We have been extremely lucky to see a fair amount of (*western) Europe since moving to the UK so we set out to select 7 of the most beautiful villages we’ve encountered in our European travels. In line with the socio-political climate, the UK is still part of Western Europe 😛
We try to make this not your everyday “travel list”. We feel a small set of places get big on social media which cause more travellers to go there starving equally beautiful places of the attention they deserve. Our picks are unspoilt by mainstream tourism relatively speaking and accessible by public transport (obviously). Most links go to TripAdvisor (as usual).
- Saas-Grund & Saas-Fee, Switzerland
- Mont Saint-Michel & Ploumanac’h, France
- Sitges, Catalonia / Spain
- Epernay and the Champagne region, France
- Gouda, The Netherlands
- Villefrance-de-Conflent, France
- Luss, Scotland
- (Bonus) Absolute must-visit: Brienz, Switzerland
Saas-Fee & Saas-Grund, Switzerland
Distinguishing feature: Peace and quiet in the summer (off-season)
Ok, we admit that Saas-Fee is definitely a centre for mainstream tourism during the winter, specially in the skiing / snowboarding community. However, our case for Saas-Fee and the neighbouring village of Saas-Grund is made for summer instead during its off season. It is Switzerland at its most pristine minus the tourist hordes!
We haven’t felt so mentally relaxed anywhere in the world more than in the Saas valley during the summer. There are many picture-perfect walks to choose from (we recommend the Saas-Fee to Saas-Grund chapel walk covering the story of Jesus in 17 chapels with a lot of alpine flowers across the trail).
Getting there: Train to Brig followed by PostBus to Saas-Grund / Saas-Fee
Resources: Switzerland transportation guide
Mont St. Michel & Ploumanac’h, France
Distinguishing feature: An island commune and a pink granite beach
Mont Saint-Michel is an Instagram darling for good reason. Inspite of the crowds & high prices, it is a one-of-a-kind self-contained island commune that is 100% worth the visit. We also ate what is probably the most expensive omelette in the world (costed 40 EUR) at La Mere Poulard (which has hosted many a celebrity since 1873). Walking through the commune is like a fairytale, worth a visit.
Once you have seen the crowds, consider driving towards the beautiful coastal areas of Brittany near Lannion. Where Trestrignel & Perros-Guirec are beautiful, Ploumanac’h just took our breath away. The surreal hues of the pink granite make these beach views like no other. Bonus: no tour buses in sight, just French locals.
Sitges, Catalonia / Spain
Distinguishing feature: Colourful homes and an excellent beach to swim in
Barcelona’s beach is a really nice place to take a swim in so taking a 40 min local train ride wouldn’t seem like the best idea. Except that the train in question is so full every Sunday and so are the Sitges beaches because the commune is so charming. It has a distinctly Mediterranean colour scheme and its lanes are perfect to get lost in. Plus the Sangria & Pintxos really help 🙂
Getting there: The R2 local from Barcelona-Sants, get in the ticket queue on the extreme left of the station lobby (says local trains).
Epernay and the Champagne region, France
Distinguishing feature: The Champagne (starting from 15 EUR a bottle)
Do you like Champagne like we do? Then a trip to the Champagne region of France will blow your mind. The flip side is that we are done with the Moets, Tattingers. Bollingers, etc of the world. Turns out they’re needlessly expensive as we had better bottles of champagne from independent producers costing 15 EUR (you read that right). And the villages in the region are so very beautiful. If nothing else, visit the villages of Ay and Hautvillers (a 10 min drive) near Epernay. If you have a day to spare, drive around the tourist route like we did, it is unforgettable.
We had one of our most authentic travel experiences when we met Lionel & Valerie, the proprietors of Champagne Lahaye Berthelot. They make 25K bottles of champagne a year from their garage and inspite of the language barrier, Lionel explained the whole process to us including a demo of removing the sediments from a bottle, the process of turning by hand and, of course, a tasting. Their Rose, Reserve and Blanc-de-blanc types are sublime, way better than a Moet anyday. Contact and visit them, you won’t regret it!!
Getting there: The SNCF TER from Gare de L’est towards Epernay.
Gouda, The Netherlands
Distinguishing feature: The Gouda cheese (duh)
We don’t really need to make a case here, we visited the village of Gouda, bought some cheese there and saw a picture-perfect village. What more do you need from a travel day? Read our detailed blogpost on our daytrip here.
Getting there: Express trains from Utrecht / Den Haag.
Distinguishing feature: The fortifications
France bias confirmed. 3 / 7 in this list belong to France but honestly, all the regions covered in this post (Brittany, Champagne-Ardenne & Pyrenees-Orientales) are so different. This final French favourite of ours is a fortified medieval village without any gimmicks. This is the kind of place you dream of when you plan of visiting a pretty European village. It is actually part of the association of the most beautiful villages in France! We also recommend visiting the communes of Collioure, Banyuls-sur-Mer & Ceret in the Perpignan area.
Getting there: 1 EUR train (not kidding) from Perpignan.
Distinguishing feature: The homes leading to the Loch Lomond banks
Last but not least, we would be remiss if we did not mention the beautiful conservation village of Luss on the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. It is pretty enough to be the setting for a Scottish TV show called Take the High Road and has views to die for. Plus it is only a boat ride across the Loch away from super hikes in Balmaha and Rowardennan. Camping in the village is one of Dalek’s top travel experiences of all time. Do not miss this gem if visiting Scotland.
Getting there: Bus from Glasgow
Absolute Must-visit: Brienz, Switzerland
As we have discussed in this blogpost before, if there is only 1 village that you have time to visit in Western Europe, make it the village of Brienz just east of Interlaken. Words fail to describe how beautiful this area is with the turquoise Lake Brienz and the snow clad Alps taking your breath away. On top of that, it has a street (pictured) that was voted the prettiest in Europe. If you go to Interlaken and not visit Brienz, you are missing out.
Getting there: R/IR train from Interlaken / Lucerne.
Which village did we miss? Sound off in the comments below. We hope to write about more such offbeat places very soon.
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