longer.
Lamu, a preserved Swahili settlement, is Kenya’s oldest continuously-inhabited town. Once a hub for poetry, politics and arts and crafts, it’s now a hubbub of trade, mosques and even a Donkey sanctuary. Sunrises and sunsets are not to be missed, as the town becomes baked in rays of sallow oranges, pinks and purples. Although a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it has also been named as ‘On the Verge’ of irrevocable damage and was only considered safe to travel to since 2012. Nevertheless, it is a treasure trove of rooftop restaurants, friendly residents and sunny seascapes.
Romantically nestled in a truly picturesque valley of the Tramuntana mountains, Valldemossa is one of Mallorca’s most idyllic spots. An area of outstanding beauty, the town’s sun-bleached stones stand out against the green farmlands and forests around it. Scorned by the composer Frédéric Chopin, but adored by every explorer ever since, the storybook town is a tranquil place. Read more about the Balearic island with our guide to the pretty city of Palma.
At just over 100 years old, Carmel-by-the-Sea is the youngest town on our list. Marrying fairy tale kitsch with unparalleled natural vistas, and once served by Mayor Clint Eastwood, what makes this corner of California so charming? Maybe it’s the lack of parking meters, the open-air amphitheater, the banning of chain restaurants or the wacky (unenforced) laws: for example, it’s prohibited to wear high heels without a permit. Needless to say, the town’s sustainability and ethereal sunsets are sure to bewitch citizens for the next 100 years. Find out about more unmissable, under-the-radar Californian spots here.
Located beneath the towering peaks of the Rif Mountains, Chefchaouen is a labyrinth of intricate alleyways. Soaked in a turquoise hue, the electrifying colors have a historical significance: in the 15th century, Jewish refugees settled in the area and painted buildings blue to mirror the sky and remind them of God. For a taste of city life, check out our guide to bustling Marrakesh.
Near to the urban jungles of Shanghai and Suzhou is the elegant water town known as the ‘Venice of the East’. Classic Chinese architecture decorates the banks of Zhouzhuang’s canals and, like Venice, travel by motorized transport is forbidden, meaning the waters are graced by gondolas which float under ivy-wrapped stone bridges. Misty mornings come highly recommended on a trip to the town. Alternatively, visit at dusk when traditional lanterns illuminate the waterways.
Bourtange, The Netherlands
Beguiling Bourtange is one of the most curious historical sites in Holland. Situated in a sleepy neck of the Dutch woods, the star-shaped citadel was once a revolutionary defence system when it was completed in 1593. In 1960 it was thoughtfully restored to its Renaissance glory and has since become a nationally-prized landmark. Marvel at the ingenious design, ancient cobblestones, fanciful bridges and barracks, preserved places of prayer and, of course, iconic Dutch windmills that make Bourtange so peculiar.
Known for its locally-grown coffee and for being popular with retirees from the USA, Boquete offers plenty of invigorating activities including waterfall hikes and hot springs. The town also hosts a Flower and Coffee Extravaganza annually, where a celebration of the two leaves fair-goers in a caffeine and pollen-induced haze. Boquete also hosts the second largest jazz and blues festival in Panama and the country’s tallest point of land, the Volcán Barú.
Chepstow Castle is Wales’s oldest fortification and in a unique spot. The River Wye, which runs through the foreground, has one of the world’s most tidal river banks, dropping by almost 15 meters between tides, making for some rapidly changing views. Chepstow itself is home to a horse racing course and a quaint quarter of independent shops.
Harar Jugol, Ethiopia
Considered to be a very holy municipality, 110 mosques and 102 shrines can be found on the pebbled pathways of the walled town of Harar Jugol. Known to its inhabitants as Gēy, it’s an incredibly ornate town with titanic-size gates, and there are even buildings, like Rimbaud House, that resemble Shakespeare’s Globe in London.
Another embattled UNESCO town with a significant Venetian influence, the ancient fortification of Kotor is teeming with history. Due to the town’s maritime past, there is large population of free-roaming felines in the town, and there’s even a Cat Museum in their honor. Tickled by the turquoise waters of the bay, which lap up against the dramatic Adriatic coastline, this is also a modern town, with Montenegro’s biggest nightclub hidden within the walls of the citadel.
Would you ever expect to find a recreation of a Bavarian Alpine village deep in the southern USA? In Helen – the northeastern Georgia town found along the Chattahoochee River – you won’t believe that you’re really in the Peach State once you pass the German-style shops and archaic horse-drawn carriages. And what’s a Bavarian town without beer gardens, bratwurst and, you guessed it, barrels of beer? This all supersizes during the Oktoberfest celebrations – one of the largest of its kind in the USA. Explore more of northern Georgia with our handy guide.
Found in the gorgeous Algarve region of Portugal, Lagos is a town of colors: golden cliffs, azure sky, Jacaranda trees, whitewashed buildings and iconic Portuguese Azulejo tiles. The wine is cheap but very tasty and, if you’re after local fare, you’ll find quality steaks and delicious Caldeirada De Peixe (fish stew). While on one of Europe’s best beaches, take time for a plunge into the crisp, cool water and explore the various coves and lagoons that are only accessible by boat. Explore what more the Algarve has to offer here.
High up in nooks of the Rocky Mountains, the resort town of Banff feels like a Canadian dream. In the snow-crusted winters a variety of sports are offered and sometimes, if you’re lucky, the roofs are illuminated by the Northern Lights. Summers are multi-hued in gorgeous amber, emerald and cerulean and are usually cool. However, Banff experienced its highest temperature on record – 34.8°C (96.4°F) – in August 2018. Here are more reasons to visit beautiful Canada.
Within a stone’s throw of Recife – a major Brazilian city on the northeastern coast – is the kooky colonial town of Olinda. The town’s name is thought to derive from ‘Ó, linda’ which means ‘Oh, beautiful’. And indeed Olinda is so beautiful that UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site due to its toytown terracotta cottages and national reputation as a cultural center. Not only does the town thrive on its buzzing art trade, but the whimsical streets come to life every year during the carnival.
In the heartland of some of the world’s finest vineyards (the sparkling Champagne region, of course) lies the fanciful French town of Troyes. Misty-eyed and enchanted by the romance of the town, visitors fall head-over-heels with the holy haunts and half-timbered buildings that inject Troyes with such a distinct sense of character. If the street-side cafés and towering cathedrals weren’t enough to impress, there’s more than enough museums and galleries to lose yourself in.
One of Ireland’s best-loved treasures, the southern coastal town of Kinsale is famed for its exceptional restaurants. The town hosts its own gourmet festival every October and, individually, its chefs have been awarded an assortment of accolades. Besides the fanciful food on offer, Kinsale is also known for its quirky streets, which are flamboyantly painted every color of the rainbow. Like Holland’s Bourtange, it’s also home to an explorable star-shaped fort. Learn more about Ireland’s hidden gems here.
The town of Procida spans the whole island from which it gets its name. It’s the Bay of Naples’ smallest and sweetest island, avoiding the clamor of tourists that flock to neighboring islands such as Capri. Littering the seaside are houses drenched in dazzling shades of pink, blue, yellow and more, their peeling paintwork adding to the effortless Italian charm.
This jungle village is also known as ‘God’s own garden’ and ‘the cleanest village in Asia’ and a harmonious agreement between residents commits everyone to regular community clean-up initiatives. The homemade and ladder-like Sky View can be found in the center of town, giving visitors the opportunity to climb above the trees and be swept away by vistas all the way to Bangladesh.
If you fancy getting way off the beaten track consider a trip to the scenic settlement of Iruya. Burrowed in the midnight blue mountainside of the Altiplano region, the rural town still manages to attract travelers from all corners of the globe, charmed by its colorful buildings and Argentinian steaks.
Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia
Evoking the atmosphere of Greece’s island of Santorini, this much-less traveled but equally exquisite Tunisian town of Sidi Bou Said is a delightful name to have at the tip of your tongue. Its buildings are as milky-white and cobalt blue as the sea and sky, and it has long attracted artists. Rummaging through the daily market comes highly recommended – you never know what treasure you may find at the Souk.
Situated on a tranquil harbor in the foothills of the Three Sisters mountain range, the town of Sitka is known for its remote beauty. Get a feel of the great Alaskan outdoors through aquatic activities like boating, kayaking and fishing, or hike to the peak of the range for breathtaking views. For history buffs, Sitka is the ancestral home of the Kiksadi Tlingit clan, whose fascinating heritage is kept alive through the town’s cultural centre.
You may recognize this bonny Scottish fishing hub as the town from the classic UK children’s TV show Balamory. Less kid-friendly, the pretty port is home to the Tobermory Distillery which, at the head of the bay, mainly produces a matured single malt whisky. The tiny town is also shrouded with mystery. According to legend, a gold-laden Spanish galleon ship lies undiscovered beneath the mud of the bay.
In Lüderitz, the German influence still breathes through the Namibian town’s Art Nouveau Bavarian buildings. Once a lucrative diamond mining town and well-positioned port, it retains an air of the surreal due to its desert connections and architecture. It’s not unusual to run into a feathery or seaborne resident while in Lüderitz: flamingos, seals, penguins and ostriches are among its diverse wildlife.
Znojmo, Czech Republic
Between Prague and Vienna, Znojmo is a favorite for sommeliers and wine buffs. The Museum of Vinoculture and Louka Monastery’s wine collection are within the town’s limits, and the Podyjí National Park – home to Šobes, a sublime local vineyard – is just a 20-minute drive away. Traverse the 19 miles of catacombs beneath Znojmo’s well-traveled streets where, you guessed it, there’s more wine to taste.
The history of Willemstad’s colored houses sounds like an urban legend, but the buildings in this UNESCO-protected crowd-free Caribbean town were initially painted in an attempt to cure a headache. Back when the Dutch ruled Curaçao, the governor was convinced his migraines were caused by the tropical sun’s rays reflecting off the whitewash buildings. All citizens were commanded to paint their homes anything but blinding white, resulting in this rainbow paradise.
One of the most well-preserved 19th-century towns in the country, it’s no surprise that Niagara-on-the-Lake has been nicknamed ‘The Loveliest Town in Canada’. Among the boulevards, roadside gardens and historical architecture, you’ll get so lost in the gastronomy that you’ll have to get a horse-drawn carriage to whisk your food-heavy body home. Nestled at the meeting point of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario, Niagara-on-the-Lake is also central to Canada’s wine trade with over 40 prominent wineries in the region – known as Ontario Wine Country – growing high-grade grapes.
Itchan Kala, Uzbekistan
Before you’ve even passed through one the of the four gates that guard the ancient town of Itchan Kala, it’s worth stopping to admire the ancient walls. The turrets of clay-colored stone with their striking splashes of aquamarine are a striking sight. Inside it’s something of an oasis, with peaceful archways and more than 50 historic monuments, including the iconic Djuma Mosque.
Its towering church steeple may be at the center of Raquira, but its beating heart is its artisan community. Colombia’s pottery capital, the streets are packed with an array of craft stores, injecting color into every corner of the town. This hidden-away Colombian gem also hosts a bustling market every Sunday where visitors, along with their arts and crafts hauls, can pick up a fresh weekly shop from local farmers.
Kitzbühel, in the Tyrol just to the east of Innsbruck, is a small but mighty town. An all-season destination, it’s a sporting hub and celebrity hotspot with affluent visitors flocking here for its medieval surroundings and world-class ski resort. A Gothic church looms over the town, the center of which is completely pedestrianized, meaning there’s no excuse not to explore the town’s rich history.
Take a stroll down Berlin’s Main Street to see a gorgeous mix of Victorian and early 20th-century buildings, preserved on the National Register of Historic Places. In Berlin, you’re never too far from nature either: sprouting from the pavement are beautiful magnolias and sycamores while wild horses roam on the nearby Assateague Island.
Just four miles away from the southernmost Spanish coast in the province of Málaga, the hillside town of Frigiliana overlooks the world-famous Costa del Sol. Surrounded by a lush natural park full of hiking trails and opportunities to explore the great outdoors, nature also runs wild in the town itself: vines of bougainvillea, lavender and jasmine grow freely across the walls of houses. Climb the steep streets up the mountain to the Moorish district for breathtaking views towards the sea.
Valle de Ángeles, Honduras
During the 16th century this former Spanish colonial mining town was among the most important of its kind in Honduras. Within easy reach of the Central American country’s capital Tegucigalpa, today it’s a relaxed place to shop for local crafts, leather goods and wicker furniture.
Just across the riverbank from Germany, the tiny Thurgau town of Dissenhofen retains its medieval feel. Typically Swiss in its appearance, its main streets are lined with multicolored homes. The town’s central tower displays a whimsical clock, whose face is painted with astronomy symbols representing the 12 zodiac signs. It also has a working lunar clock which shadows the moon’s phases.
During the Gold Rush in the late 1800s, thousands of Americans flocked to the Black Hills of South Dakota to seek their fortune. Many of these notorious gunslinging residents – including Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok – remain in the town, residing in Mount Moriah Cemetery. While you won’t find any more rootin’-tootin’ outlaws galloping through the saloons you can still enjoy shootout reenactments and the Black Hills bourbon.
Nestled on the Swedish island of Gotland, the remote Viking settlement of Visby is the only town on the island. Culture is important here with the walled town a center for art, theater and classical music. It also has its own speciality cuisine where the use of saffron, the world’s most expensive spice, is prominent.
Known locally as the ‘Bride of Eprius’, Parga is relatively young for a Greek settlement, having only existed since the early 13th century. Despite this, the town in northwestern Greece still brims with history. A dilapidated fortress perched on a hilltop oversees the hued homes of the coves and there’s an abandoned fortress to explore. Liked this? You’ll love our A-Z of European destinations to visit this autumn.
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