Visit these historic European towns for a magical fairytale getaway
When it comes to towns and villages fit for a Grimm Brothers story, nowhere does it look like Europe.
From snow-capped settlements at the end of the world to whitewashed towns carved into cliff sides, there is fairytale magic to be discovered in each of these European destinations.
Setenil de las Bodegas, Spain
Nestled among the olive groves of the northeast Cadiz sits Setenil de las Bodegas, a 12th century town hewn entirely from the rock.
Until recently, economic hardship and the lack of opportunities for young people meant that this historic white pueblo (Setenil was one of the last strongholds of the Moorish Empire) was on the verge of collapse.
But a recent investment in Setenil de las Bodegas has brought this beautiful Andalusian town back to life. The restored cave houses now serve as elegant Airbnbs and boutique homes, and underground wine bars, restaurants and specialty food shops selling the region’s famous cold cuts and olive oil line the rock-covered streets .
While you’re here, don’t forget to try sopa cortijera, a soup made with tomatoes and green peppers and topped with asparagus, cured ham, and a poached egg.
The fantastic Apulian land of Alberobello is a town made up of more than 1,500 trulli – whitewashed cylindrical houses topped with conical gray dry stone roofs. The exact origin of these unusual limestone dwellings is unclear, but the oldest Trullo in Alberobello dates back to the 14th century.
Some historians believe that these low-slung, mortarless houses were popular in the late Middle Ages because they were easy to take apart, which meant locals could avoid taxes. Today, these iconic drywall constructions still serve as residences, as well as restaurants, guesthouses and souvenir shops to accommodate the growing number of tourists.
To avoid the bus tours, arrive early in the morning or, better yet, plan your trip in low season (October-April).
Velika Planina, Slovenia
At the top of the Slovenian Alps of Kamnik-Savinja lies Velika Planina, one of the last traditional herding villages in Europe. Set against snow-capped peaks and dotted with huts resembling hobbit houses, this tiny mountain village looks somewhere between JRR Tolkien’s Middle-earth and CS Lewis’s Narnia (parts of The Chronicles of Narnia films were actually tours in Slovenia).
A cable car and ski lift transport visitors to the village, but there is also a well-marked (and beautiful) trail to the top. Once there, you can taste the Trnic cheese churned by hand by the shepherds, feast on štruklji (silky dumplings with cottage cheese) or ride one of the many hiking and biking routes that cross pastures dotted with cows.
For a deeper insight into the life of the shepherds of Velika Planina, spend the night at one of the guest farms.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993, Bamberg has one of the largest and best preserved old city centers in Europe. This photogenic Bavarian town is built along the Regnitz River, so ancient canals and medieval stone bridges intersect with many of its narrow cobbled streets and ornate Baroque buildings.
Bamberg Old Town is best explored on foot or by bike, leaving plenty of time to soak up the beautiful architecture and taste Bamberg’s rauchbier, the city’s famous smoked beer. If you’re feeling peckish, pair your smoked infusion with a plate of schäuferla, a pork shoulder slowly roasted in rauchbier and served with potato dumplings and cabbage.
Norway postcard image Lofoten Islands, Reine is a village of 314 people at the foot of the granite peaks of Reinebringen.
Hikers prefer to visit in the summer, but the city’s iconic red and white rorbuer – stilted fisherman’s huts suspended above the city’s calm, crystal-clear lagoon – look even more like a fairy tale when they step out of the water. ‘a carpet of white snow.
Add to that the nocturnal spectacle of the Northern Lights, deserted white sand beaches and the cerulean blue of Lofoten fjords, and it’s no wonder travelers consider this small fishing village to be one of the most beautiful not only Europe, but in the world.
Castle Combe, England
This tiny Wiltshire village is often on the UK’s top lists, and it’s easy to see why.
Each of the honey-colored stone cottages, which take on a golden hue at sunset, has changed little since its construction in the 16th century, where they housed the most prominent Cotswolds weavers during the heyday of the wool trade in England.
Today, Chateau Combe is the idyllic base from which to explore the forest trails of the Cotswolds, feast on roast beef with a red wine sauce by the fireside, and sample some of the country’s most hoppy craft beers or teas from the most delicate afternoons. To avoid the crowds and soak up even more of the fairy-tale vibe, visit in winter.