Since my first Euro trip last summer, I haven’t stopped thinking about the dreamy countryside towns & villages I bumped the cities for. While there isn’t a better way to see the European countryside than to hop on the Euro Rail and get off on a whim, After Sunset style, it may not work for travellers constrained by time, money or well, the comfort zone of a plan. Unearthed by traversing the depths of Google and through conversations with the local people & regional tourism boards, here is my choicest list of 4 small towns & villages across Italy, France & Germany, that I fell deliriously in love with.
1. GARGNANO, ITALY.
On the shores of Lake Garda in northern Italy, overlooking the snow-capped Dolomite mountains, and dotted with dark green needle pine trees, Gargnano is a typically Italian village with its postcard views, warm hearted residents, and delicious pastas. In under 3 days, I went from being an outsider to the girl who loved vegetarian aperitivo, a regular at the lakeside restaurant, and the proud owner of a loyalty card at the local DVD rental, on which I still have a balance of 3 Euros as a promise for my next visit!
How to reach: Train to Brescia, followed by a bus to Gargnano.
Stay at: Borgo dei Limoni, an affordable apartment rental overlooking the lake.
Travel tips: Learn a few phrases of the language, grab a gelato, stroll along the boardwalk by the lake, indulge in the pastas, feed the ducks, watch big passenger boats pass by, soak in the country life of Italy.
2. ANNECY, FRANCE.
You’ve probably read how I was disappointed by Paris, perhaps because of my romantic notions of it, perhaps because I found myself in the wrong touristy part of the city, perhaps because summer is when the whole world descends upon it. The small lake town of Annecy salvaged France for me, and on the shores of its pretty canals I found the romance I had come looking for. As much as I like sleeping late, Annecy had me up & about early each day, strolling to my favorite boulangerie, salivating at the whiff of freshly-baked bread, stuffing my bag with the best croissants, and sitting on a bench by the gorgeous Annecy lake, devouring them.
How to reach: Train to Annecy from Paris.
Stay at: Alexandra Hotel, an affordable budget hotel quietly tucked away in the old town of Annecy.
Travel tips: Do it like the locals. Grab your breakfast at a boulangerie, people-watch at the quaint little cafes of Annecy’s old town, stroll along the Thursday groceries market along the canals, bike by the Annecy lake.
Also read: Annecy, a beautiful lake town in France.
3. KURORT RATHEN, GERMANY.
On the shores of River Elbe in eastern Germany, I was enchanted with what might be the best kept secret of Germany, dubbed Saxon Switzerland. Surreal sandstone mountains arise out of nowhere amid small picturesque countryside villages, as the curvaceous river cuts them off from the mainland. I remember climbing to the top of these mountains, littered with German war history, feeling on top of the world & belittled by their magnificence at the same time, and later refreshing myself with home-grown Spezi along the only riverside cafe in Kurort Rathen.
How to reach: Inter-city train to Dresden, local train to Kurort Rathen.
Stay at: Sophia boutique hotel, an artsy budget hotel in the village.
Travel tips: Hike up the Elbe mountains to the Bastei Bridge, for stunning views of the Elbe valley below. Slip into the pace of life of the locals. Know that it’s never too early to grab a beer at a riverside cafe. While away in the neighboring villages of Stadt Wehlen & Konigstein.
4. CHAMONIX, FRANCE.
Chamonix is where I started my intimate love affair with the Alps, riding a gondola up the Alpine countryside, watching the mist kiss their snowy-white peaks, and basking in the winter sun in their lap. Small as the world is, a conversation with a local introduced me to a native of Chamonix who runs an orphanage in Bodhgaya! Making me nostalgic of my mountain upbringing, the grandiose of Mt Brevent and its frozen lakes left me in awe. I became convinced to chart a trail through the Alpine towns of Italy & Austria, though none quite as breathtaking as the higher reaches or the postcard countryside of Chamonix.
How to reach: Train to Chamonix station, shuttle bus to old town.
Stay at: Le Vert Hotel, a 15 minute walk from old town, but in a quiet location & good value for money.
Travel tips: Take the gondola up to Mt Brevent. Travel post mid-June to take the cable car up to Mt Blanc and cross to the other side of the peak to descend into Italy. Relish delicious food in cafes overlooking the snow-capped peaks in the old town.
Also read: Chamonix: of French Alps & summer snow.