10. 10 of the most beautiful small towns in Europe
Paris will always be here. As well as Berlin, Amsterdam, and Rome. But Europe’s heart isn’t always in its big cities; it’s often in its small places as well. Many of these ten gems are small, but they are very beautiful. They are found in the heart of Transylvania, on islands in the Mediterranean, and in the hills of England’s Cotswolds.
Český Krumlov, Czech Republic
The old town in South Bohemia is on the UNESCO list. It has beautiful gardens, well-preserved buildings, and one of the biggest mediaeval castle complexes in Central Europe. The castle was built in the 1300s and has parts that are Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque. It also has a bell tower that gives you a great view of the city. Stay: The Hotel Růže, which was built in the 1600s, is one of the best-kept historic houses in town.
This fishing town in western Portugal used to be quiet, but now it’s one of only two World Surfing Reserves in Europe. It has dozens of beaches with good conditions and world-class instructors. But even people who would rather stay dry can enjoy a lot of things there, such as charming buildings, many great restaurants, and a community of creatives from around the world that is growing. Stay: The Aethos Ericeira is on a cliff just outside of town and has great views of the ocean and a big health programme.
This town is in northern Lazio, in the Viterbo area. It has many of the same beautiful sights as Tuscany, but not as many people. It has a beautiful old city with well-kept churches, palaces, and parks. Lake Bolsena, which is close by, is the largest volcanic lake in Europe and a great place to swim. It also has a steady supply of freshwater fish. Stay: VesConte is a luxury boutique hotel that was once a noble home and has been in the same family for 500 years.
Hall in Tirol, Austria
The town of Hall in Tirol is in the Tyrolean Alps, close to Innsbruck. It has a well-preserved mediaeval centre that makes it the biggest old town in Tyrol, as well as a grand castle and the mint where the first thaler (the English word for “dollar”) was made. On its cultural calendar are both common events, like a Christmas market and an Easter fair, and less common ones, like the Radish fair, which involves festive cattle drives. The same family has been running the four-star Classic Hotel Heiligkreuz for three generations.
The Andalusian town of Ronda is perched on either side of a deep gorge, which makes it seem very strange and dramatic. Parts of the “new town” were built in the 1400s, while the “old town” dates back to the time of the Moors. A great engineering feat is Puente Nuevo, the stone bridge that crosses the two sides. The 18th-century bullring-turned-museum gives you a look into one of Spain’s traditions. Stay: The old Parador de Ronda is right on the edge of the river and has great views.
Stará Ľubovňa, Slovakia
Stará Ľubovňa is a riverside town with a past that goes back to 1292. It draws tourists with its mix of history, culture, and nature—the area is great for hiking and other outdoor activities. The Castle Days happen at the impressive Ľubovňa Castle, there is a midsummer fires festival, and there is also the Saint Hubert Festival, which takes place in an outdoor museum and has a deer calling show and gifts for the animals. Stay: Pension Kolkárë is in the middle of everything and feels like a mountain camp.
The Rhineland town of Cochem is charming with its colourful buildings along the water and the impressive Reichburg Cochem, a castle from the 1100s that has great views of the Moselle Valley’s vineyards. (There is also great wine in the area.) It looks especially beautiful in the fall, when the trees on the hillside change colours all over the place. Stay: The Moselromantik Hotel Panorama is a beautiful, romantic hotel right next to the river with lovely views.
Bibury is a town that oozes Cotswolds charm and is one of the most beautiful in Britain. It has old stone homes and gardens and hedges that are very green. Some of the most photographed houses in the country are the weavers’ cottages on Arlington Row, which were built in the 1700s. The town is also full of cosy, old-fashioned pubs, like the Catherine Wheel, which was built in the 1500s. Stay: The Swan Hotel is in the middle of the village and is the perfect place to get away to the English countryside. The main house has 18 bedrooms, and there are four private cottages in the grounds.
Sibiu is a town in Transylvania that was once a European Capital of Culture. It is famous for the Germanic architecture in its old town, which was built by Saxons in the 12th century. The UNESCO-listed historic centre has well-preserved walls, towers, and streets from the Middle Ages. The cast-iron Bridge of Lies is a popular draw. It’s called that because of the stories that surround it, such as the one that says lovers would cross it and then throw each other off when they broke their promises. Casa Elysée is a beautiful boutique hotel in a historic building close to the town centre that looks like it was built in the Baroque era.
Reine is a community on the island of Moskenesøya in the Lofoten archipelago, which is just above the Arctic Circle. Not many places are further north than that. People come to the island to enjoy the midnight sun or see the northern lights. It’s also something that’s getting harder to find these days: a real fishing town. This one is in a beautiful fjord that has been shown in ads and magazines all over the world. Place to Stay: The lovely Reine Rorbuer advertises itself as a “get away from it all” spot where guests will not only be alone but also with other people who want to be quiet.
In the south of the French island of Corsica. Bonifacio is famous for its busy harbour and fort built on a rock in the Middle Ages. The Bastion de l’Etendard, which was built in the 1300s, is now a museum with displays about the past of the town. The nearby Lavezzi Islands, which are uninhabited but have granite boulders and sandy beaches, are a nature reserve. Stay: Version of Hotel Maquis Citadelle has beautiful rooms, a swimming pool, and great views.