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The Secret Villages of Europe: A Journey Off the Beaten Path

8 mins. read

Published in the Sunday Gujarat Samachar on 30 June, 2024

If there is one continent that is popular year round with the Indian traveller, it is Europe. Be it the summers or the winters, flights to Europe are always full. And why not, the charm of Europe is just something else. Over the last 3 months, a little more than 10000 travellers from all over India have travelled to Europe with Veena World.

And as you know, Europe is often synonymous with iconic cities like Paris, Rome, and London, bustling with tourists and steeped in history. These metropolises captivate each and everyone with their monumental landmarks, world-class museums, and vibrant street life, making them must-visit destinations. However, beyond these famous destinations lie enchanting villages that offer a glimpse into Europe’s true charm.

These hidden gems, provide a serene escape from the crowded streets and tourist hotspots. Here, the pace of life slows down, allowing visitors to fully immerse themselves in the local culture and traditions. The cobblestone streets, quaint houses, and picturesque landscapes of these villages evoke a sense of nostalgia and timeless beauty. So today, I want to uncover the charm and beauty of some of Europe's lesser-known villages, exploring their hidden treasures and discovering why these destinations deserve a spot on your nxt travel itinerary. So let’s begin.

Hallstatt, Austria: A Fairytale Lakeside Village

Nestled between the towering Dachstein Alps and the pristine Hallstätter See, Hallstatt is a picturesque Austrian village that looks like it stepped out of a fairytale. Known for its charming wooden houses, ancient salt mines, and breathtaking alpine scenery, Hallstatt offers a tranquil retreat from the hustle and bustle of modern life.

In Hallstatt, a visit to the salt mines is a must; here, you can discover the world's oldest salt mine and slide down into the depths of history. Fun fact: Hallstatt's salt mine has been in operation for over 7,000 years, making it one of the oldest in the world. You can also take a tranquil boat ride on Hallstätter See, where the serene beauty of the lake surrounded by towering mountains will leave you in awe. It’s so beautiful that a full-scale replica of Hallstatt was built in China! Crazy right! This speaks volumes about the village's captivating charm.

Colmar, France: A Slice of Charm

Colmar, located in the heart of Alsace (a region in Eastern France), is a village that feels like it belongs in a storybook. With its colourful half-timbered houses, flower-lined canals, and cobblestone streets, Colmar exudes charm at every corner. The village is also a culinary haven, renowned for its Alsatian wines and delectable cuisine. So much so that Colmar is considered the capital of Alsatian wine. It's a paradise for wine enthusiasts.

In Colmar, a stroll through Petite Venise is essential, where you can wander along the picturesque canals lined with vibrant houses that make this area feel like a storybook come to life. Additionally, exploring the Unterlinden Museum is a must; it's home to the renowned Isenheim Altarpiece and a rich collection of medieval and Renaissance art. Another interesting tidbit is that Colmar is often credited with being one of the inspirations for the village in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," adding a touch of enchantment to your visit.

Giethoorn, Netherlands: The Venice of the North

Giethoorn is a unique car-free village in the Netherlands, often referred to as the "Venice of the North" due to its network of canals and lack of roads. Instead of cars, locals travel by boat, creating a peaceful and idyllic atmosphere. This village is perfect for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life.

In Giethoorn, a boat tour is a must-do activity, where you can navigate the serene canals and admire the charming thatched-roof cottages that give this village its fairy-tale ambiance. Another delightful activity is biking through the countryside; rent a bike and explore the beautiful surrounding landscapes, dotted with picturesque farms and quaint bridges. Did you know that Giethoorn has over 90 kilometers of bike paths, making it a cyclist's paradise? What else do you want, if you are after some serene and calm. Hop onto the bicycle and get going.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany: A Medieval Marvel

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is one of Germany's best-preserved medieval towns. With its well-maintained walls, towers, and cobblestone streets, the village transports visitors back in time. Rothenburg is a haven for history enthusiasts and those looking to immerse themselves in a bygone era. In Rothenburg ob der Tauber, walking the town walls is an essential activity; these well-preserved fortifications offer panoramic views of the village and the surrounding countryside. The walls stretch for about 3.5 kilometers and are dotted with several towers and gates that date back to the 13th century.

Another must-see is the Christmas Museum, where you can experience the magic of Christmas year-round; this charming museum features over 1,000 Christmas decorations, showcasing the evolution of holiday traditions in Germany. Rothenburg is home to one of the oldest Christmas markets in Germany, dating back to the 15th century. Additionally, exploring the Market Square is a delight; here, you can admire the historical architecture, including the 600-year-old Town Hall, and enjoy a meal at one of the traditional German restaurants. Rothenburg's Market Square is often considered one of the most picturesque in Germany, making it a perfect spot for both history buffs and food enthusiasts.

Pienza, Italy: A Renaissance Gem in Tuscany

Nestled in the rolling hills of Tuscany, Pienze is a small town that stands as a testament to Renaissance urban planning and architecture. This charming town was transformed by Pope Pius II in the 15th century, who envisioned it as an ideal Renaissance city. The result is a harmonious blend of beauty and functionality, with stunning architecture that includes the magnificent Pienza Cathedral, the Palazzo Piccolomini, and the Palazzo Borgia. The town's layout, with its symmetrical streets and harmonious proportions, offers a unique glimpse into Renaissance ideals and aesthetics.

One of the most delightful aspects of Pienza is its culinary heritage, particularly its renowned pecorino cheese. The town is famous for producing some of the best pecorino cheese in Italy, made from sheep's milk and aged to perfection. Visitors can sample this delicious cheese at local markets, restaurants, and cheese shops.

Pienza also offers breathtaking panoramic views of the Val d'Orcia, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its stunning landscapes and historical significance. The town's strategic location on a hilltop provides visitors with sweeping vistas of the rolling hills, cypress trees, and picturesque farmlands that define the Tuscan countryside. Strolling along the town's walls or relaxing in one of its charming squares allows visitors to soak in the serene beauty of the region. With its rich history, exceptional food, and unparalleled views, Pienza truly embodies the essence of Tuscany in Italy.

All in all, exploring Europe's hidden villages offers a unique and authentic travel experience, far from the crowded tourist trails. From the fairytale charm of Hallstatt to the Renaissance beauty of Pienza, these lesser-known destinations provide a glimpse into the rich culture and history that make Europe so enchanting. So for your next Europe trip, let’s consider venturing off the beaten path to discover the true essence of Europe's hidden gems. That’s all from me today, until next week, keep Celebrating Life!

June 29, 2024


Neil Patil
Neil Patil

Founder & Director, Veena World

More Blogs by Neil Patil

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