When it comes to picturesque scenery, swoon-inducing architecture and historical charm, size doesn’t matter.
Europe has hundreds of captivating little towns scattered across the continent whose culture rivals that of buzzy big cities. From Carcassonne, nestled in South-West France, to Dürnstein on the Danube, here are some of Trafalgar’s favourite small European towns that may be modest in size but have plenty of appeal.
Home to St Francis, one of Italy’s most revered saints, Assisi is the historical HQ of the Franciscans, a noted Catholic order. And it has some really awe-inspiring architecture. Dominated by the outstanding Basilica, which glows with the works of Cimabue, Giotto and Lorenzetti, the hilltop town also possesses a 1st century Temple of Minerva, an amphitheatre, and lots of hermitages, which dot the slopes of Monte Subasio.
Few sights are quite so striking as the double-walled fortress of Carcassonne.
A citadel that looks built to withstand the Last Days, its stone ring (of 52 towers) was used to film Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.
Today, the town is technically split in two. After Louis IX expelled its Cathar population, the heretics were sent to start a new town on lower ground, by the River Aude. Known as the Ville Basse, the main delights of this fairy-tale town are still the medieval churches up in the Cité, especially St Nazaire.
Built in a warm yellow stone, Oviedo’s small-town size belies its big reputation. It was once the capital of the Spanish mountain kingdom of Asturias and there are plenty of palaces, churches and castles up for exploring.
The pedestrianised Old Town is particularly popular with visitors (despite being damaged in the Civil War), as are the fantastic local restaurants. Make sure to try regional specialties such as Fabada Asturiana (bean stew), Pitu de Caleya (spiced chicken), and Cabrales cheese during your trip.
King Richard the Lionheart once lived in this patch of Austria, situated on an impossibly gorgeous part of the Danube.
However, it’s unlikely he ever got to take in the area’s spectacular views, as he was kept a prisoner of Duke Leopold. Today, this region is full of vineyards, which tumble down the Wachau valley, while Dürnstein itself is a tangle of taverns, artisans and coffee shops, which reward closer inspection.
Interestingly, Rhodes was actually bigger in ancient times than it is today. Contemporary Rhodes is mostly the creation of the Knights Hospitaller in the 14th century.
Hit the old “Hora” district for a good mix of bars, restaurants, cafés and shops, or the Palace of the Grand Master, if you prefer history. Packed with sculptures, mosaics and other antiques, it’s one of the most impressive palaces on the Dodecanese Islands.
Discover these quaint and picturesque European towns, villages and cities with Trafalgar. And if you book before 4 October you may be in line for a special Preview offer where you can travel in 2018 at 2017’s prices less ten percent. Call Trafalgar on (011) 280 8440 or visit www.trafalgar.com for more information.