Where to Find Epic Adventure in Europe’s Best Small Villages

Where to Find Epic Adventure in Europe’s Best Small Villages

For US travelers, the lifting of the requirement for COVID testing to re-enter the United States this summer is welcome news. Free from the worries of being detained or a costly quarantine abroad, travelers are thinking big when planning their first international trip in years.

Europe’s “Big Three”—London, Paris and Rome—look as enticing as ever. But the best way to avoid the crush of travel-deprived visitors is to go beyond the cities to the countryside and villages that are often overlooked.

It doesn’t mean that you are missing out on anything. Small towns can be the best way to see the soul, beauty and sense of adventure of the country. These six European villages capture the thrill of diving into the great outdoors, from climbing a mountain to taking a dip in the ocean.

Vernazza, Italy

best for: Breathtaking coastal views from land and sea.

With terraced vineyards, decades-old olive groves, and views of the Mediterranean Sea, Italy’s Ligurian Coast is a hiker’s paradise. However, some sections of the trail system connecting the five villages of Cinque Terre National Park remain closed until 2024 – as a result of catastrophic landslides from climate change.

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The 11th-century village of Vernazza survived similar landslides in 2011 and an earthquake in 2012. Today, Vernazza boasts once again the magical charm of the Cinque Terre, with its medieval castle ruins, tower-like pastel houses, and the secluded bay that traces its back as a defensive port against Saracen pirates. Produce.

The section of the famous Blue Trail is open and popular during the summer months. But for a little more elbow room, head to the water. Exploring by kayak reveals a side of Vernazza that is more familiar than the handful of fishermen who still bring in the day’s catch to local restaurants.

You can rent kayaks or sign up for guided walks to hidden coves, secret caves, and sheltered beaches that can’t be reached on foot. Look for local outfits, which are usually set up on the city’s charming beach.

Dia, Majorca, Spain

best for: Mountain biking through natural wonderland.

Built on a rocky crossroads between the vast Serra de Tramuntana mountain range and the sparkling Mediterranean, Día has long attracted creative people to Spain’s Balearic Islands.

Today the natural beauty of the village inspires not only writers and painters but also adventure seekers. From this peaceful settlement, cyclists can traverse the network of trails in this mountainous region. Bike-friendly accommodations dot the route, offering storage and tapas, especially for strenuous walks.

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In town, bikers—and hikers—can tackle the steep climb to the cemetery where British poet Robert Graves (a longtime resident) is buried. After working up a sweat, coast down Cala Dec. Considered the best pebble beach in Majorca, the crystal-clear waters of Cala Diq are ideal for relaxing sore muscles with a relaxing snorkel.

Muren, Switzerland

best for: pumps blood Alpine Adventures.

At Mürren, the fun begins even before you arrive. This picturesque Swiss village sits so high on the Bernese Oberland mountain shelf that travelers must reach it by cable car.

Like many mountain resort towns these days, Muren offers year-round activities. In addition to downhill skiing in winter, brave climbers can also cross ferrata. Through (Italian for “iron way”) from June to October, with or without a guide.

A little over a mile long, this protected climbing route of metal pillars features tight sections, a suspension bridge, and even a zipline that rises more than 1,300 feet above a canyon in Lauterbrunnen.

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Those looking to stay on terra firma can find comfort in the extensive network of biking and hiking trails. A small army of mountain guides can help determine the best route for your experience level.

Sloten, Netherlands

best for: Beautiful waterways sailing through history.

Located in the northern province of Friesland, onion-shaped Sloten is a canal town known for its classic Dutch beauty, complete with a renovated 1847 windmill that was once used to grind corn.

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The rows of picture-perfect gabled houses reflect the village’s 17th-century wealth, when it was an important toll stop for northern Hanseatic cities. A marina built in the 1970s makes use of this shipping heritage. Reminiscent of Sloten’s past, there are boat tours by motor, but you can rent sails to chart your own route, or try standup paddle boarding in the harbor.

If you prefer to stay dry, you can bike to explore the surrounding western lowlands in the quintessential Dutch way. Holland’s extensive system of biking routes stretches in every direction. A stop in the village of Makkum, to the north, offers local ceramics that rival those of Delft.

Chipping Campden, England, UK

best for: Hiking in a fun-loving village in the English countryside.

Chipping Campden in England is arguably the loveliest village in the Cotswolds. Golden limestone buildings dating from the 14th to the 17th centuries stand on the long high street, which was once a permanent result of the flourishing wool industry of the Cotswolds. The city lights up as dusk falls, with its honey-coloured houses lit up from within.

Named for the old English word for market, Chipping Campden is not just a photographer’s dream. It also knows a thing or two about fun and games. As summer approaches, townspeople attend the annual Olympic Games, a 410-year tradition that takes light-hearted cues from the actual Olympics. Instead of fencing, competitors face a tug of war. Instead of rhythm gymnastics, Morris dancers wave scarves and perform a jig dance. The highlight is a shin-kicking tournament, a wince-inducing take on wrestling that thankfully never caught on anywhere else.

,These masked singers are reviving a centuries-old Irish tradition,

Beyond the Games, this hamlet is the starting point for the Cotswold Way, a designated national trail that winds 102 miles south to Bath. Along the way, hikers pass Roman thermal baths, a Neolithic burial chamber, romantic hilltop castles and cozy cottages.

Bikers can cycle the Costwald Way, but there are other trails that don’t require as much time commitment. The best is the 32-mile trip (about three hours) that winds through the quaint stove-on-the-volume before heading back to Chipping Campden, leaving plenty of time for a pint before dinner.

Bremer, Scotland, UK

best for: Hiking from highlands to destinations and wild swimming in sparkling rivers.

Nestled deep in the Highlands, 60 miles from Aberdeen, Bremer is probably best known for Balmoral Castle, the Scottish home of Queen Elizabeth II, and the annual Bremer Highland Games. Perhaps few people know that Bremer is an adventure hotspot located in the heart of Cairngorms National Park.

Surrounded by rivers and Caledonia pinewood forests, Bremer is ideally located to take in the lush beauty of the Scottish Highlands. There is no shortage of hiking and biking trails, wildlife viewing, and wild swimming opportunities. A popular two-hour hike climbs to the confluence of two main rivers, the Dee and its tributary, the Cluny Water, before winding through birch forests.

Other trails lead to historical sites, such as Bremer Castle. Built in 1628, it was the target of Jacobite rebellions in the 1600s and 1700s. The wear and tear of centuries has taken its toll on the fort. Locals are eyeing a 2023 reopening with a £1.6 million restoration project.

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Until then, hikers can make their way from the remaining ruins of Kindrochit Castle to other royal strongholds as far as Balmoral, where the three-hour Balmoral Cairns walk links 11 stone structures that represent important moments in the lives of members of the British royal family. marks the.

Rafael Kadushin is a Wisconsin-based food and travel journalist.

National Geographic Travel Senior Editor Anne Kim-Danibel contributed research and writing to this story.

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