BEAUTIFUL TOWNS

World's 16 Most Picturesque Villages

When it comes to picture-perfect views and suspended-in-time charm, it really does take a village. We went out searching for the most camera-ready communities on the planet and found 16 towns that fit the bill, from a Swiss village straight out of Heidi to an antebellum masterpiece in Georgia.

By Sandra Ramani, Friday, Feb 24, 2012, 3:08 PM

Wengen, a beautiful Alpine town in Switzerland.

Alpine views, traditional timber chalets, and the fact that cars have been banned for more than 100 years add up to make Wengen, Switzerland one of the most beautiful towns in the world.

(age fotostock / SuperStock)

Spend a few minutes in these 16 villages and you'll realize that "quaint" and "charming" aren't just adjectives, they are a way of life. You'll find the unique beauty in the stone cottages of what has been dubbed the most beautiful village in England, along cobblestone streets lined with Gothic architecture in the Bohemia valley of Czech Republic, and within the adobe walls of a spiritual town in northern New Mexico. These are all functioning towns, with residents who keep local industries alive (check out the century-old trout farm) as well as preserving the town's look, which is why there's no building "taller than a coconut tree" on a certain Hawaiian island. The locals will be happy to clue you in to the best photo ops as well. Some of the spots are easier to get to than others (we've provided detailed info on how to reach them all below), but all are worthy of taking a detour—and maxing out your camera's memory card.

SEE THE 16 BREATHTAKING VILLAGES


Bibury, England

Located on the River Coln in hilly west-central England, Bibury was described by 19th-century artist-writer William Morris as "the most beautiful village in England"—which is saying something in a country known for its watercolor views. Honey-colored 17th-century stone cottages, the Saxon Church of St. Mary, and a still-working 1902 trout farm are some of the ancient village's must-sees. The most photographed spot is Arlington Row, a collection of 14th-century stone buildings that were converted into weavers' cottages in the 1600s.

Getting There: The closest train station to Bibury is 12 miles away, in Kemble. Multiple trains make the 80-minute journey from London's Paddington Station (from $57 round-trip; nationalrail.co.uk). Cirencester, seven miles away, is linked to London by daily buses (from $30 round-trip; nationalexpress.com). There is no public transport directly to Bibury, but taxis are available and local hotels will often arrange transport for guests.


Savoca, Italy

The ruins of the Castello di Pentefur stand guard above Savoca, a historic Sicilian village located on a hill between the cities of Messina and Taormina, on the island's east coast. Thought to be about 1,000 years old, the town was a stand-in for too-developed Corleone in The Godfather, and fans can still visit the Chiesa di Santa Lucia church on Via San Michele, where Michael Corleone was married, then trace the newlyweds' walk down to Bar Vitelli on Piazza Fossia for some cooling lemon granita. Don't miss a visit to the Cappuccini Monastery on the northern end of town to view the collection of mummified monks, some dating back to the 1700s.

Getting There:  It's a little over an hour by car from the international airport in Catania to Savoca, or a scenic 40-minute drive from the popular resort town of Taormina. Many tour companies also offer day trips from Taormina, most of them with a Godfather theme ($170 for up to three people; sicilylimousineservice.com).

 

Wengen, Switzerland

Thanks to an Alpine location and traditional timber chalets, Wengen is the Swiss village of your dreams and looks like something straight out of Heidi (the fact that cars have been banned here for more than 100 years also adds to the charm). The alpine mountain village has been a tourist hub since the late 1800s, when notable guests like writer Mary Shelley sang Wengen's praises (she wrote Frankenstein while traveling in Switzerland, and described the Alps as ""belonging to another earth"). Many of the belle époque hotels of the era remain, including the Hotel Bellevue (from $235 per night; bellevue-wengen.ch). The village's altitude of almost 4,200 feet attracts skiers, of course, increasing the population almost ten-fold in the winter to around 10,000.

Getting There: Since cars are not allowed, travelers coming by road must park in Lauterbrunnen and take a 15-minute train ride up to town ($3.50; swisstravelsystem.ch). Train service is available from Interlaken as well; the ride takes about 45 minutes from Wengen ($7.45; swisstravelsystem.ch).


Eze, France

Sweeping Mediterranean views and tons of medieval charm have made this cliff-top town a popular stop on the French Riviera. Thanks to its key location near Nice, Eze was coveted by various invaders over the centuries, and this tangled history is reflected in its architecture—from the baroque church's Egyptian cross dating back to the Phoenicians to the Genovese-style bell turret on the 14th-century Chapelle de la Sainte Croix. Not surprisingly, the fairy-tale village was a favorite of Walt Disney's.

Getting There: Eze is about a 30-minute bus ride from Nice ($1.50, lignesdazur.com) and 15 minutes from Monaco ($1.50, lignesdazur.com).

 

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

One of the oldest villages in the Czech Republic, Cesky Krumlov is set in a valley in Bohemia south of the Blansko Forest and circled by the Vltava River. The village grew up around the 13th-century Gothic castle of the Lords of Krumlov, which has 40 buildings and palaces, gardens, and turrets and today is a major performing arts location. The cobblestone streets of Cesky Krumlov's Old Town are lined with Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance buildings housing art galleries, cafes, and quaint B&Bs. One of the best ways to experience the town is to take a ride down the Vltava on a wooden raft ($24, en.ceskykrumlov-info.cz).

Getting There: Prague, about 110 miles away, is connected to Cesky Krumlov by a three-hour bus ride ($10 each way; jizdnirady.idnes.cz).


Göreme, Turkey

The iconic "fairy chimney" rock formations of Cappadocia surround the village of Göreme in Turkey's Central Anatolia region. First settled back in Roman times, the town (which has gone by several names throughout history) is today best known for its national park/open-air museum, which features some of the best-preserved examples of ancient cave churches and monasteries. The town itself has several "pigeon houses" carved right into the rocks. There are also funky cave hotels like the Kelebek Hotel, where 18 of the 35 rooms are carved into the cave (from $53; kelebekhotel.com). Nearby Uchisar offers a great view of Göreme from its hilltop castle, the highest point in the valley.

Getting There: There are regular flights from Istanbul to Kayseri, about 43 miles from Göreme. Shuttle service is available from the airport (about $13 each way; goreme.com) and most hotels can arrange transfers.

 

Chimayó, New Mexico

An aura of mysticism and spirituality surrounds Chimayó, a tiny New Mexican village located in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains about half an hour north of Santa Fe. Settled by the Spanish in the late-1600s, the village became known for its weaving, farming, and livestock raising, all of which are still practiced today. In the 1800s, residents claimed that miraculous healings were happening near a recently unearthed crucifix, and in 1816 the Santuario de Chimayó chapel was constructed to mark these occurrences. Visitors—many looking to be healed—still come in droves to the chapel, which also serves as the end point for an annual pre-Easter pilgrimage.

Getting There: Chimayó is about 30 minutes north of Santa Fe and 75 minutes south of Taos.

Molokai, Hawaii

Though there are technically several residential communities on Molokai, the island has a total population of just about 8,000, making it pretty much a village itself. Home to Hawaii's longest continuing fringing reef and the world's highest sea cliffs, Molokai is often called "the real Hawaii"—there are no stoplights, there is a law against buildings "taller than a coconut tree," and more than half the residents are native Hawaiian. Activities include taking a mule ride in Kalaupapa National Historic Park, checking out the 19th-century mission-style churches and the state's longest pier in main town Kaunakakai, and strolling on three-mile-long, white-sand Papohaku Beach.

Getting There:  The small Molokai Airport is linked to Oahu and Maui, but the easiest way to arrive is via the 90-minute ferry from Maui ($63.60 each way; molokaiferry.com).

 

Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada

Find a slice of Ye Olde England in Canada at the popular weekend-getaway town of Niagara-on-the-Lake on the shores of Lake Ontario. Originally inhabited by the Neutral Indian Tribe, the area was later settled by British Loyalists fleeing America at the onset of the American Revolution—and even later, served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Today, visitors can check out historic sites like the restored Fort George and Butler's Barracks, the Niagara Apothecary museum, and dozens of well-kept Regency and Classical Revival buildings. Stroll along Queen Street, which has an array of quaint shops, teahouses, and B&Bs. The village has become famous for its theatrical Shaw Festival (running April through October) as well as wine celebrations at the dozens of vineyards in the area.

Getting There: Niagara-on-the-Lake is about an 80-minute drive from Buffalo, New York, and 90-minutes from Toronto, Canada. Shuttle service is available from airports in both cities, and from Niagara Falls ($18 round-trip, 5-0taxi.com).

 

Madison, Georgia

Norman Rockwell meets Gone with the Wind in Madison, Georgia. Legend has it that General Sherman refused to burn down the village during his March to the Sea because it was so pretty. (The more likely reason was that Madison was home to a pro-Union mayor, but no one who's been there questions the "too beautiful" description.) Restored antebellum homes still stand alongside fragrant gardens and plenty of independent boutiques, restaurants, and inns. The small village is also known for its museums, covering fine art, history, and African American heritage, as well as the mini-automobile.

Getting There: Madison is a 60-minute drive east of Atlanta and 40 minutes south of Athens.

 

Shirakawa-go, Japan

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, Shirakawa-go is known for its triangle-roof houses, built in a style known as gassho, that resemble hands folded in prayer. The hallmarks of the houses are roofs with 60-degree slopes (to help the snow slide off more easily) and attics used as warm spots for raising silkworms in winter. Not many of the traditional houses remain in the area, and some in Shirakawa-go (including the Wada House and Nagase House) are regularly open to the public. Once you've seen the interiors, head to the top of Ogimachi Castle for the best views of the houses as well as the surrounding Shogawa River Valley and mountains.

Getting There: Take the four-hour train ride from Tokyo to the town of Takayama (about $178, includes a transfer in Nagoya, hyperdia.com). Nohi Bus operates several buses a day to Shirakawa-go. The ride takes about 50 minutes ($54 roundtrip, nouhibus.co.jp).

 

St. George, Bermuda

St. George is the oldest continually occupied English town in the Americas, and little has changed since the Brits established residence here in 1612. Sure, nowadays you've got gourmet restaurants, hopping bars, and upscale shops specializing in things like hand-rolled cigars and custom-made perfumes. But it's all surrounded by beautifully preserved colonial architecture and historic sites like Fort St. Catherine, the 17th-century stone State House, and St. Peter's Church, the oldest continuously occupied Anglican church in the Western Hemisphere.

Getting There: Bermuda is less than a two-hour flight from most Northeast U.S. cities. St. George is just over the bay from the international airport.

 

Caleta Tortel, Chile

Caleta Tortel is the Venice of Chile—if Venice had stilt houses and wooden walkways instead of ornate palazzi and stone bridges. The colorfully painted houses in this south Chilean village are built on skinny, raised stilts in the Chilota style typical to the region, and are connected by a network of staircases and footbridges built over rocks and marshes. The growing cypress-logging industry led to Caleta Tortel's founding in 1955. Timber is still the main game in town, as evidenced by the wooden architecture-and the sweet cypress smell lingering in the air.

Getting There: Like Venice, no cars are allowed in Caleta Tortel. A small airstrip to the east receives limited flights from the Patagonian town of Coyhaique. If you do want to drive, there is now overland access via the Carretera Austral. Plan on an 80-mile drive from the town of Cochrane. Drivers must park at a lot outside of town, then wheel luggage down the village's steep slopes.

 

Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia

It's blue and white for as far as the eye can see in Sidi Bou Said. All of the buildings in this cliff-top village in northern Tunisia are stark white and adorned with vivid blue doors, shutters, and decorative ironwork—and backed by the deeper blues of the Bay of Tunis. Sometimes called the Montmartre of Tunisia, the village was a favorite of Swiss-German painter Paul Klee and writers Colette and Simone de Beauvoir. The bohemian vibe exists today, with day trippers coming to stroll the stone streets and visit the galleries and cafes.

Getting There: Sidi Bou Said is 13 miles from Tunis, and accessible via road or the TGM train (about $3 round-trip). Day tours are available.


Pariangan, West Sumatra,
Indonesia

The active Mount Marapi volcano looms over this spot in Indonesia's Western Sumatra province, a protected national monument. Pariangan is said to be the oldest—and most culturally significant—village of the Minangkabau people and has numerous well-preserved examples of traditional Minangkabau pointed-roof architecture, including a 300-year-old house with woven rattan walls and wood carvings and a 19th-century mosque with still-operating communal hot springs.

Getting There: Pariangan is about nine miles by car from Batusangkar, the capital of the Tanah Datar regency in western Sumatra. The closest airport is in Padang, linked by air to major cities like Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur.

 

Cua Van, Vietnam

Quaint villages usually up the charm factor with cobblestone streets and restored historic architecture. But it's the complete lack of roads and buildings that makes Cua Van a must-see. Set among the dramatic limestone cliffs of Vietnam's Ha Long Bay, the floating village is made up of a collection of docked boats and colorful raft houses. (Not surprisingly, locals make their living through fishing and marine aquaculture.) Everything here bobs in the bay, even the school, to which students row in tiny boats.

Getting there: Ha Long Bay is about 100 miles from Hanoi. The six-hour bus ride from the city to the bay costs about $8 each way and tickets are available from travel agencies near Hanoi's Hoan Kiem Lake. Once you arrive at the bay, go to the tourist ferry dock, where boats are for hire to sail the 12 miles to Cua Van (prices vary, as does the quality of the boats, but typically cost around $20). Overnight cruises from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay also typically include Cua Van in the itinerary (from $188 per person, halongparadisecruises.org).

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