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SMALL AND ENIGMATIC

Europe's 8 Most Captivating Small Towns

Europe is a mystical and magical place with history sprouting out at every corner. In fact, there is so much history that parts of it sometimes are overlooked. Enigmatic and captivating from medieval towers to elite class luxury hotels – the towns are poetic in every sense.

Bruges

bruges

image source: e-sushi.fr

Located in the Flemish region of Belgium, northwest of Brussels, Bruges was once one of the most important ports in the world. The town had a strategic location at the crossroads of the southern trade and the northern Hanseatic League trade routes. After the 15th century Bruges had lost its place in the limelight of commerce as Antwerp took over to be the flagship of the Low Countries. However, soon before the turn of the 19th century Bruges had once again flourished and become one of the world’s first tourist destinations, especially attracting wealthy French and British travelers. Now the town has been revived and its canals are in full grace. The petite cobbled streets and the red brick facades speak for themselves, no wonder Bruges has been named as the Venice of the North.

Monschau

Monschau

image source: www.eifelbooking.de

Located in the district Aachen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Monschau is a small resort town most famous for its reluctance to change its cityscape for around 300 years. The traditional German half-timbered houses and narrow streets, with the Rur River running through makes the town by far one of the most enigmatic places I’ve ever seen. The best time to visit, in my opinion, is Christmas when the town has transformed into a 17th century fairytale.

San Gimignano

san-gimignano

image source: www.walksinsideflorence.it

The small walled medieval city of San Gimignano is located in the province of Siena, Tuscany. The town perched on top of a hill has an unforgettable and iconic skyline due to its collection of fine bell towers. With its Romanesque and Gothic architecture assemblage the town offers deep uncurtailed history. Wandering around San Gimignano is like being transported to a day In the Medieval city state. I visited the town in the peak of July and was left in complete awe of the robust, yet very elegant merge between the urban and the natural.

Bayonne & Biarritz

biarritz-bayonne

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Pays Basque is a place of strong cultural heritage, and the cities of Bayonne and Biarritz are the definitions of the Basque county’s urban lifestyle. The Bayonne, Biarritz and Anglet conglomeration connects the three spots together in a cosmopolitan atmosphere. Bayonne located on the confluence of the rivers of Nive and Adour is a jewel of the Renaissance period in architecture. A small enclosed town that is the heart of a very lively population. With its traditional narrow streets the town encompasses everything from pubs filled with football fans to restaurants serving fresh oysters with salt and lemon. The town is but another adventure for the historyphiles. Biarritz is the definition of a coastal resort town. With its grand Beaux Arts hotels and wide avenues it’s a fashionable destination for the elite. Hotel du Palais is mostly responsible for the city’s luxury resort vibe – no wonder, King Edward VII was a frequent visitor.

Mont Saint-Michel

mont-saint-michel

image source: imgur.com

Granted, Mont Saint-Michel is hardly a village with only 44 people living on the hill, it’s still a well worth mention. The now commune of little over 60 buildings has a long history. Since ancient times the island has been used as a strategic point of fortification, in the 8th century AD it was turned into a monastery. It grew over time, exemplifying a feudal society – on top God (the abbey and monastery), below the great halls, then houses and then fishermen and farmers. Due to its rare position, it was accessible by pilgrims during low tide and drove off assailants during high tide. It is now one of France’s most visited destinations with an estimated 3 million arrivals each year. It is best visited in late spring/ start of summer when the flora around the abbey is in full bloom and the running waters of low tide are warm enough to be splashed.

Siena

siena

image source: www.festivaltangofierro.it

The city located in the heart of Tuscany is the birthplace of the Palio (horse race held twice a year), the epicenter of medieval architecture and traditional Tuscan cuisine. Best visited either during the Palio (2nd July or 16th August) or any other time during summer. When the heat of the sun has subsided after midday the city regains its vibrance and this is the best time to pick its fruits. When the sun is near setting and the narrow streets throw shade another world is revealed – a darker toned place that personifies what life in medieval times might have looked like. Near San Gimignano the two towns are unprecedented in their character and aura.

St Ives

st-ives

image source: www.lastminute.com

A Cornish coast town that boasts the best of what Cornwall can offer. St Ives has become a popular resort town just like Biarritz, yet without the associated glamour and cosmopolitan lifestyle. St Ives has retained much of its traditional fishing port qualities and is now home to many celebrated artists. A walk on the town’s promenade will give you a wide angle view of the near turquoise sea that’s scattered with small yachts and fishing boats. The town centre is a beautiful mix of whitewashed brick façades and darkened stone roofs. A perfect holiday getaway.

Roussillon

roussillion

image source: www.bouquetaromate.com

The Roussillion village is perched on top of a red hill and located in the Parc Naturel Regional du Luberon, where the peculiarity is that the clay, which constitutes a large part of the soil, is rich in the ochre pigment. Ochre pigments can range from pale yellow to orange and red, and that is why the village is perched on top of an orange/red hill that glistened in the sun. I visited Roussillon in a misty late April day, walking along one of the paths that lead to the forest I was struck by the natural beauty of the place. Rain washed red, orange and yellow cliffs and hills were protruding in every spot. The warm Provence air was a delight to the senses.

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