25 Secret European Villages

Happy Monday!

I apologize for the late post. It was quite a doozy of a weekend.

This is a repost from Travel and Leisure that I felt was of interest to you all for ideas on spring, or summer travel.

Giornico, Switzerland

The charm of Ticino, the Italian-speaking canton of southern Switzerland, is the not-quite-here, not-quite-there, 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. The best, Grotto dei due Ponti, serves dishes like spezzatino (meat ragoût) with polenta and tart local Merlot.

How to Get There: From the lake resorts, drive north 50 minutes on the A13 and N2.

Where to Stay: There are no hotels in Giornico, so stay in nearby Ascona at the pink Hotel Giardino(doubles from $400).

Where to Eat: Grotto dei due Ponti has a shaded terrace that overlooks the river.

Montenegro: Kotor

In the fall, a mist settles into the hills surrounding the bay of Kotor, so thick you can hardly see the blood-orange trees in front of you. That hasn’t stopped the tide of wealthy Europeans: British expats are selling real estate, Russians are buying farmhouses in the hills, and the dark-haired, green-eyed people of the black mountains (how Montenegro gets its name) have opened restaurants to introduce visitors to the tastes of Montenegrin stewed meat. Beaches are not yet overrun, but this wild side of the Dalmatian Coast won’t stay undeveloped for long.

How to Get There: Kotor is 50 miles from Podgorica, the capital.

Where to Stay: Palazzo Radomiri(doubles from $143) was built from Croatian stone.

Where to Eat: Stari Mlini, on a mountain stream.

Visit T+L’s European Travel Guide for more European vacation inspiration.

Bolgheri, Italy

The Viale dei Cipressi, a three-mile road flanked by over 2,500 cypress trees (the only vegetation local buffalo don’t eat), leads straight into Bolgheri, which is set amid the vineyards of southern Tuscany’s Maremma. There’s more to this village than just the dramatic arrival, however. 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.

How to Get There: Bolgheri is a 40-mile drive south from Pisa.

Where to Stay: Relais Sant’Elena(doubles from $182).

Where to Eat: Chefs Omar Barsacchi and Gionata d’Alessi serve Tuscan-Maremman cuisine (ravioli stuffed with pappa al pomodoro) at Osteria Magona (Piazza Ugo 2\3, 011-39-0565-762173).

Staufen im Breisgau, Germany

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 fat, naked Bacchus signals that you’ve arrived at the tiny downtown. Main Street’s pastel houses lead to the market place, which is crowned by the Town Hall, with a gothic inscription relating local history back to 770 on the façade. Join the businessmen in pinstripes at the outdoor wine bar, though a word to overindulgers: legend has it that any reveler who falls into one of the (sparkling-clean) irrigation ditches that run through town is destined to marry a local.

How to Get There: Staufen is 75 minutes by car from Strasbourg.

Where to Stay and Eat: Hotel-Gasthof Kreuz-Post(doubles from $136) has five rooms in patterned fabrics. Try duck breast, savory mushroom crêpes, and blood-sausage risotto at its restaurant.

Local Take: Pick up a bottle of cherry or plum eau-de-vie at the Alfred Schladerer distillery, run by sixth-generation vintner Philipp Schladerer.

Lavenham, England

Lavenham, in Suffolk, may just be the prettiest town in England. It boasts more than 350 heritage houses and its high street is lined with the kind of bric-a-brac shops and teahouses (serving scones and clotted cream) that are on the endangered list throughout rural England—and all but extinct in glossier reaches, such as the Cotswolds and West Dorset. Sarah Townsend, former owner of the superchic Palazzo Terranova, in Umbria, was so charmed by the region that she just opened a small inn in nearby Buxhall.

How to Get There: Trains depart London’s Liverpool Street Station several times daily for Stowmarket, 14 miles away. Or, get off at Colchester and take the Chambers 753 bus line into town.

Where to Stay and Eat:  The contemporary Great House Hotel(doubles from $162) is in Lavenham’s town center. The Great House Restaurant, with its gastropub take on English fare, is one of Suffolk’s finest.

Aberdour, Scotland

The train from Edinburgh stops at a Victorian station next to a riot of neatly planted flowers in a hidden glen in the shadow of a medieval castle. Aberdour is not car-friendly, but why should it be when anything you would want to see is in town and 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 store, four cozy pubs, and even a shop dedicated to Wiccan supplies, situated provocatively equidistant from the Churches of Scotland and the Scottish Episcopal Church.

How to Get There: Aberdour is 30 minutes by train from Edinburgh.

Where to Stay and Eat: Great Value The Woodside Hotel(doubles from $140) offers rooms decorated in individual tartans. The bar, whose paneling came from a 19th-century passenger ship, serves local Highland beef.

Norcia, Italy

In this eastern Umbrian citadel, artisanal culinary traditions endure. Pecorino cheese is aged for two years, trained dogs sniff out black truffles in the woodlands, and honey is sourced from the red wildflowers that bloom in the plains. But it’s the cinghiale that takes pride of place. Throughout the centro storico, the scent of spiced wild-boar salumi carries from the norcineria (delis) into the traffic-free roads. Step past the prosciutti hanging in storefronts to find shopkeepers curing cuts of the pork with methods perfected over the past 800 years. Ask them to slice up fresh ciauscoli, and bring it to the Piazza San Benedetto, where villagers celebrate the Festival of Saint Benedict in the spring.

How to Get There: Norcia is 69 miles northeast of Rome.

Where to Stay: The 24-room Palazzo Seneca, set in a 16th-century palace.

Where to Eat: Il Granaro del Monte, for plates of black-truffle strangozzi pasta.

Local Take: Fabrizio Marini, director of the food shop Norceria Brancaleone da Norcia, recommends visiting during the Black Truffle Festival, in February and March.

Roundstone, Ireland

No blackberries could taste better than the ones picked along the winding lanes of Roundstone. But even the berry-averse will find reasons to love this 19th-century fishing village. 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—always in Ireland’s cards—head to Malachy Kearns’s shop, which sells handmade bodhran (Irish drums), or dry off by the fire at O’Dowds bar with a kit (a pint of Guinness and a shot of Irish whiskey).

How to Get There: From Galway, it’s a 76-mile drive.

Where to Stay: Family-run Cashel House Hotel(doubles from $220), on 50 acres, is just a few miles east of Roundstone.

Where to Eat: Join anglers in the bar at Ballynahinch Castle Hotel or at O’Dowds.

St.-Geniès, France

The Périgord, in the Dordogne, is home to two of France’s most coveted delicacies: foie gras and truffles. On market days in the tiny village of St.-Geniès, two hours east of Bordeaux, shoppers tote wicker baskets to the town square, where apron-clad vendors hawk pommes salardaises (potatoes sautéed in duck fat and garlic) and saucissons rolled in herbs.

How to Get There: Take the A89 from Bordeaux.

Local Take: A bike ride in the countryside is the best way to work off the region’s famous foie gras.

Kardamili, Greece

If you’ve heard murmurs that the jagged mountains and white-sand beaches of the Mani region are worth the trip from Athens, you’re not alone. Insiders head there for a traditional experience: authentic Greek salads and moussaka at Lela’s Taverna before spending the evening at the Elies Hotel’s outdoor patio, which overlooks the Gulf of Messenia. About three hours away on the Ionian Sea is the 765-room Costa Navarino resort with an observatory and tourism office dedicated to sustaining the village’s community and seafront.

How to Get There: Fly to Athens, then drive three hours south through the Peloponnese to the Mani.

Where to Stay: Elies Hotel(doubles from $155) has 10 rooms and maisonettes set within olive groves. On the hillside, Notos Hotel(doubles from $129) has 14 simple apartments with views of Ritsa Beach.

Where to Eat: Lela’s Taverna for Greek home-cooking.

Ullastret, Spain

Spain’s Baix Empordà region is chock-ful of authentic towns, but local foodies have a favorite destination: Ullastret, home to El Fort, a restaurant and hotel run by Lola Puig. She has transformed the homey restaurant her parents ran for many years into a Slow Food temple. Her menus feature specialties like organic house-made goat’s cheese and black rice with cuttlefish. From the lantern-lit terrace, diners look out onto the Mediterranean just a few miles east.

How to Get There: Ullastret is 80 miles northeast of Barcelona and 20 miles east of Girona.

Where to Stay and Eat: Hotel El Fort(doubles from $130, including breakfast) has four airy, affordable apartments and includes a breakfast of country bread with tomato.

Local Take: Puig thinks the best view of the region is from the air, seeing the sun rise above Iberian ruins from a hot-air balloon (Globus Empordà).

Hall in Tirol, Austria

Take a 10-minute commuter train from Innsbruck straight into what feels like the Middle Ages. Hall in Tirol, established in 1303, has remained unusually intact thanks to the medieval embankment and the area’s wealth from salt mining and minting. (Ample cash flow meant that the buildings were constructed from the finest materials.) But the allure comes from the surroundings: the Alps, with hiking and ski trails galore.

How to Get There: Hall in Tirol is a 20-minute drive from Innsbruck.

Where to Stay: Schlosshotel Goldener Engl(doubles from $208) balances stately grandeur with Alpine kitsch.

Where to Eat: Pipistrello, a wine-and-schnapps bar.

Koguva, Estonia

In this Estonian island hamlet—once a Swedish feudal territory—the local trades of fishing and shepherding have left the surrounding wilds untouched by large-scale agricultural development. Visitors can still catch glimpses of wild goats, fox, deer, moose, and—in spring—migrating swans; or head to the 60-foot Üügu Cliff to ogle over 20 species of orchids.

How to Get There: Ferries depart on the hour from Virtsu for Kuivastu, on Muhu Island.

Where to Stay and Eat: The 24-room Pädaste Manor(doubles from $380) has the island’s finest Nordic restaurant.

Local Take: In July, nearby Nautse village hosts a jazz festival.

Plios, Russia

When Russian oligarchs head to the country, they go to Plios, on the banks of the Volga. Since 1999 Alexey Shevtsov, a tycoon turned hotelier, and his wife, Natalia, have been converting the town’s provincial buildings into dacha-style guesthouses. Thankfully Plios hasn’t lost its original Slavic appeal: the scent of woodsmoke wafts from Russian stoves, men hawk smoked Volga bream, and babushkas carry baskets of chanterelles past old merchant’s houses.

How to Get There: Hire a car service from your hotel in Moscow for the four-hour drive northeast.

Where to Stay: Shevtsov’s hotel group runs the rustic-moderne Fortecia Rus Hotel(doubles from $67; apartments from $165).

Viscri, Romania

This Saxon village got a lucky break when it became the beneficiary of the Mihai Eminescu Trust, a nonprofit overseen by Prince Charles that’s devoted to protecting the heritage of Transylvania’s country towns. In Viscri, that means the church and its cemetery (which dates back to the 12th century) is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Indigenous pear trees were replanted, the lone blacksmith has a new shop, and a new road along the pastel-colored brick houses and farms provides visitors—and the philanthropic elite—a glimpse into the authentic Saxon way of life.

How to Get There: Drive four hours northwest from Bucharest.

Where to Stay and Eat: Try the MET Guesthouse, with a 200-year-old Saxon bed, a cabinet with a pullout mattress. The owner will serve a home-cooked meal of mămăliga (cornmeal porridg

Sending wanderlust vibes! 💋

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Photo credit: Laszlone Hugo


  1. ayrgalaxy

    This is amazing!! The little town in Switzerland that speaks Italian intrigued me. And I was surprised to see Ireland and Scotland in here too. I totally want to see that castle 😀

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