If you’re looking for a truly offbeat travel experience, head to these hidden European gems that embody the real charm and culture of the country that houses them.
1. England: Lavenham
Lavenham in Suffolk is arguably the prettiest town in England. It boasts more than 300 heritage houses and its high street is lined with the kind of bric-a-brac shops and teahouses that are increasingly rare throughout rural England.
2. Scotland: Aberdour
The train from Edinburgh stops at a Victorian station next to a row of neatly planted flowers in a hidden glen in the shadow of a medieval castle. Aberdour is not car-friendly, but anything you would want to see is connected by well-kept walkways. In August, this hamlet serves as a tranquil base for visiting the Edinburgh International Festival, but for the rest of the year, it is a working village with a general shop and four cosy pubs to enjoy.
3. Germany: Staufen im Breisgau
This enclave on the edge of the Black Forest, in southern Germany, is the ideal destination for a wine weekend. From Strasbourg, you’ll pass hills covered with terraced vineyards. The statue of a naked Bacchus signals that you’ve arrived at the tiny town, with the main street’s pastel houses lead to the market place and Town Hall.
4. Ireland: Roundstone
No blackberries could taste better than the ones picked along the winding lanes of 19th century fishing village Roundstone. Climb Errisbeg Hill for a clear view of Connemara National Park’s Twelve Bens, a mountain range rising over a vast peat bog. In case of rain, dry off by the fire at O’Dowds bar.
5. Greece: Folégandros
This tranquil spot in the Cyclades has nothing in common with neighbouring Santorini. Instead, on this remote island in the Aegean, waves crash on pebbled beaches, goats scurry up the hills, and an old wooden windmill twists in the salty breeze. It’s a delightfully quiet escape.
6. The Netherlands: Terschelling
Though just 85 miles from Amsterdam, the 18-mile-long island of Terschelling remains a haven for travellers craving tranquil stretches of sand in lieu of the thumping beach clubs on the mainland. Here, gabled 19th-century villas and clapboard houses are illuminated by the Brandaris lighthouse - the oldest surviving lighthouse in the Netherlands (built in 1594). When dusk falls, around midnight during the summer months, locals sit up late at bistros along the harbour drinking Jupiler beer.
7. Spain: Getaria
With San Sebastián just 15 miles away, this charming Basque harbourside village is known for its seafood and friendly locals.
8. Switzerland: Giornico
The charm of Ticino, the Italian-speaking canton of southern Switzerland, is the lost-in-time feel of the place. To fully appreciate it, drive north 35 miles from the popular lake resort towns of Ascona and Locarno and find the turnoff for Giornico, a stone relic of 14th-century Europe hiding off the main road. Descend into the valley and arrive at a trickling little river crossed by two arching stone bridges. The family-run restaurants of the region are called grotte, which serve dishes like spezzatino (meat ragoût) with polenta and local Merlot.
9. France: Chassignolles
The village, popular with Marseilles’ elite in the 1950’s, promises dormant green volcanoes and winding streams assumed to have healing qualities. At the restored auberge, guests look out toward the 12th-century Romanesque church and rolling countryside.
10. Italy: Bolgheri
The Viale dei Cipressi, a three-mile road flanked by 2,540 cypress trees leads straight into Bolgheri, which is set amid the vineyards of southern Tuscany’s Maremma. Stop in at Caffé della Posta, on the main square, to try one of Bolgheri’s reds. First produced in the 1980’s, these wines now rival French Bordeaux. In nearby Bibbona, five miles southeast, you’ll find the Relais Sant’Elena, a 15-room estate with canopy beds, stone fireplaces, and pasta-making classes.
Image via Pinterest.