People from the United States rushed to Europe in 2022. For many, it was a return to the cities that travelers have long loved and missed over the years of travel restrictions: Paris, Rome, Amsterdam. As we plan our travel in 2023, there’s no need to leave those cities behind. But there are many small towns that are just as worthy of a visit.
These are the best European small towns to visit in 2023.
Entries are in no particular order. Picks were chosen and written by Suzie Dundas, Alex Bresler, Tim Wenger, Matt Meltzer, Morgane Croissant, Eben Diskin, Katie Scott Aiton, and Laurie Jo Miller Farr.
We hope you love the places we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay.
Think about the world’s coolest surf destinations. The North Shore of Oahu, Bells Beach in Australia, and South Africa’s Jeffreys Bay probably come to mind. Also worth a mention? Sligo, Ireland. Sligo’s nearby beaches offer consistent breaks in the chilly northern Atlantic that are rippable year-round. While the area isn’t drawing the big wave competitors, here, you have the benefit of a post-surf trad music session. Sligo is arguably Ireland’s capital of the pub jam – hit The Strand bar just off Strandhill Beach for a guaranteed lively time.
Literature fans visit County Sligo to pay a visit to the grave of W.B. Yeats, and if it’s your heart’s Desire to pay homage to the penholder who scripted “The Stolen Child,” stop by The Yeats Society in downtown Sligo after visiting the grave. Trad sessions happen nearby at McLynn’s Bar on Old Market Street and Shoot the Crows on Abbeyquarter North.
For accommodations, check into The Glasshouse downtown for a boutique waterside stay, or the Clayton Hotel and Leisure Club for more of a resort feel. — Tim Wenger
Few ski towns in the world quite like Wengen, Switzerland. High in the Bernese Oberland region, the Jungfraujoch (the highest point in the Jungfrau, one of the highest summits in the Alps) hangs above the village and some of Switzerland’s best ski runs wind their way down toward the Wengen Mannlichen, the town’s famous ski tram. Speaking of skiing, you’ll need to do some yourself if you hope to get here in winter. When the Alps are covered in snow, Wengen is only accessible via ski, train, or by taking the ski tram down from the top of the town’s adjacent ski area.
The town center itself is lined with wooden chalets and cozy inns serving fondue, cheesy raclette, and Älplermagronen – a hearty potato, macaroni, and cheese gratin. Get your fix at Fondue Gondel or Chez Meyer’s inside the Hotel Regina. Even if you’re staying in nearby Grindelwald or down valley in Interlaken, a day trip to Wengen is more than worth the effort no matter the season. In summer, hiking and biking are on offer right from town, and in fall, the Jungrau lights up in oranges and yellows as the days begin to shorten. If you do opt to stay in Wengen, the Arenas Resort Victoria-Lauberhorn offers an inimitable Swiss mountain chalet experience. — Tim Wenger
Only a half-hour drive from Rome, Tivoli is defined by centuries-old alleys devoid of tourists, a slow pace of life, and bucolic surroundings that make it the best day trip from Rome.
Formerly a popular residential and resort area for wealthy ancient Romans, Tivoli is home to two sprawling villas that are beautiful examples of Rome’s cultural heritage. Villa Adriana was built in the second century by the Roman emperor Hadrian, and utilizes ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian architecture styles with pools, gardens, baths, fountains, and ancient theaters. Villa d’Este was built later, in the 16th century, and is considered one of the best examples of Italian Renaissance garden architecture. With numerous waterfalls and canals – all working without pumps – the villa is an impressive feat of engineering. There are more than 100 fountains on the property, including in the multi-tiered panoramic gardens.
Though not a UNESCO world heritage site like the other two villas, Villa Gregoriana is home to the country’s second-highest waterfall. The perfect place for appreciating the town’s natural beauty, Villa Gregoriana is located along the transumanza path – an important historic shepherd migration route – and surrounded by tree-lined cliffs. It feels more like a national park than a 19th century villa. — Eben Diskin
Travelers may only know Dunkirk through the eponymous 2017 movie by Stephen Nolan. And that’s not surprising: the French town’s claim to international fame is the 1940 Evacuation of Dunkirk, also known as Operation Dynamo, in which more than 338,000 Allied soldiers were rescued from the city and ferried across the Strait of Dover to safety in England.
Operation Dynamo, and WWII in general, have defined Dunkirk for decades, and still do. The town was under German occupation for five years and was almost entirely destroyed in WWII. Dunkirk was rebuilt in the following decades, though the urgency of housing families led to a reconstruction that was more focused on function than aesthetics. Like many other reconstructed French towns, Dunkirk is not what you’d call pretty. But beauty is only skin deep – Dunkirk has other excellent qualities travelers shouldn’t overlook.
For one, Dunkirk is at the crossroads of Europe. Belgium is literally down the road, and England is a very affordable two-hour ferry ride away. Paris and Amsterdam are also just a 3.5-hour drive away, making it a great base for travelers keen to explore multiple countries.
Beyond its location, Dunkirk is a town of superlatives: It’s home to the longest Carnival celebration in Europe, a tradition that dates to the 17th century and takes place every February (it starts on February 21 in 2023). Dunkirk has one of the most beautiful beaches in the north of France (Plage Saint-Malo-les-Bains), and its Port Museum is home to the largest sailboat in France (the Duchesse Anne).
If you visit just one museum in Dunkirk, make it the Port Museum. Its exhibits cover the amazing maritime history of the under-visited town and display three huge ships, one lighthouse, and one roomy museum space. It’s also housed in a historic building: a unique-looking tobacco factory built in 1868. It’s one of the few buildings that survived the destruction of WWII. — Morgane Croissant
Slovenia’s tourist numbers have more than quadrupled since the turn of the millennium, reaching a peak of nearly five million visitors in 2019. Most tourists cluster around Lake Bled and the capital city Ljubljana, but travelers coming from across Slovenia’s western border with Italy are more likely to summer in the Adriatic resort town of Piran.
For Americans, that cultural blend is part of Piran’s charm. Visitors will hear both Slovenian and Italian, chase Istrian seafood dishes with scoops of gelato, and see Venetian architecture from the days when Piran belonged to the Republic of Venice. And there’s no better way to spend a summer day than lazing on the beaches of the Slovenian Riviera. Piran offers the beauty and perfect weather synonymous with the Adriatic at the price point of a destination still developing its tourist cred.
Slovenia’s tourism has been somewhat slow to rebound after the COVID-19 travel shutdowns, which makes 2023 the perfect time to visit Piran. It’s one town you’ll kick yourself for missing out on if you only go to Lake Bled. And since the new Netflix movie The Union filmed in Piran in September of 2022 – the largest film project on Slovenian soil to date — visitors may want to visit in 2023 before all the movie buffs catch on. According to Slovenia’s Minister of Economic Development and Technology Matjaž Han, the film is expected to “significantly contribute to the global promotion” of the country and have “a multiplier effect on the domestic economy and tourism.” — Alex Bresler
Guéthary is a village in France’s Basque Country, that special region on the France-Spain border that’s flanked by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and the Pyrenees Mountains to the south. A fishing port since medieval days, Guéthary has two national historical designations: it’s an SPR (which translates to “remarkable heritage site”) and an AVAP, or an area where the country plans to focus on architectural and heritage enhancements. It’s also the tiniest village on the southwestern Aquitaine Coast just north of Spain that has sand-and-pebble shores, some of the gnarliest surf breaks in southwestern France, and an Art Deco town center filled with seafood restaurants and beach bars every bit as lively and colorful inside as they are outside.
The Michelin Guide recognizes three restaurants in Guéthary, which is pretty impressive for a town of about 1,300 people. Of those — pâté-powerhouse Gétaria, Bib Gourmand-honoree Briket’ Bistrot, and haute-cuisine joint Brikéténia — only Brikéténia has a Michelin star, though the same family owns both Brikéténia and Briket’ Bistrot.
The boutique Hotel Brikéténia is surprisingly low-key given the high quality of its cuisine, with just 14 rooms starting around €120 per night depending on the season. Alternately, entire homes on Airbnb go for as little as €15 per night.
Though it’s certainly worth a visit on its own, Guéthary also fits nicely into a larger trip around French Basque Country. It’s just 20 minutes from Biarritz by bus, 30 minutes to Bayonne by train, and six miles from Saint-de-Luz on foot via the 15-mile coastal path connecting Bidart to the town of Hendaye on the Spanish border. — Alex Bresler
Monsanto is a small Portuguese village near the Spanish border that’s roughly four hours northeast of Lisbon and four hours southeast of Porto. But it’s not just any Portuguese village. In 1938, the town was voted “the most Portuguese village in Portugal” during a national competition. Roughly 50 years later, in 1991, Monsanto was named one of 12 “Historical Villages of Portugal,” a national designation reserved for ancient settlements key to Portugal’s history and heritage.
Monsanto’s most striking feature is the fact that the whole town is squeezed between giant boulders. The landmark Lucano Tower rises from a large granite slab. Twelfth-century Monsanto Castle crests a rocky outcrop atop a hill. All down the hillside, red-roofed houses use boulders for walls, floors, and ceilings. It’s a curious and captivating sight, made all the more striking by the surrounding Portuguese countryside. Today, many of Monsanto’s traditional homes function as inns and restaurants, though none forget their history. At Taverna Lusitana, for example, visitors can get an inside look at a structure built around boulders while tasting traditional drinks and snacks, then settle in for the night at the tavern’s bed and breakfast.
Early May is a good, if crowded, time to visit Monsanto during the Festival of the Holy Cross. The event draws a crowd of thousands to celebrate the village’s medieval glory days with parades, music, dance, tournaments, and more. In 2023, late July is another good time to visit to catch a different kind of festival — the Burning Man-esque Boom Festival will run from the 20th to the 27th near Idanha-a-Nova Lake, about 30 minutes south of Monsanto. — Alex Bresler
When the UNESCO committee included Kotor as a World Heritage Site in 1979, its members seemed to have trouble pinning down its primary value. They recognized the cultural import of Kotor’s Old Town, a seaport founded by 10th-century Romans. They acknowledged the historical significance of the Venetian fortifications surrounding the walled city. And they noted the natural beauty of the Bay of Kotor, an underwater canyon that’s sometimes mistaken for Europe’s southernmost fjord. The end result? UNESCO grouped all three and called it the “Natural and Culturo-Historical Region of Kotor.”
Conveniently, one of the most memorable things to do in Kotor is also one of the first things many visitors do: drive around the bay to admire the winding city wedged between limestone cliffs and electric, blue-green water. While exploring town on foot, visitors will first come across historic sites such as the Romanesque Cathedral of Saint Tryphon (known as the Kotor Cathedral), and a little more time spent exploring side streets will yield more offbeat attractions, like a cat museum and funky antique shops (as well as a “Cats of Kotor” gift shop).
It’s easy to find restaurants serving Montenegrin dishes like squid-ink risotto, octopus salad, steak schnitzel, and börek (stuffed filo pastries) around every corner in Old Town. The same goes for cafes selling sweets like baklava and bajadera (nougat with chocolate and nuts). And if you decide you’d like to go for a hike before your meal – or a cross-country ski sesh, depending on the season – head to Lovćen National Park and its famous panoramic mausoleum, less than an hour from Kotor. — Alex Bresler
Orvieto is a medieval hillside city just 90 minutes north of Rome. Once used as a refuge for popes fleeing the dangers of Rome and now beloved for being the most stunning of Umbria’s rolling hillside towns, the charming city of 20,000 people is a must-stop for anyone planning a trip through the communes, wine regions, and villas and borgios of central Italy.
Orvieto is divided into two sections: walled-in upper Old Town Orvieto, established by early Etruscans around the eighth century BCE, and lower Orvieto, where travelers catch the funicular to reach the upper neighborhood. Old Town Orvieto’s position on a rock overlooking the surrounding towns made it highly defensible and is likely why several 13th-century popes fled to the then-distant city when turmoil in Rome made the Vatican unsafe. Today, visitors can tour part of these clandestine passageways with a visit to the Orvieto Underground, a system of more than 1,000 spiderwebbing tunnels and rooms under the city more than 2,500 years old. Many current hotels and restaurants connect to the Underground, so look for half-sized or trap doors along the walls when you stop at a bar for a pre-dinner aperitivo.
Above ground, Orvieto beckons visitors with stone alleys covered in vines and window-boxed flowers, dozens of artisan shops selling the town’s famous earthenware pottery (an Orvieto tradition since the 13th century), and outdoor trattorias with wrought-iron chairs gathered in the sun around the corners of the town’s cobblestoned, medieval squares.
Though strolling the town’s winding streets is likely the top visitor activity — especially as most of the historic streets are car-free — other draws to Orvieto include the National Archaeology Museum of Orvieto and the mosaic-covered, Roman Gothic Duomo di Orvieto, considered one of Italy’s most impressive churches.
2023 is the perfect year to visit Orvieto for travelers still taking advantage of generous remote working policies as the town’s pedestrian-friendly alleys and inviting cafes beckon travelers keen to slow the pace of life for a few days. Of course, since Orvieto is roughly halfway between Rome and Florence on the country’s Trenitalia rail lines, it also makes an excellent stopping point for a few days as part of a greater Italy trip – or a convenient basecamp for exploring other nearby towns like Terni (home of St. Valentine), Assisi (home of St. Francis, patron saint of animals), or Viterbo and Lake Bolsena (home of lakeside gelato shops, among other draws). — Suzie Dundas
Chipping Campden, England
Travelers talk about the Cotswolds, an designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the hills of south-central England, like it’s a single bucolic town. In fact, the Cotswolds spans six counties and encompasses dozens of cities, towns, and villages, including Chipping Campden.
The name “Chipping” comes from the Old English word for “market,” and Chipping Campden’s Market Hall is one of its claims to fame. In the center of the high street, opposite rows of Cotswold-stone structures running in either direction, there’s a 17th-century open-walled market that’s still used as a vending place for local traders — although it’s now overseen by England’s National Trust, similar to Hidcote Manor Garden and Dover’s Hill a mile northwest of town. Another historic site, the Old Silk Mill, has been repurposed as a co-op art exhibition space called The Gallery at the Guild. Enjoy strolling through town past quaint cottages and limestone landmarks, but take note of where you’re walking — if you’re not careful, you might end up on the 102-mile Cotswolds Way that runs from Chipping Campden all the way to Bath.
One event to keep in mind if you’re planning a trip to Chipping Campden is the Cotswold Olimpicks, which have been hosted there since the early 1600s. The next games will be held on June 2, 2023, and will feature competitions such as shin-kicking and tug-of-war. Regardless of when you visit, stay at Cotswold House Hotel or Woolmarket House for maximum coziness. — Alex Bresler
It’s a principality, it’s a microstate, it’s a question on Jeopardy!, but you won’t find overtourism in Vaduz, Liechtenstein. There’s not even an airport, so visitors fly into Zurich, about an hour away. On the banks of the Rhine, yet doubly landlocked between Switzerland and Austria, the tiny mountainous country is only 62 square miles (slightly smaller than Brooklyn). At last count, Vaduz had only 5,696 residents.
Vaduz Castle, perched on a hill that’s visible from just about everywhere, is Liechtenstein’s most prominent landmark. However, visitors aren’t allowed at the 12th century schloss because it’s the private residence for the Prince of Liechtenstein. The main attraction of this little German-speaking medieval town is the fairytale-like village surrounded by Hänsel und Gretel pine forests and Alpine skiing at the mile-high Malbun Ski Area only eight miles from the center. Take a taxi up the postcard-pretty windy road. When you get to the ski resort, there are no lift lines, no tour buses, no package holiday trippers, no crazy prices. Although you’re only 50 miles from famous Austrian ski resorts like Lech and St. Anton, Ski Liechtenstein promises that this is “not a place to give the credit card a workout.”
In warmer weather, hike The Liechtenstein Trail, a gentle 46.6-mile walk connecting Vaduz to all 11 of the country’s towns. The trek is sprinkled with pastoral scenes of peaks and valleys, meadows, villages, farms, and dairy cows with bells clanging. Stayed fueled with the national dish, käsknöpfle, which is a cheesier version of the traditional Alpine spaetzle topped with sweet caramelized onions. — Laurie Jo Miller Farr
St. Emilion, France
This town is quintessentially French. It’s sensual, romantic, and a prime example of how many travelers imagine old Europe.
Synonymous with some of the world’s finest wines, this destination really knows how to punch above its small population of fewer than 2,000 people. Yet, thanks to exceptional grapes, this UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Bordeaux region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine serves as both a historian’s and a wine lover’s dream.
Think of monks in robes as you wander around inside the ancient city walls, treading up and down steep stone streets leading to the monolithic church carved from a single stone during the 12th century. Climb 196 steps into the working bell tower to ogle at expansive views of the French countryside and descend to check out the subterranean catacombs. Tour outside the walls by electric bicycle with a picnic basket lunch onboard, visit pretty gated châteaux for superb wine tasting, and drift in silence above the vineyards in the basket of a hot air balloon.
Back in town, a small outdoor market is held on Wednesday and Sunday mornings and weekly in the evenings during summer. For local cheese, wine, charcuterie, and oysters, there’s a much larger regional market in Libourne, less than five miles away.
Don’t miss the macarons made using a 400-year-old recipe. First produced at a Saint-Émilion convent by Ursuline nuns, these chewy, almond-flavored, golden-hued cookies are widely sold at Veritables Macarons de Saint Emilion, Ferlion Macarons, and Fabrique de Macarons. To enjoy a bubbly Saint-Émilion happy hour, grab your box of macarons and head for the garden at the 14th century Franciscan monastery, Cloître des Cordeliers, makers of sparkling Crémant de Bordeaux. — Laurie Jo Miller Farr
Everybody has heard of Stonehenge, but what about Avebury? This other-wordly place provides a far more immersive experience than you can find at nearby Stonehenge, which is roped off and has timed paid admissions.
Recognized as a World Heritage Site for its outstanding Neolithic and Bronze Age landscape, the outdoor site is managed by the conservation charity National Trust, and admission is free. You can walk around the ancient stone circles day or night and touch these megalithic stones, including the heaviest,Swindon Stone, which weighs about 65 tons. Don’t miss the mysterious Silbury Hill, a chalk mound of unknown purposes that’s the size of a small Egyptian pyramid, all built by hand.
Dating from between 2850 BCE and 2200 BCE, Avebury is more than a prehistoric attraction. The stone circles and henge monument are particularly unusual at Avebury because a tiny contemporary village is built partially within the site that has worthy attractions of its own. The Red Lion is a thatched roof pub surrounded by the ancient stones that dates back to 1802 and is rumored to be haunted. Stay at Avebury Lodge or Fishlock’s Cottage, both inside the stone circle, or head six miles away nearby Marlborough, a pretty English market town with a wide array of accommodations.
A two-hour drive from London due west on the M4 motorway, Avebury is on the way to Bath. Alternatively, avoid those tricky roundabouts by taking a train in and out of London Paddington Station. — Laurie Jo Miller Farr
A word of advice: Don’t go to Ronda if you’re scared of heights. Divided in two by the hikeable El Tajo gorge over the Guadalevin River, the old Moorish town is dramatically set on a mountaintop perched on the sheer drop. “New town” is connected by Puente Nuevo, a 320-foot-high stone bridge that’s an 18th century feat of engineering.
Adored by Orson Welles, inspirational to James Joyce, and immortalized by Ernest Hemingway in For Whom the Bells Tools, Ronda is known as the birthplace of bullfighting. An elaborate arena, Plaza de Toros de Ronda, was built in 1785 to hold 5,000 spectators and now houses the Museum of Bullfighting.
Perhaps Hemingway was partially wrong when he penned, “Nice promenades, good wine, excellent food, nothing to do.” No matter when you visit Ronda, every month of the year sees a traditional Andulusian festival or celebration.
In May, the five days of Ronda Romantica are dedicated to ornate decorations, concerts, local food and drink, artisan craft fairs, equestrian events, and parties for which locals dress as figures from the past, including famous bandits that terrorized the region. In September, bullfighting is the theme for Pedro Romero, the most prominent event in the region. Dressed in elaborate costumes straight out of a Goya oil painting, matadors are on parade and spectators are in their finest flamenco attire. Ronda is filled with reminders that this small town was once a city of great regional importance. — Laurie Jo Miller Farr
Arrive in Rovinj by ferry from Venice in under two hours, and it becomes clear why this small port town on the Istrian peninsula feels more Italian than Croatian. On the water approach, you can spot the town’s landmark church on a hillside, St. Euphemia, which is modeled after St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. Stroll through Grisia, a thoroughfare of artist studios and galleries that lead up to the church. Climb the bell tower for views out to 14 archipelago islands set in dazzling blue water dotted with sailboats.
Other activities in the photogenic harbor are centered around sidewalk cafés in the cobbled 17th century Marshal Tito Square, admiring fishermen’s fresh hauls, and sightseeing excursion boats. It’s a quick boat ride to Red Island, St. Andrew’s Island, or Katarina Island — all popular, yet peaceful, getaways for appreciating outstanding beauty, old olive trees, beaches, and bays for snorkeling.
Walk along a path along the coast for less than one mile from the town center to reach Golden Cape, where pine forests grow right up to narrow pebbled beaches. A stay in one of the resorts near Mulini Beach, such as Hotel Eden, is a good family choice for its spacious lawns, outdoor pool, tennis, and protected beach. — Laurie Jo Miller Farr
Swedish Lapland is a true immersion in culture of the Scandinavian north, where having five hours of daylight isn’t at all unusual and eating moose for dinner barely raises an eyebrow. And while ATVing or snowmobiling your way through a multi-day outdoor adventure is certainly a fantastic way to explore the hearty Swedish wilderness, you’ll get the same access with luxury hotels, cocktail bars, and a cosmopolitan vibe in Skelleftea.
The city gained some international acclaim last year when it opened the Wood Hotel, the tallest wooden building in the world that also hosts the city library and a performing arts center. Staying here is a must, as you’ll not only experience the feeling of sleeping in a titanic Nordic sauna but also enjoy the rooftop sushi bar and cocktail lounge, or the Italian restaurant downstairs.
Skelleftea is more than a one-hotel pony, though, as it offers ample access to the glorious wilderness people come this far north to see. Just outside town, you can jump on a snowmobile and take a moose safari where you speed through the woods tracking these magnificent animals. The experience concludes at a wood-heated cabin and Swedish sauna, where your guide prepares a feast of game like elk and reindeer while you warm yourself by the fire.
In town, you can take a stroll by the river to the Boonstan historic district and meander among 17th century wood homes from early settlers. You can also walk the pedestrian mall downtown, popping into local bars like Old Williams and the Bishop Arms. Time your trip right and you might also catch the northern lights, a pretty regular occurrence this far north. No promises, but get a few miles outside town on the right night and the show is spectacular. — Matthew Meltzer
Zaton is a small fishing village situated on The Dubrovnik Riviera 10 miles from Dubrovnik. The Riviera challenges the natural beauty of the Cote D’Azur, but it trumps its European counterpart in its authentic charming culture and its seafood. Although Dubrovnik is impressive, it’s also teaming with visitors. Zaton, on the other hand, is a peaceful harbor with stunning smooth, uncrowded pebble stone beaches, crystal clear water, and a handful of fish restaurants.
Zaton can be enjoyed any time of the year, but book in advance to visiting in the grandmother’s summer in early fall. Outside of local Croatians, it’s still off the radar to the majority. On weekdays especially, you can find yourself alone on one of the many small enclave beaches. Booking in advance is suggested because although there are quite a few options for accommodation, the more special houses peppered along the edge of the harbor are often booked by families from the Dubrovnik area. Many of the better seafood restaurants have only a smattering of tables, so make a reservation — particularly on weekends.
For as little as $40 per night, Airbnb has listings in Zaton for stone houses with wooden shutters and red-tiled roofs, gardens with olive and citrus trees, and views overlooking the bay. This two-bedroom house is located on the far side of the harbor and sleeps four comfortably. Although it’s a 10 or so minute walk to restaurants, it’s a stunning stroll along the harbor’s wall. Or if you have a larger group, this lavish villa sleeps eight and is one of the more stunning stand-alone houses on the bay with a garden, terraces, and a heated swimming pool.
When it comes to food, don’t mess around with international cuisine (other than a stretch pizza). Go straight to Restaurant Kasar for waterside views, local wine, fish carpaccio, and some of the best fried calami in Europe. — Katie Scott Aiton
The northern Alpine foothill town of Naturno is located in one of Italy’s most dramatic landscapes: South Tyrol. The town sits at the entrance of the Val Venosta valley, beneath the Dolomites, and is surrounded by vineyards, apple orchards, cliff-side cabins, and magnificent churches. Naturno’s closest airports are more than 90 miles away, and perhaps that’s why many have yet to discover this culturally eclectic and beautiful part of the country.
That said, it’s not under the radar for many German, Austrian, or Italian tourists, who flock here for the exquisite hiking, biking, and luxury wellness industry. The culture of the town reflects these influences from neighboring countries. The architecture has an Austrian influence, while the food is a melody of German and Italian.
For a wellness focused vacation, stay at Preidlhof. The multi-award-winning hotel offers a range of expert-led wellness packages, and itineraries can be shaped to what you’re looking for.. The hotel sits on the hillside overlooking the town, so you can saunter down the cobblestone streets to enjoy the charming restaurants (like the local wine and daily specials at Restaurant Wiedenplatzerkeller) and shops. — Katie Scott Aiton
Santa Cruz, Portugal
Were I to envision the perfect adventure town, it would have to check quite a lot of boxes. It would be covered in lush plant life and surrounded by sparkling blue ocean, but also have massive mountains and cliffs for epic backpacking trips, plus tropical beaches and a thriving underwater scene to please even the pickiest of scuba divers. And since it’s a dream town, I’d also add an extensive mountain bike network, miles and miles of rivers and waterfall canyons, and some of the most unique wines and cuisines in the world.
Except it’s not all in my imagination — it’s Santa Cruz, on Portugal’s island of Madeira, off the coast of Morocco. It’s not as large as the nearby town of Funchal, giving it a nice blend of small-island vibes with the convenience of being near the shopping and dining of a larger town.
While nearby Funchal offers outdoor activities like touring the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens, riding a toboggan down a city street, or taking food and art tours of the town’s colorful alleys, it can be a bit pricey. But Santa Cruz, closer to both the international airport and coastal hiking and biking trails of the north shore, makes the perfect base camp away from crowds. I’ve never been to a place that offered such a wide range of outdoor activities, from camping and hiking to scuba diving, cliff jumping, canyoneering, downhill mountain biking, surfing, and backpacking that ranges from beginner-friendly to black-diamond options.
For travelers based on the East Coast of the United States, direct flights connect NYC to the Madeira airport in six hours. Visit in February to celebrate a week’s worth of themed parties as part of the island’s Carnival celebrations, or wait until the Flower Festival in May or Wine Festival in October.
Couples may like the very outdoorsy (and adults only) Sentido Galosol or the boutique (and oceanfront) Albatroz Beach & Yacht Club, though Quinta Splendida has more budget-friendly rooms in a botanical garden. Regardless of where you stay, consider taking a waterfall jumping and rappelling excursion with Epic Madeira, mountain biking more than 6,000 feet of vertical descent with Freeride Madeira, or going for a guided hike along levadas (historical waterways through villages and jungle) with Discover Madeira. — Suzie Dundas
Cinque Terre, the famous string of five colorful fishing villages perched on the Italian Riviera, are what most international tourists know about the Italian region of Liguria. But Camogli, an equally scenic village located in the same part of Italy, is where you should stop. The architecture, the views, and the charm are more or less the same as in Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore, but the drive from Genoa on the winding and narrow coastal road is two hours shorter and there are much fewer visitors.
In October and early November, Camogli is just as beautiful as in the summer, but there are no crowds and there’s a relaxed atmosphere with locals on restaurant patios drink in hand and fresh seafood on the table — and you can do the same without much of a wait. Take a walk around the village and enjoy the sight of its huge cacti, the sweet perfume of the jasmine bushes, and the bright colors of the blooming bougainvillea. Go down the steps that lead to the beach of large gray pebbles and look for sea glass in the autumnal sun.
The colorful buildings of Camogli are full of architectural trompe-l’oeils so keep your eyes peeled for paintings of greenery and cats on the pastel-colored homes. For great photos of the town, take the steps to the top of Dragonara Castle in the center of town, or walk on the breakwater all the way to Molo Esterno Lighthouse.
The village has many small independent shops selling jewelry, handmade paper products, clothes, and more, but be sure to stop at the gelato vendor under the arch by the small port. There, you can try a copetta of persimmon gelato (“kako” or “kaki” in Italian). — Morgane Croissant
Mytilini is the capital of Lesvos, the third largest Greek island. As such, it’s a busy place with islanders (of whom there are around 90,000) and visitors in search of sunny weather. But the fact that Mytilini is very much on the beaten path should not deter you from paying a visit – after all, it’s popular for a reason. But if you’d rather go when the crowds are smaller, visit in late October and November to be almost exclusively among locals.
Walk around Mytilini’s port for many restaurants, cafés, and bakeries selling flakey, honey-oozing baklavas, among many other traditional Greek treats. From there, you’ll see the imposing shape of Saint Therapon, a Greek Orthodox church in the city center. Make your way there via the maze of narrow streets packed with shops.
If you’re able to manage a few hills on foot, leave the city center behind to head south and take in the many grand mansions that dot the coast, including one made of bricks to look like a typical Victorian English house. Go north from the city center, to find the castle of Mytilini, a huge structure that you can visit for only a couple of euros. It should be noted that opening hours are rather random, however. From there, the view of the city and the coast of Turkey nearby is plenty lovely. In summer, the castle hosts concerts.
If you decide to explore Lesvos by car, make sure to visit the colorful village of Agiasos, just a 30-minute ride away from Mytilini. The trees filled with ripe fruits, the many fragrant bushes, and the church of the Virgin Mary, home to a famous and precious religious icon from 803 BCE, are reasons enough to make the trip. Every year on August 15, thousands make the pilgrimage to the icon (sometimes on foot from Mytilini or even farther away). — Morgane Croissant