Old towns to include on your next European trip

Inspired by Pinay Flying High’s post about her favourite European towns, I came up with eight of mine. This could easily be a Top 10 list but it’ll be too long to read. And I am not really good with lists.

You’ll find old favourites in this list, which I blogged several times already so I kept the descriptions short. But most are places I haven’t had time to blog about but deserves a place here. Old towns are scattered all over Europe but I tend to gravitate towards the ones less popular with tourists.

If I want to avoid disappointment, I’d visit one of the Hansa cities. Any Hansa city is the embodiment of the “charming European town” that many  tourists have on their bucket list. They were built according to the Hansa style of brick walls, medieval houses and proximity to waterways. Think of cities like Brugge, Turku, Hamburg, etc – 185 cities to be precise, former members of the rich and powerful Hanseatic League, a conglomerate of shipping and trading cities during the Medieval times spread across the Baltic and the North seas.

But moving on, here’s a list of eight European towns you should probably consider on your next trip to Europe.

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Basanno del Grappa, Italy
I couldn’t think of any other town that deserves to be on top of this list (although this is not necessarily arranged as such). Basanno del Grappa, a sleepy town in the Veneto region just outside Venice, stole my heart twice with its wooden bridge, charming bartenders, and its namesake “grappa”, the best digestive to go with a shot of espresso. It will take you 1.5 hours to reach this place by train from Sta Lucia station so the next time you are in Venice, resevere a morning to come here. Mornings till mid-afternoon are the best times to explore Basanno.

You can find my entries on Basanno del Grappa here.

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Bergen, Norway
It is no secret in this blog how I love Bergen. I have written three blogs about this UNESCO Heritage site and although it is the most touristy among the cities here, it does not become any less charming.

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Durbuy, Belgium
A castle, small cobbled stone alleyways in between ancient houses, fantastic bottles of advocaat in the souvenir stores and small pubs serving the best Belgian beers in its tiny square. Durbuy checks all the boxes in the charming town list. The best part is, you can see all of it in half a day and still enjoy your lunch at 12 noon. Durbuy is the smallest town in Europe with a size of only 156.61 km². I assure you, you’ll not get lost here.

Durbuy had a quick mention in this entry about our weekend in a castle hotel.

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The 12th-century Romanesque bridge is probably Besalu’s most photographed place. Photo by Robin Kuijs.

Besalu, Spain
A day in medieval Besalu can easily turn into an epic sangria and tapas adventure when you go with friends and a bus full of Filipinos. Invited by my friend Nats from Barcelona to come along on this day trip, we did exactly that, drank lots of sangria and ate tapas whenever we get the chance to get away from the group. At the end of the afternoon, we almost missed our bus because we wanted to have one last round of tapas and sangria and didn’t want to rush our drinks.

A view like this in the morning is the perfect way to wake up. (Large)

Bad Wildbad, Germany
There’s something charming about the spookiness of the German Black Forest. Remembering a most recent post from Pinay Flying High, I did travel here for food – for that special dessert called Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (I know that’s a mouthful, no pun intended) popularly known as the Black Forest cherry cake.

But the Black Forest holds more surprises beyond the coma-inducing cake generously bathed in kirsch (fruit brandy). For example, our room at Aparthotel Schwarzwald Panorama looks out to this gorgeous view of the Sommerberg mountain, which in the autumn twilight is a scenery straight out of a fairy tale movie. Adding to its charm factor are the wooden, stripped German houses, the Enz tributary running in the middle of the town flanked by old houses giving you an Alsace-kind of images, the giant pine trees darkening the zigzagging roads inside the Black Forest and of course heavy German beers that you just can’t say no to – even if you have to pair it with your chocolate cake.

I have a couple of funny stories and travel guides about the Black Forest which you can find here, here and here. My only regret is that I was not able to soak in one of those stately thermal baths that this side of Germany is so known for. Well, that is then a reason to come back.

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The view from our balcony at Weingut Arns.

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Lubeck as seen from St. Mary’s Church.

Reil, Germany
If I went to Bad Wildbad for the cake, I came to Reil for the wine. I could have chosen Cochem or Trier but these are known tourist destinations in the Mosel Valley so I instead chose to stay in the underrated, small town of Reil, situated right across vast vineyards. We stayed in the house of one of the town’s wine producers, Weingut Arns sipped endless glasses of Pinot Noir and Reisling (and the surprisingly good Reisling bubbles) harvested from their property right across the river to where our balcony looks out. I hope to blog about our long weekend here soon.
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Lubeck, Germany
Remember the Hansa League that I mentioned at the beginning of this article?

Lubeck is considered its Queen. Despite feeling very ill during the entire trip, Lubeck’s smosrgasbord of Hansa archietecture made me forget the pain for a while.

Rathus (Town Hall) was the most elegant among its old buildings but it was the devil and a restaurant that took my heart. The story of the devil of St. Mary’s Church is in the picture about.

Restaurant Rathskeller is housed  in the cellar of the Rathus and offers traditional (and very heavy) Holstein cuisine in a unique dining setting. Diners can enjoy their meals in total privacy, in closed cabins named after Lubeck’s famous sons including the Mann brothers.

Lubeck is also famous for its marzipans. In fact, the Lubeck marzipans are protected under EU’s geographical indication (GPI), in the same way that only bubbles from the Champagne region can carry the name champagne.

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Dordrecht, Netherlands
Dordrecht is Amsterdam without the tourists. Cobbled-stone streets lined with medieval houses, a medieval church called Grote Kerk (Big Church) of course, canals and coffee shops.

Ok, maybe not exactly like Amsterdam because it doesn’t have a prostitute alley like the Red Light District. But if you want to avoid the tourists and still enjoy Holland’s Old World feel, Dordrecht is proper city to visit.

From Rotterdam, take the water bus to Dordrecht, which also gives you a tour of the little towns dotting the banks of the River Maas. It cost €3,50 and you can even bring your bike, the best way to see Dordrecht and the whole of Netherlands, of course. You can find my article about Dordrecht in this piece I wrote for Access Magazine.

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