I’ll admit it. Europe has my heart. I love the history and the art and the culture. Most of all I love the smaller towns and villages. There is something about cobblestone alleys and stone houses with overflowing flower boxes that draw me like a magnet. While every corner of Europe is full of cute and quaint places, I would like to share my 5 favorite prettiest towns you need to see now. These towns are colorful, full of typical rural life and are close to rivers or the sea.
Rovinj has a web of narrow alleys filled with unique shops and colorful buildings sitting directly on the water. What really sets this town apart are the alleys that lead to a dropoff into the blue, blue, blue bay. You can enjoy meals in restaurants where their dining room sits on cliffs overlooking the sea.
City Feature – St. Euphemia Cathedral is the church atop the hill of the old city. From the bell tower your view of Istria reaches far, even to Venice on a good day. There is also a weather vane on the steeple that the fisherman still use.
Where to eat – Rio Bar offers great French cuisine and of course fresh seafood.
Punta Lina has one of the best terraces on the cliffs overlooking the sea. Very romantic and of course top food.
B052 – This is arguably the best gelato shop in the old town. It’s located near the end of Carrera Street, the main shopping zone, and has more chocolate flavors than anywhere else in town.
Where to stay – I may be biased since this is where I stayed, but I loved, loved, loved Hotel Istria on the Red Island. It’s a short ferry ride (complimentary) from the old town. I found it nice to have a little distance to all the activity of Rovinj. It’s a 4 star resort with all the amenities you can expect. Rooms are fairly basic but they all have balconies with killer views. The grounds include a castle and a separate smaller island for bike rides, long walks, and just enjoying a quiet piece of nature.
Take a relaxing boat ride along the many canals. There are so many little chocolate shops to explore, and if you haven’t tried real Belgium chocolate, you must!
City Features – The Market Square and the Belfry tower, tallest in Belgium. The Lace Center is definitely worth spending some time at. Part museum, part workshop, it gives visitors a view of the tradition that is passed down from centuries past. Another landmark you don’t want to miss is the Begijnhof, originally a convent and now home to Benedictine nuns. It’s courtyard is a good calm retreat from the tourist crowds.
Where to eat – Family run Soup is near the Market Square serves hearty and inexpensive meals. It’s small so keep an eye out for it – Hallestratt 4
Pro Deo – Quirky bistro housed in a building from 1562 and decorated with family mementos. Off the beaten path next to the Crossgate and close to the windmills. Try their Flemish beef stew with apple compote. Since it’s small it fills up fast, so make reservations if you can.
The Chocolate Line Bruges is just one of many shops where you can put yourself into a chocolate coma. What sets this shop apart is the innovative chocolates as
well as more traditional ones. Ask the friendly helpful staff to help you decide. This is a local favorite for good reason.
Where to stay – Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce This is a Luxe Worldwide Hotel that comes with all the bells and whistles while remaining European quaint. Located in the heart of town makes seeing the sights very walkable. Ask for a room with the canal view.
This is another pretty little town with canals. The big plus here is that it also sits on a lake in the French Alps. No matter where you look, you have breath taking scenery.
City Feature – Photos of Annecy always show the Palais de I’lle, the triangular building in the middle of the main canal. Despite it’s name, it is a former prison and very stark inside. It’s interesting to follow the history and see the inside, but honestly, the outside view is the best.
Where to eat – L’Heurne Tourne is popular among locals and tourists alike for a good reason. You will find the freshest and tastiest burger in town, locally produced. Instead of fries they accompany the burgers with baked potato wedges. The owner is very friendly and welcoming.
If you’re looking for crepes, you should definitely try Creperie Ti Mad. It’s fairly small and cozy and prices are mid-range.
Where to stay – Hotel des Alpes is a short walk from both the old town and the lake. It’s a perfect inexpensive spot to base your explorations of Annecy.
One of the five villages in the Cinque Terra, this is my favorite. Along with the colorful buildings tumbling down to the sea, it’s also crowned by a small castle. There is a bit more going on here in the steep alleys than most of the other villages, but still not as touristy as Monterosso.
Feature – the five villages are car free and can only be reached by train or boat. Although tourism has really taken a hold on them, you still get the feel of authentic fishing villages and small town Italian life.
Where to eat – Out of the tourist fray and still the best choice to eat is II Pirata delle Cinque Terra. Whether you’re looking for a good breakfast with exceptional pastries and cappucino or a hearty Italian meal later in the day, this little bistro should be your go-to place.
If you want to relax right on the town square and do some people watching, try Taverna Del Capitano (pictured above). It offers well priced seafood dishes and pizza.
Where to stay – The villages of Cinque Terra are tiny and still authentic despite all the day tripping tourists. Many people come for day tours and return to Tuscany in the evening. Therefore your best options are small bed and breakfasts. The added bonus is that you can enjoy an early morning Italian coffee with the village and it’s people almost all to yourself.
Four of the five villages come tumble right down to the sea.
Bernkastel Kues, Germany
This twin city on the banks of the Mosel River in Germany is just too pretty to miss. Most people explode the Rhine Valley and rush on. I urge you to take a side trip up the Mosel to this quaint half-timbered village. While the area vineyards aren’t quite as steep, the wine from this region is first class. This is an especially magical time to visit in the fall when wine fests are scheduled. You should also walk up the the castle overlooking the town for a wonderful view of the river and other small towns in the area.
City Feature – The Pointed House (Spitzenhauschen) was built in 1416 in typical Mosel style with half timbers. This is the most photographed building in town. It was a wine tavern on the ground floor today.
Where to eat – For Gemutlicthkeit you should try the Brauhaus Kloster Machern. This brewery in a former 1238 monastary has a large selection of their own beers and good solid German fare. Sit outside and enjoy a view of the Mosel River.
Where to stay – Located in the Pedestrian the Marchen Hotel (fairy tale hotel) is a good place to stay. Built in the 1600s it still retains many quaint qualities while also adding modern touches like whirlpool baths. Relax. Enjoy a glass of the region’s excellent wine. Plan your return trip.
If you haven’t been to any of these pretty little towns, add them to your calendar. You won’t regret visiting any of the prettiest towns in Europe.