EUROPE — Listing the five most beautiful small towns in Europe (including the UK for simplicity) is a personal challenge. It’s rather like picking the best five of any category, be it novels, sports teams, actors, desserts and on and on ad infinitum. Therefore, for clarification’s sake, this story is about five delightfully charming villages among literally hundreds of possible choices throughout the European continent. Rather than defining them as the BEST, perhaps a better description for these small towns would be to label them “European Charmers.”
All five are filled nostalgic character, cobblestone streets, ancient bell towers and/or half-timbered buildings. A visit to any of these small towns conjures historic images that appeal to almost everyone who visits them.
With those parameters as a guide, here are five alphabetically listed surefire travel gems. These European Charmers are filled with storybook romance that is the stuff of every travelers’ dreams.
Affectionately known as the “Queen of the Croatian Dalmatian Islands,” Hvar’s important strategic and nautical position brought it ancient fame and riches that live on today in its cultural and literary legacy. That’s what makes this small town a genuine European Charmer.
Notably, thanks to warm winters and pleasant summers, Hvar receives many travelers attracted by its dense, natural Mediterranean surroundings. Better yet, Hvar also comes with a rich tradition, distinctive architecture and a rousing nightlife. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the always fickle international jet-set has discovered this marriage of medieval charm and sun-drenched beaches in recent years as well.
Not that being part of the lifestyles of the rich and famous makes Hvar any more distinctive than it already was and is. Its fields of lavender, ancient olive trees and vineyards that harmoniouly blend between man and nature merely add to its luster.
Recently ranked among the ten most beautiful islands in the world, Hvar also features a beautiful city center, complete with Gothic palaces and marble stone streets, many of which are car-free.
Deriving its name by being situated between two stunning lakes, the Lake of Thun and the Lake of Brienz, the Swiss town of Interlaken is a haven for adventure travelers. Aside from sledging and kayaking, this small town features one of the world’s most epic skydiving experiences: a 20-minute flight over the mountains, followed by a 45-second free fall drop before your instructor deploys the parachute.
For less suicidal travelers, the centrally located town lies in the heart of the Bernese Oberland. It is the gateway to the Jungfraujoch and the home of the highest railway station in Europe, the Schilthorn. Ditto James Bond’s Piz Gloria, the spectacular waterfall road through the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Extra-added attractions in and around this European charmer include the Sherlock Holmes village of Meiringen and nearby Reichenbach Falls, the spectacular landscape where England’s most famous consulting detective fought to the death with his arch-enemy Moriarity. Also on tap: the Grand Hotel Giessbach at Giessbach Falls on Lake Brienz as well as the woodcarver’s village of Brienz itself.
Don’t be surprised to serenaded now and then by the mournful sounds of alphorns emanating from the street beneath your hotel window. Chocoholics can even create their own treats at Funky Chocolate.
In conclusion, we can truthfully say that Interlaken is Switzerland at its quintessential best.
Returning to the former Yugoslavia, the small town of Kotor and its landscape are reminiscent of the fjords of Norway, blended to perfection with Italy’s Lake Como. To provide full European Charmer credibility to this town, simply add the word UNESCO to Kotor’s Old Town.
Part of the modern day charm of Kotor is the seemingly wacky layout of its streets. Historically, the reason was to provide protection from invasion. Today the city fathers encourage visitors to “lose” themselves in their town. They regard this as the best way to explore the destination in its fullest.
Perched on and above the Bay of Kotor, this town buards the most indented parts of the Adriatic Sea. In fact, ancient fortifications surround this old Mediterranean port. Local rulers erected them to defend the town during the days when powerful Venice dominated sea trade.
Finally, moving back to the fjord theme, some authorities have even called Kotor’s watery surround the southernmost fjord in Europe. Geographically, scientists call this natural feature, a submerged river canyon, a “ria.”
Along with the overhanging limestone cliffs of Orjen and Lovćen, Kotor and its surrounding area form an impressive landscape indeed.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany:
Even many Germans believe that Rothenburg ob der Tauber, with its medieval Old Town, is the best preserved city in Germany.
Conde Nast Traveler says “If you can swing it, plan your visit for December, when the town transforms into a winter wonderland with snow-dusted rooftops, glowing storefronts, and cozy taverns. And don’t forget about the Reiterlesmarkt, one of the best Christmas markets in the entire country.”
Nowhere else in Germany will you find a European Charmer boasting such an eclectic wealth of original buildings. They date from the Middle Ages and feature romantically secluded squares accentuated by the tucked-away corners of the old quarter. Here, towers, taverns and town gates alternate with fountains, fortifications and former storehouses.
But it doesn’t really matter where you go in Rothenburg. New and wonderful sights await at every turn. And whichever you choose to visit, a cozy inn awaits you afterwards. Once inside, you can satisfy your hunger and quench your thirst in authentically atmospheric surroundings.
Another important shipping center, this one since Roman times, Rye in East Sussex — today’s final European Charmer — was once entirely surrounded by sea. So the best views of its hodge-podge of medieval terra cotta roofs and timbered walls radiate from St. Mary’s Parish Church tower or the Ypres Tower, the two oldest buildings in town.
Thirsty? Said to be the oldest pub in Rye, The Old Bell Inn can help. Located among the town’s cobblestone streets, this 15th century building boasts a dark wood interior and a bare wooden boarded floor. A nice addition: its small garden at the front.
Taking a seat at the bar, you immediately see two hand-pumps on the bar counter along with a limited food menu. At lunchtime, the proprietors lay the entire pub for diners, with signs that read “Diners only 12 to 4.” They only tolerate dedicated drinkers during periods of slow business during this time.
Finally, speaking of dining. If you plan to visit Rye in late winter/early spring, don’t miss the annual Bay Scallop Week.
Best of all, for a day trip, Rye is an easy two-hour train ride ay trip from London’s St. Pancras International Station.
So there you have it: Five small town gems in the “jewel box” of Europe. But remember. As good as these five European Charmers are, you’ve only just scratched the surface of what’s available in the Old Country.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
Editors Note: Support Bob’s GoFundMe to give him a hand up
LEAD IMAGE: Grand Hotel Giessbach at Giessbach Falls near Interlaken (Photo: Taylor)