Venture beyond the well-known tourist enclaves and big cities that bring most travelers to Europe and you’ll be rewarded with a number of quaint villages and lesser-known towns. Rent a car or take the train and venture off to new destinations you’ve likely never heard of before. To get you started, we’ve compiled a list of 10 villages in Europe that fall under the radar but are absolutely worth a visit.
Located around 45 minutes from Bologna, Dozza is a 12th-century medieval village, well-known locally for its art-filled walls. There is a painted wall festival that takes place every two years where artists assemble to create new permanent murals on the walls here. Oenophiles should take note of Dozza, as well. The Rocca Sforzesca is more than the historic medieval fortress. Today, it’s the Regional Winery that houses more than 1,000 labels from all over Emilia Romagna.
France’s Loire Valley is renowned for its wine, but it’s also home to a number of cool villages worth exploring. One of these is Kerhinet, where you’ll find 18 thatched-roof cottages that feel like they belong in the little town from Beauty and the Beast. This tiny pedestrian village was lovingly restored by the Bríere Regional Nature Park. Today, it also serves as an open-air museum where visitors can learn about the local architecture and nature, as well as have the opportunity to buy local artisan products.
Santorini’s Oia gets all the Instagram love, but this village on the island of Naxos deserves a look in. Perched in the mountains, this white-washed village enjoys spectacular views and is fairly off the beaten path for the island-hopping tourists looking for sun and surf. With unique architecture and marble walkways, this picturesque village embodies tranquility. Enjoy long, leisurely hikes, visit the Church of Panagia Apeirathitissa, or find a cafe with a view for an extended afternoon lunch.
Marsaxlokk is one of Malta’s traditional fishing villages, beloved for its stunning harbor views and brightly-colored fishing boats. The design of these wooden boats dates back to around 800BC. Each one is painted in various shades of blue, red, green and yellow, all of which reflect beautifully on the calm water of the bay. In the town, you’ll find medieval architecture, coastal defenses and plenty of opportunities to enjoy Malta’s sunny, temperate weather.
Beynac-et-Cazenac was built into the cliff overlooking the River Dordogne in southwestern France. The stone houses are quite charming, but it’s the 12th-century Château de Beynac that steals the show here. The château offers incredible views over the valley and is one of the best-preserved medieval castles in France. Just across the way is Château de Castelnaud, the enemy castle to Château de Beynac. Many battles took place here between the two rival fortresses, as Beynac Castle was allied with the French King while Castelnaud Castle was allied with the English royal family.
Sovana is a Tuscan gem with only a single street and a tiny piazza. Don’t let its tiny size deter you, though, this sleepy little village is worth a day trip. Highlights here include the Santa Maria church, with its 9th-century stone canopy, and the Duomo, with its beautiful Lombard-Romanesque sculptures. You’ll also find Sovana Cathedral, a beautiful Romanesque church built on a pre-existing 9th-century church, but only the crypt is still left. Nearby is Sovana Archeological Park, where you can see some of the most important Etruscan tombs dating back to the 7th century.
Located on the Rur River near Belgium, Monschau looks like it stepped out of the pages of a fairytale with its tiny cobblestone streets and half-timbered houses. Monschau Castle overlooks the town, and nearby the Eifel National Park offers a green escape. Monschau is one of the most beautiful villages in the Rhineland and has renowned Christmas market worth visiting if your travels coincide with the annual event.
Skip well-known destinations like Dubrovnik and Split and head to the island of Brac, where you’ll find Pučišća, a charming village on the island’s north coast. You’ll immediately notice that many buildings and monuments were constructed with white limestone, which is indigenous to the island. Stone has played an integral part of Pučišća’s economy, and you can even find historic quarries dating back to the Roman era if you head out east on the island. Aristocrats and well-paid stonemasons built their stately limestone homes on the waterfront, giving Pučišća its signature look seen today.
Located on the arctic island of Moskenesoya, Reine is an impressive little fishing village and is home to around 300 people. Its remote location is part of its charm, as the tiny village is surrounded by stunning mountains and massive fjords. Some of the iconic red fishermen’s cabins are now visitor cottages. What a backdrop for spending a night or two in hopes of catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights!
Azenhas do Mar, Portugal
Portugal’s buzzing metropolises are usually the main stops on the tourist circuit but don’t forget the sunny country’s coastal gems. Azenhas do Mar is one such village that stands out. Located in the province of Sintra, the town features a collection of white-washed buildings with red roofs perched atop a cliff overlooking the green sea. Stroll golden beaches with travesseiros — a local Sintra delicacy — in hand.