We live in a fast-paced, hyperconnected world. Sometimes, it’s enough to wish that one of the newest gadgets could be a time machine so that you could step away from the hustle and bustle and take a breath. While you don’t have access to a time machine (at least not yet), you can experience the next best thing by visiting these six European towns that are frozen in the past.6
St. Sigmund im Sellrain, Austria
There are only a few locations that have earned the designation of “mountaineering villages” in Austria, and St. Sigmund im Sellrain is one of them. In order to qualify, a town must have maintained the natural splendor of its original surroundings and kept up authentic mountaineering practices. St. Sigmund turns away from modern-day contraptions like ski lifts and invites visitors and locals alike to trek up and down the mountainside the old fashioned way.
Located only 30 minutes away from more modern Innsbruck, St. Sigmund is accessible and convenient. It may not be the biggest ski resort in Austria, but it’s one of the most unique. Once there, though, guests will soon forget how close they are to modern living. The absolute tranquility of the place is a breath of fresh (mountain) air for many visitors. Without the hum of machinery lugging people up the mountainside, the silence of the snow-covered peaks is comforting and awe-inspiring. Charming rustic homes and mountain cabins dot the landscape, and visitors will find like-minded nature lovers at every turn.5
Aran Islands, Ireland
Rugged. Rough. Historic. These are some of the words used to describe the Aran Islands, a trio of islands in Ireland that are accessible via a ferry ride from Galway. The largest of the three islands holds the only real town, and it’s a small village with a handful of locals. The local people still speak Irish themselves, but English is commonly spoken for the sake of visitors. In fact, quite a bit of the town is set up for visitors, including the minibuses that make up the majority of the vehicles. These buses take backpacking guests on tours of the village.
The history of the place is a huge draw for these guests. The most impressive sight to see is Dun Aengus, an Iron Age Celtic fortress that dates back more than 2,000 years and hangs precariously on the edge of a sea-battered cliff 200 feet over the Atlantic Ocean. A collection of 8th- and 11th-century ruins called the “Seven Churches” whispers memories of a long-ago time.4
Tucked away in the northwest part of Tuscany, Garfagnana is an area filled with sleepy towns that are mostly untouched by the tourism and resulting chaos that defines many of its neighboring cities. Visitors will find themselves surrounded by all the beauty of the historic Tuscan architecture but without the crowds or the tourist feel.
While the area is perfect for hiking and biking, visitors may find themselves struggling to determine what is a public footpath and what is a private road to someone’s house. The area isn’t a tourist hub designed to create easy paths for visitors. Instead, it is an authentic taste of rural life that seems trapped in time. Meeting up with an experienced hiking group could be the best way to undergo the trek. Be sure to stop in and pick up some delicious traditional cuisine before you head back to the modern era.3
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
Most of the places on this list are unintentionally forgotten in time. The people living there have simply maintained a way of life that hasn’t kept pace with much of the world around them. That’s not necessarily the case with Rothenburg, or Rothenburg ob der Tauber if you want to use its full name. This German town is an intentional effort to preserve medieval life, and it’s an inviting location for tourists who want to step into history.
Rothenburg has survived many struggles, including World War II. Also, a Night Watchman roams the city at night to ensure its safety. Guests can follow along with the Watchman’s duties, and the Watchman will charm them with amazing tales of Rothenburg throughout the journey. From beautifully picturesque buildings framing every photographic shot to delicious local food and plenty of traditional activities, Rothenburg takes its duty to preserve an interactive medieval history very seriously.2
Mont Saint-Michel, France
Mont Saint-Michel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that features a breath-taking, Gothic-style abbey that looks like something out of a fantasy novel. The stunning abbey was built between the 11th and 16th centuries. The various styles of construction tucked into the building are a physical monument to the different influences in times past.
The site is a little tricky for visitors to get to since the entire thing is housed on an island. But it is about a four-hour drive from Paris and well worth a day trip for visitors who want to take in some historical beauty. Guests who want more than a day trip can travel a little deeper into Normandy and find ancient family castles that have been converted into bed and breakfasts. The charm is a perfect complement to historical authenticity.1
The Transylvanian town of Viscri is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A preservation group has worked hard to bring Viscri into the tourism fold and provides plenty of opportunities for guests to get a taste of ancient rural life in Transylvania. There are plenty of traditional houses spread across the town, but the major draw is the centuries-old white fortified church. The oldest parts of the building date back to the 12th century. The additions placed over time are a testament to the historical power shifts that the town has witnessed.
The village has worked to bring back traditional activities, and the effort has been such a success that many local people have now made them a part of their daily life. Blacksmiths create horseshoes and nails, and they bake handmade bricks in an oven. Guests can feast on delicious fare sourced entirely from local ingredients. It’s a town that wasn’t so much stuck in time as one that intentionally chose to go back and recapture some of the most charming and authentic pieces of history.