Sure, we love big, bustling cities. But there’s something to be said for small towns where life moves slower, traditions are everywhere and the people stop to say hello. These are some of the most charming little places in the whole entire world.
1. Gordes, France
More than just a beautiful village perched on one of the most scenic hillsides of Provence, Gordes has seen serious political action. Harnessed for its defensive vantage point by everyone from the Romans to the Normans, Gordes played a crucial role in the French Resistance during World War II, and suffered accordingly.
In peacetime it’s the beautiful central square and cobbled alleys overlooking the fields of the Vaucluse that have attracted artists including Chagall and Vasarely. Today visitors come to enjoy the lively open market in the square dominated by a Norman castle, the surrounding lavender fields and the 12th-century Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque.
2. Miyajima, Japan
The name means “shrine-island” and this one has an exquisite torii. The presence of the sea is as much a part of Miyajima’s charm as the shrine itself – the village is lined with a boardwalk which is a great favorite with grazing deer.
What you see is not necessarily all you get in Miyajima – you need to walk behind the main street and away from the shrine to encounter an enchanting staircase leading to a Buddhist temple at the foot of scenic Mount Misen.
3. Essaouira, Morocco
In a country awash with red earth, Saharan desert heat and dust, Essaouira is a refreshing and surprising breath of fresh coastal air. Not a resort, but a bustling little town with a fishing industry, it’s a vision of bright blue and white, with the odd golden accent. The Medina, or old market center, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where visitors shop for marquetry, textiles and hand-made raffia slippers known as babouches. But an even bigger attraction is the fishing port, lined with outdoor restaurants overlooking the Scala Kasbah and a sea of blue fishing boats.
4. Bled, Slovenia
No, that’s not Cinderella’s castle… It’s a real place situated in the Slovenian Alps near Austria. The iconic Bled Castle, which dates from the year 1011, now functions as a museum, restaurant and wine cellar, and looks out onto a glacial lake.
5. Reine, Norway
You may want to move to Scandinavia after seeing this adorable Norwegian town. Stay in a quaint cottage and spend the days fishing, kayaking and hiking; at night, you may even catch a Northern Lights show.
6. Lucca, Italy
This walled medieval town is one of the loveliest in Tuscany, with a unique elliptical piazza, the Anfiteatro. This former colosseum was converted in the 12th century into a residential space, now awash with cafés. It’s surrounded by many other picturesque piazzas, punctuated with spectacular churches. San Michele soars to crazy heights with its tiers of blind arches supported by wildly-decorated columns.
San Frediano, with its colorful mosaic facade, is another delight. Lucca is equally beautiful on the outside. It’s surrounded by thick 16th-century walls on top of which locals stroll or bike, gazing over the surrounding parkland. From the hotel strip just beyond the walls, it’s easy to slip into town on foot or bike through one of the many alleys.
7. Plockton, Scotland
Palm trees in the Highlands? Bizarre as it sounds, the Gulf Stream has brought tropical foliage to this beautiful little village just over the water from the Isle of Skye. Original named Am Ploc, it was a crofting hamlet until the 17th century and then a home for refugees displaced to make room for sheep during the Highland Clearances.
Today, the special feature of the high street is the gardens – separated from their quaint little houses by the main road, they all face the sea and in spring and summer are a beautifully kept riot of brightly colored flowers and neat lawns. Roam to the edges of town and you’ll find another attraction – the beautiful shaggy brown Highland cattle munching the outlying hedgerows.
8. Taxco, Mexico
This colonial silver-mining town 170 kilometers south of the capital is arguably the jewel in Mexico’s crown. Its maze of cobbled streets and beautiful piazzas overlook the breathtaking vistas of the surrounding Guerrero countryside. The Federal Government has designated Taxco a national historic monument, so its 16th-century architectural heritage will be preserved.
Even the flocks of tourists shopping for silver on their rest stop en route to Acapulco (Taxco is half-way between the resort and the capital) don’t spoil the colonial ambience – and if you want to get away from the shoppers, it’s easy to dive into the covered market, a great place for an authentic lunch, or the beautiful and central church of Santa Prisca.
9. Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia
This bohemian North African village is a popular vacation spot for wealthy Tunisians. The landscape resembles the Greek Islands with its whitewashed buildings and bright blue trims.
10. Queenstown, New Zealand
This resort town on New Zealand’s South Island is slow-paced, scenic and cosmopolitan all at once. During the winter it becomes a popular ski destination.