14 Jul,2016 By Jagabond
Small towns fascinate me. I once dreamed of writing a book about small towns in the US, documenting things like local legends, quirks, stories from the neighborhood pub, and personal drama of the townspeople. Oftentimes visiting a big city is so overwhelming. I like the idea of getting to know the character of a place in a much shorter time.
Similar to the US, Europe also has its share of small towns, and I’ve listed some unforgettable ones below. What makes a town small? I used the standard of less than 15,000 residents.
Frustrated with those whale-watching tours where you only end up seeing a flock of seagulls? Come to Husavik, where they have a self-proclaimed 99% chance of seeing a whale. Based on personal experience I can assure you this claim is accurate. The town also has a highly rated whale museum and cafes with terraces overlooking the pretty harbor.
How to get there – Public transportation is difficult in Iceland, so rent a car and make Husavik one of your stops on the Ring Road tour.
How about a secret street art town in Sardinia? Orgosolo was once known for banditry and high murder rates. Today, politically themed murals brilliantly cover its town walls. You can easily spend a couple hours here marveling at this outdoor museum.
How to get there – Rent a car and travel 90 minutes south of Olbia to this isolated and artsy town.
‘Sound of Music’ fans may recognize St. Michael’s Church in Mondsee as where Julie Andrews married Captain Von Trapp. The drive here from Salzburg is stunning, with beautiful views of the Austrian Alps and other nature like the lovely moon lake (from which the town is named). I recommend running through town singing ‘the hills are alive’ loudly and proudly.
How to get there – I would coordinate this visit with the Sound of Music tour, and I recommend this company.
Dinant is home to the towering Citadel, a church with an onion-like dome that has beautiful views of the town from the top. It also has a quirk in that the creator of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax, was born here. There’s a free, small museum for him on the main street, and a statue of him sitting on a park bench.
How to get there – The direct train from Brussels takes around 90 minutes.
Naxos has a more real feeling than nearby touristy spots Sanotrini and Mykonos, and Apeiranthos is the clear jewel of the island. This white marble town belongs in a Hollywood movie. Anthony Bourdain visited here, so that gives it some street cred. Hit one of the local cafes and treat your body to copious amounts of Greek food and wine.
How to get there – Renting a car in Naxos is cheap, and the drive from the main port town is less than an hour.
Situated in Alsace, this region is known for its mixture of French and German cultures. Step into Ribeauville and you immediately notice the rows of brightly colored houses. The government mandates these wild colors and you need a permit if you wish to repaint. Hang at a cafe and watch the world go by while enjoying a glass of local Riesling.
How to get there – There are regular buses to Ribeauville and the surrounding towns from Colmar.
For a real ‘wow’ moment gaze upon this small town built into a cliff. Summer tourists come here for the flight of the angels, a zip lining adventure linking Castelmezzano with neighboring Pietrapertosa. Other activities include rock climbing, hiking and sampling the local mountainous cuisine.
How to get there – This is best done coupled with your visit to Matera, as it’s only an hour away by car.
Maybe Santillana Del Mar translates to ‘medieval’ in Spanish, as it’s akin to living within a Tolkien novel. Walking the quiet, cobblestone streets at night can be romantic even if you’re alone. Somehow the townspeople have managed to keep the antique authenticity within the city, even as it’s morphed into a massive tourist attraction.
How to get there – The easiest way is from Bilbao, so take a break from the Guggenheim and make the 90 minute drive.
This is one of the five towns of the Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera. Hiking here from Monterosso gives you a stunning view of Vernazza and its multi-colored buildings. I regret that I never spent the night here. The castle is a great place to watch the sunset, and the town itself has a romantic personality.
How to get there – Take a direct train from Pisa to La Spezia, and from there you can hop a smaller train that takes you into the Cinque Terre.
Coastal beauties like Dubrovnik and Split will always tempt you, but don’t think that’s all Croatia has to offer. Istria is a region lush with seaside resorts and amazing small towns. Bale boasts rich truffles, smooth white wine, and a recently unearthed trove of dinosaur fossils. Though not as well known as Motovun or Groznjan, I’ll never forget the hours I spent here.
How to get there – When visiting Pula for the Roman theatre, take a thirty minute detour by car and visit this amazing town.
The best thing about visiting Marseille is easy access to this wonderful seaside village. You can’t visit Cassis without seeing the calanques. These gorgeous white cliffs – nine in total – are worth the hours long boat tour. The town itself is cute and perfect for day trippers, as you can walk the entire main area in less than an hour.
How to get there – Take a 45-minute bus from Marseille. The train isn’t recommended as the station in Cassis is far from town.
This is the finest town situated in the Brda wine country region of Slovenia. Wines here are terribly underrated. The unique and easily drinkable Rebula white rivals Chardonnay as a perfect daytime option. Still unspoiled from tourists, you need to visit here while it’s still a secret.
How to get there – Fly into the Italian airports of Trieste or Treviso and it’s only a short drive away.
Thanks to other travel bloggers who came before me for the inspiration to write this article. I’ve listed some of my favorites below.