7 Small French Towns That Could Star In A Hallmark Movie

In North America, Hallmark movies have become part of the Christmas tradition, a celebratory viewing of feel-good movies together with the whole family while snuggled on the couch, with Christmas decorations surrounding you. But what about those of us who want to travel over the holiday season, but would still like that warm feel-good feeling that small, Christmassy towns give you in the films?

If you find yourself in France, fret not, there are plenty of small, friendly towns and villages that give you that Christmas cheer and charm. I have selected some of my favorite places that give you a warm fuzzy feeling, with a quaintness that makes your heart soar, and doubly so around Christmas time.

Here are some not to be missed.

Amazing house near the small picturesque waterfall in Moret-sur-Loing.
Kiev.Victor / Shutterstock.com

1. Moret-sur-Loing

Picture yourself walking through medieval city gates, across an ancient bridge, looking down to an old watermill sitting in the middle of the river. Nearby are restaurants looking out over the river, and a main street decorated with pretty lights. Moret-sur-Loing lies on the perimeter of the Fontainebleau Forest and is picture perfect. If you ever wanted to send a Hallmark postcard from France, the view from the bridge at Moret-sur-Loing would certainly be on the front. Not surprising that the painter Sisley was inspired by the town, and you can follow in his footsteps on a private walking tour hitting all the scenic spots. 

Pro Tip: While walking along the Loing River will occupy you for a while, this is a small, if hugely quaint town, so why not combine it with nearby, and also rather pretty, but a bit more lively Fontainebleau?

Exterior of La Petite France, Strasbourg.
Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey

2. La Petite France, Strasbourg

Strasbourg is well known for its Christmas cheer, but when it comes to Hallmark movie-perfect settings, head straight to the old quarter by the river. La Petite France was, in the Middle Ages, the home of the tanners, because of its proximity to the river Ill. In those days, I am sure it was not a desirable place to be, with the tightly huddled houses, narrow lanes, tiny squares, and those smells. Today, Petite France is not just a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but at Christmastime, it is still the same as centuries ago, but much improved. Tightly packed half-timbered buildings, all a little crooked, tiny squares filled with huts and stalls and twinkling trees, and the smells lingering in the air are that of mulled wine, hot chocolate, sausages with sauerkraut, and plenty of sweet things. The river is now clean and gurgling through locks and a double-decker 17th-century dam. Add covered bridges, and the cutest houses on little peninsulas right in the river, and you have probably found the most Hallmark movie spot in France. I would never suggest that you don’t look at the whole of Strasbourg, it is so lovely, but La Petite France is where you could easily imagine a film crew capturing the utter prettiness and charm of this quarter. And, you have a good chance of it snowing at Christmas.

Pro Tip: To really soak up the romance of Petite France, stay at the Hotel & Spa Regent Petite France located in a 17th-century former watermill, and you will be right in the movie.

Produce and fruit stand in St-Germain-en-Laye.
Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey

3. Saint-Germain-en-Laye

Saint-Germain-en-Laye is a community just across the Seine from Paris. Perched high on a hill, with Paris stretching out below, not only are the views movie-appropriate but so is the small town. The marketplace of St-Germain-en-Laye is filled with a gorgeous selection of fresh food and produce stalls every Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday, and together with the narrow, cobbled streets that lead out to a grand castle and those views across Paris, are reason enough to love this community. But add the Christmas sparkle and the Christmas Village which has the backdrop of the chateau, and it gets very picturesque indeed. This is the place many choose to live in preference to central Paris, mostly because of the community, charm, and quaintness, all within a 20-minute RER A train ride of Paris.

Pro Tip: Sit with coffee and a croissant on the terrace of Café de l’Industrie, at the back of the market square, and watch the hustle and bustle, and you will see why this community is included. Everybody knows everybody else, stopping to chat, and then go about their daily business, and you can just imagine a Hallmark plot taking place here.

4. The Saint-Louis Quarter, Versailles

Versailles is beautiful at Christmas, but for that extra touch of charm, away from the rather grandiose palace, head to the Saint-Louis Quarter. Here you find no imposing grandeur, nor rugged medieval history, but the superbly quaint and charming “Carrés Saint-Louis.” A village within the small town of Versailles, so very different from the rest of the town. There are squares hemmed by tiny buildings, the ground floor usually housing an individual boutique, an art gallery, an artisan workshop, or a small café, and on the floor above, former living accommodations. All painted in beautiful colors, and too cute for words, these little buildings cover a few blocks. They surround picturesque squares where children play and old people sit and chat and were constructed under Louis XV as accommodation for a new market, still perfectly retaining their unique charm that would be a perfect setting for a Hallmark movie.

Pro Tip: Stay within Saint-Louis so as to not lose that Christmassy feeling and sleep in the small and utterly romantic Hotel Berry.

exterior of Dijon.
Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey

5. Dijon

Dijon has so many cutesy corners, crooked half-timbered houses, and small historic spots, that it is always a delight. But at Christmastime, all these special little corners are lit up, filled with market stalls, and turn into a Christmas wonderland. Especially the corner of Place Francois Rude, nearly too charming for words.

Place Darcy and Rue de la Liberté contain around 60 chalets selling beautiful arts and crafts and offering the best of Dijon’s famous cuisine, which is even better when sampled in winter. Who can beat a warming beef bourguignon? For that little bit of an extra special treat at Christmas, head to the truffle market held in the market hall.

The pretty market hall, designed by Monsieur Gustave Eiffel of tower fame, is one of the most iconic would-be Hallmark movie locations, with families doing their seasonal shopping, people meeting friends at the various stands over a glass of wine, and everything twinkling with pretty lights.

Pro Tip: For that old-world charm, stay at the Maison Philippe le Bon, which is a lovely hotel in the center, which has kept the old features of the house and enhanced them with modern touches. The restaurant is superb, too.

Reims Christmas decorations.
Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey

6. Reims

The capital of France’s Champagne region comes into its best at Christmas, with a Christmas market huddled around the ancient cathedral where France’s kings were crowned. Ignoring the rest of the city, however lovely and historic, and just strolling through the market, with its miniature train, Christmas trees everywhere, chalets full of mulled wine and warming food, and stalls of pretty Christmas decorations hand-crafted in the region, gets that warm fuzzy feeling going pretty quickly. Families are walking hand-in-hand, enjoying the miniature fairground and the large snow globe where Santa resides, and Christmas cheer is everywhere. What makes Reims stand out when it comes to potentially starring in a Hallmark movie, are the small champagne outlets that pop up throughout the market. Cozy little corners where you are provided with a warm blanket and a flute of champagne, and you can just visualize someone meeting up with the (future) love of their life.

Pro Tip: For a lovely, cozy meal after walking around the city, pop into the romantic L’Alambic for dinner.

The Place du Tertre with tables of cafe and the Sacre-Coeur in the morning, quarter Montmartre in Paris.
France kavalenkava / Shutterstock.com

7. Montmartre, Paris

Ask anybody, and most people will say that Montmartre is their favorite neighborhood in Paris. And the reason? Because it is a perfectly preserved village within a large city. Perched on the hill Butte Montmartre, it not only offers great views but is distinctly different and separate from the rest of Paris. At Christmas time, this village is prettier than ever. Even the carousel, which always stands at the bottom of the steep steps up to Sacre Coeur, looks prettier at Christmas if that is possible. But twinkling lights, stalls, and decorations enhance every feature of this neighborhood and if you cannot imagine a romantic girl-find-boy movie set right on Place du Tertre, the one with all the artists exhibiting their wares, then you don’t have a romantic bone in your body. On Place des Abbesses, the one with the gorgeous metro stop, a Christmas market takes over the square, and you can wander from there past the small shops and cafes and find yourself in movieland — quite literally, because this is where Amelie was filmed.Pro Tip: To soak up the atmosphere and run your own film edits in your head while watching life go on at Place du Tertre, sit in La Mer Catherine, one of the oldest restaurants in Montmartre, dating to 1793.

Visiting France at Christmas offers opportunities for other activities:

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As New Zealand lifts Covid lockdowns, some small towns ask tourists to stay away | New Zealand

Every summer, with Christmas and New Year stacked in the middle of the hot season, city-dwelling New Zealanders pack their car boots and make for the beaches, festivals and campgrounds dotting the country’s coastlines and remote forests.

As the country prepares to lift its last lockdowns, prime minister Jacinda Ardern has promised that the “classic kiwi summer” will roll on. But this year, there are fears that packed among their chilly bins and camping chairs, holidaymakers will bring other baggage – infectious particles of Covid-19, carried to communities ill-prepared to greet it. In the face of that prospect, leaders of some of New Zealand’s small towns and settlements have returned to prospective holidaymakers with a blunt message: please stay away.

“At Christmas I will sit out here on my veranda, and I will watch literally hundreds and hundreds vehicles, just heading north,” says Hone Harawira, former parliamentary representative for Te Tai Tokerau, a region at the far northern tip of New Zealand. “If the doors are open, quite literally tens of thousands of Aucklanders will be coming – there’s nothing to stop anyone.”

‘You may as well send up body bags’

Auckland, the centre of New Zealand’s thousands-strong Covid outbreak, has been in a strict lockdown for nearly 100 days. As the region approaches 90% of eligible adults vaccinated, Ardern announced those restrictions would soon be lifted – and alongside them, the strict border that has prevented all non-essential travel in or out of the city. While that reprieve was greeted with relief and celebration by many Aucklanders, experts and community leaders say it could also send a huge influx of Covid-carrying Aucklanders around the country, seeding the virus in communities with far lower vaccination rates and fewer health resources.

“You may as well send up body bags,” northern iwi [tribal] leaders said when the news was first announced. The area’s isolation and dramatic terrain – some of the very attributes that make it so attractive to holidaymakers – also make its population vulnerable to Covid outbreaks. The region is served by just a handful of ICU hospital beds, and many towns are an hours-long drive from the nearest health facilities. On top of that, vaccination rates – particularly among Māori – are lagging up to 30 percentage points behind Auckland.

Northland from the top of the Brynderwyn Hills
Northland from the top of the Brynderwyn Hills Photograph: Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

“You’ve got to remember we don’t have the services or infrastructure to cope with a large outbreak,” says Antony Thompson, spokesperson for Te Kahu o Taonui, a collective of 12 iwi in the north.

“Right now we’re just not ready, that’s all it is,” Harewira says. “Māori in Te Tai Tokerau [Northland] are currently 60% vaccinated. That’s a long, long way from the 90% that is the standard for Auckland.”

Harawira has spent months during the latest outbreak running checkpoints, or pou korero [talking posts] to ensure people entering the region aren’t in breach of Covid rules. Soon, however, most of those restrictions will be formally lifted. Without any backing from central government, he’s concerned that visitors will simply breeze on through. “As far as they’re concerned, to hell with the local yokels,” he says. “[People will say] we’ve got the keys to the north, we’ve been given the go-ahead by the prime minister herself, so get out of the way.”

“Unfortunately, I think the message being provided by government is go, go, go.”

While the government has indicated people need to be fully vaccinated or produce a negative test to leave the city, there isn’t any comprehensive system in place, beyond possible spot checks, to ensure that carloads of tourists are compliant.

“You’re going to see the virus seeded everywhere,” epidemiologist and public health prof Michael Baker said last week. Baker said the South Island may be better protected, given the requirements for vaccine passports on flights and ferries, but summer travel around the North Island was likely to lead to widespread transmission.

Thompson says spot checks will not be sufficient. “Thirty thousand cars leave Auckland on a daily basis during summer. Can you really honestly hand on heart say that you can pick up which cars … don’t have vaccinated people in them?”

Inland, in Te Urewera, the North Island ex-national park now governed by Tūhoe, the tribe has said it will be closed to visitors until the end of January. “Te Urewera is unique,” said board chair Tāmati Kruger. “Unlike New Zealand’s national parks, it is the home of Tūhoe communities, including some of the country’s most remote and vulnerable populations during the current pandemic.”

But elsewhere, communities don’t have the option of simply closing private campgrounds or public roads. Instead, they’re relying on the goodwill of potential visitors: at the very least, be double vaccinated – and at best, consider delaying your summer road trip one more year. “I’d ask that [the rest of the country] join with me in a campaign to have Christmas moved to 25 January,” Harawira says. “If we hit 90% by then, we’ll open our arms to the nation. We’d welcome people here.”

“I live in Auckland, I’ve been going to the exact same thing every other Auckland has been going through,” Thompson says. “I’d love to go north, I’m from the north as well. But my family, we’ve made the conscious decision to stay home.”

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5 Charming Towns In New Mexico That Could Be The Star Of A Hallmark Christmas Movie

Set in locations like Connecticut and Salt Lake City, most Hallmark Christmas movies feature winter wonderlands filled with snow scenes and halls decked to the fullest. While December snowfall is not guaranteed throughout the Land of Enchantment, when you visit any of these charming New Mexico towns this holiday season, you’re still sure to fall in love — not necessarily with a tall, dark, and handsome stranger — but with experiences you can only have in New Mexico.  

What makes New Mexico so unique? The 47th state is a rich blend of the Pueblo, Hispanic, and Anglo cultures. While the state’s multicultural heritage is visible year-round, from a commitment to preserving the Navajo language to a state constitution that provides equal support for Spanish and English, it shines most brightly during the winter holidays. So regardless of your cultural background, when you celebrate the holidays in New Mexico, you’ll embrace traditions and foods that you won’t typically find elsewhere in the other 49 states (or in any of this year’s Hallmark movies).

Christmas In New Mexico

From celebrations to decorations to food, Christmas in New Mexico is unique.

While communities from coast to coast may celebrate Christmas with a pageant, procession, or nativity play, many New Mexicans commemorate the season with Las Posadas. Literally translated as “the inns,” Las Posadas commemorates Joseph and Mary’s search for lodging in Bethlehem. Using a lantern to light their way, a young couple leads a procession as they ask for a place to stay at multiple “inns.” Each inquiry is met with a denial, and the journey ends by celebrating Mass.

When it comes to holiday decorations, look for luminarias (“festival lights”) in lieu of electric strings of multi-colored Christmas lights. These little lanterns are made by folding down the sides of a small paper bag, adding a scoop of sand, and placing a lighted tea candle in the center. They certainly add an element of magical beauty to Christmas in New Mexico! In Northern New Mexico, luminarias are often called farolitos (“little lanterns”), so don’t let that confuse you!

Lastly, there is the food. While many Americans serve turkey or ham with an assortment of side dishes that loosely resemble a traditional Thanksgiving meal, New Mexicans often enjoy Christmas tamales, Christmas enchiladas (which feature both red and green sauce), and steaming bowls of the “chicken noodle soup alternative” posole. Instead of gingerbread men or decorated sugar cookies, look for biscochitos, crisp cookies flavored with anise and citrus and dusted with cinnamon sugar that have earned bragging rights as the state’s cookie.

And now back to the best New Mexico Christmas towns! 

Christmas in Taos, New Mexico
JHVEPhoto / Shutterstock.com

1. Taos

As the first snowflakes of the season start to drift into Taos, so does holiday magic start to fill the air. Kick off the holiday season with Lighting Ledoux and Bonfires on Bent Street. As you stroll through the streets illuminated by the soft glow of farolito lanterns and pinon-log bonfires, enjoy live music, delicious holiday foods, and warm beverages. 

Finish your Christmas shopping by supporting the merchants at John Dunn Shops, a pedestrian shopping district near the historic Taos Plaza, and find unique and handcrafted gifts at Taos Folk, a famous pop-up store with jewelry, home goods, apparel, and other goods for sale.

As Christmas Eve draws near, witness the moving way the Taos Pueblo embraces the winter season through ceremonial dances. You may wonder why Christmas, a Christian holiday brought to North America by Europeans, is celebrated by Native Americans. When the Spanish arrived in this area centuries ago, they worked hard to convert the indigenous people to Catholicism. As a result, today’s Pueblo people celebrate the holidays by pairing their tribal traditions with a drizzle of Spanish culture and a sprinkle of Catholic faith. The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center shares this detailed list of pueblo feast days for all 19 pueblos of New Mexico. Remember that when tribal members are singing and dancing, it is a form of prayer, so be sure you understand the appropriate etiquette before you go. 

Stay for even more magic between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve with the torchlight parades during which skiers guided by torchlight gracefully glide down the area’s ski resorts against a backdrop of colorful fireworks.

Pro Tip: Regardless of when you visit Taos, enjoy this self-guided walking tour that begins at the Taos Plaza and discover other great things to do outdoors or over a long weekend in Taos.

Canyon Road in Santa Fe at Christmas
Photo Credit: New Mexico TRUE

2. Santa Fe

About 90 minutes south of Taos, Santa Fe is another beautiful New Mexico town that pulls out all of the stops during the holidays. Get in the Christmas spirit the day after Thanksgiving with the Plaza Lighting Ceremony on the historic Santa Fe Plaza. Then return to the Plaza in mid-December to participate in Las Posadas. 

On the western edge of Museum Hill, the Santa Fe Botanical Garden is illuminated with thousands of lights during GLOW. And near the Plaza, the 150-year-old Gothic Loretto Chapel is filled with the sounds of Handel, Vivaldi, and traditional carols during its Baroque Christmas series.

If Santa Fe were a Hallmark Christmas movie location, the climax would surely occur during the Canyon Road Farolito Walk. While viewing holiday lights is a common Christmas Eve activity across the country, the Santa Fe version is truly breathtaking. As the sun sets on December 24, a section of Canyon Road and nearby streets are closed to traffic as pedestrians flood in to admire the soft glow of thousands of farolitos lining the sidewalks, stone walls, and flat adobe roofs before heading home or to church to continue their holiday festivities.

Pro Tip: Read here for more magical experiences in Santa Fe during the holidays.

Christmas in Albuquerque
Photo Credit: Kristy Graybill

3. Albuquerque

While it doesn’t typically snow much in Albuquerque, the city’s historic Old Town would surely be the perfect setting for two soon-to-be lovers to meet at the start of a Hallmark Christmas movie. Dating back to the early 1700s, a picturesque gazebo stands in the middle of the Old Town Plaza, the epicenter of holiday festivities in the state’s largest city. Welcome the holiday season with the lighting of the Old Town Christmas tree. The streets are closed to traffic, giving visitors plenty of room to stroll through Old Town, admiring the luminarias and supporting the shops and restaurants.

Another delightful way to kick off the holiday season in Albuquerque is by attending the Twinkle Light Parade. Held annually on the first Saturday in December, hundreds of floats, trucks, cars, and even bicycles slowly roll through Historic Nob Hill aglow with lights. If you prefer to be the one in motion, then jump on an ABQ Ride bus at the convention center for a luminaria tour through Old Town and adjacent neighborhoods filled with soft, glowing lanterns.

Albuquerque’s BioPark Botanic Garden is a beautiful destination year-round, but it’s especially magical during the holidays when millions of dazzling lights, animated sculptures, and a music light show truly make it sparkle. Even better, this brilliant event is an important fundraiser, with proceeds from the River of Lights funding a variety of ABQ BioPark projects to help this jewel of a space shine for years to come.

4. Carlsbad

Located in the southeastern corner of New Mexico, you’re not likely to see snowfall in Carlsbad during the holidays. But you will experience a romantic holiday outing that’s unlike any other in the Land of Enchantment. By the river, homeowners spend hours lovingly transforming their backyards, boat docks, and islands into a floating Christmas parade known as Christmas on the Pecos. Bundle up with your cutest wool hat and matching striped scarf and climb aboard the Rudolph or Holly for an enchanting 40-minute ride past beautiful holiday displays that cast shimmering reflections that dance like sugar plum fairies in the calm water of the Pecos River.

Six boat tours a night depart from the Pecos River Village between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. Tickets are just under $20, with discounts offered to locals, children, and military service members. Both boats are accessible and you can indicate any accommodation needs when you purchase your tickets.

Luminarias organized in the shape of a Zia sun symbol
Photo Credit: New Mexico TRUE

5. Mesilla

About 15 minutes from Downtown Las Cruces, Mesilla is a small New Mexico town with a big past. Before the Stars and Stripes, the flags of four countries flew over this important stop on the Butterfield Overland Trail that connected St. Louis and San Francisco. Today the historic Mesilla Plaza at the center of town is surrounded by unique boutiques and delicious restaurants. And on Christmas Eve, thousands of luminarias fill the historic plaza while Christmas carols float on the high desert air and visitors stay warm with hot chocolate. 

These are my favorite shops in Old Town Mesilla — all of which are great places to finish your Christmas shopping (ideally before Christmas Eve) with unique and delicious gifts while supporting small businesses. And who knows, maybe you’ll bump into a Hallmark Christmas movie-like stranger who will change your life!

Pro Tip: If you love Mesilla, here are seven other charming small towns you’ll want to visit in Southern New Mexico.

Whether you visit a snowy destination in Northern New Mexico or a milder climate in the south, the holidays in New Mexico are filled with unique traditions, decorations, and foods that are sure to stoke your holiday spirit well into the new year.

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7 New England Towns That Put On The Best Christmas Celebrations

Twinkling lights reflect softly falling snow, setting the stage for a New England-style white Christmas. You will find small-town squares with pine trees festively draped in thousands of lights, fragrant boughs, wreaths adorned with velvety ribbons and trinkets, and the aroma of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg waft through the air. New England towns’ Christmas celebrations are steeped in tradition from decades of coming together to say goodbye to the past year and prepare for the arrival of the promising New Year. These charming towns put on the best Christmas celebrations that are sure to enhance your Christmas spirit.

Whether you desire an old-fashioned celebration; a ride through a riotous collection of colorful lights; elaborately decorated historic mansions; or a scenic, family-friendly locomotive ride, you will love visiting these New England towns. These holiday season standouts are listed in no particular order.

1. Kennebunkport, Maine

The Christmas Prelude in Kennebunkport is scheduled for December 2–12. This 40th anniversary holiday celebration offers guests 10 days of fun, entertaining activities. The celebratory kickoff begins with the annual Dock Square Tree Lighting on December 3.

Other holiday happenings during the celebration include Cape Porpoise lobster trap tree lighting, a hat parade, Christmas caroling at the Franciscan monastery, Santa’s arrival by lobster boat, and Pooch Parade. The event is always a fun and festive time.

Pro Tip: A charming seafaring town, you can explore more about where to stay and what to see while you are visiting in our Best Things To Do in Kennebunkport guide.

Candle Light Stroll Under the Stars, Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Photo Credit: David J. Murray / ClearEyePhoto.com

2. Portsmouth, New Hampshire

The Strawbery Banke Museum presents the Candlelight Stroll Under The Stars, a stunning outdoor lighting experience. Enjoy the illuminated exteriors of the museum’s historic buildings where designers have crafted a magical display in a gorgeous, twinkling wonderland. Stop by Strawbery Banke Museum on one of the first three Saturdays (5 p.m. to 9 p.m.) and Sundays (4 p.m. to 8 p.m.) in December for a delightful holiday stroll.

On Saturday, December 4, the Illuminated Holiday Parade and Tree Lighting transforms coastal Portsmouth into a twinkling winter fairyland. The tree lighting ceremony in Market Square begins at 5:25 p.m. The parade begins at 6 p.m. and runs along sections of Islington Street.

From December 1 through December 19, The Historic Theater presents The Ogunquit Playhouse’s production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. Enjoying a theater production of this time-honored musical is a wonderful way to savor the Christmas season.

Pro Tip: Coastal New England road trips take on a frosty appeal in the winter. When you visit Portsmouth, consider a short drive up to Bangor or down to Boston for a different perspective of the Atlantic Ocean beaches.

Billings Farm Christmas Parlor.
Photo Credit: Billings Farm & Museum

3. Woodstock, Vermont

Experience Christmas at the Billings Farm where you can explore traditional Victorian decorations and traditions with friends and family. Demonstrations at the farm include candle dipping and gingerbread ornament making served up with traditional holiday stories. 

Christmas at the Farm is Saturday, December 4, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is fun for the whole family.

Wassail Weekend at Billings Farm in Woodstock runs from December 10 through the 12th. Festivities begin at 10 a.m. and run throughout the day until 4 p.m. On Sunday, December 12, horse-drawn wagon or sleigh rides are available (conditions permitting). Visit the Dairy Bar for a delicious cider donut and a mug of wassail, a hot mulled cider with spices. Wassailing is a charming English Yuletide tradition where neighbors gather with neighbors toasting a good cider apple harvest in the year to come.

Pro Tip: Visit our Best Things to do and see in Woodstock guide for great tips on where to stay and play in this lovely small town.

4. Sturbridge, Massachusetts

Christmas by Candlelight at Old Sturbridge Village will transport you to Christmas in colonial times. Stroll through the village and enjoy a crisp December evening as you ooh and ahh at the traditional holiday decorations adorning the village homes. Wander through the Christmas Tree Trail where you are surrounded by fragrant pines and twinkling lights. Immerse yourself in the spirit of days gone by with stories passed down from generation to generation, then hop aboard the horse-drawn carryall for a scenic winter ride around the village. Christmas by Candlelight is open beginning Friday, December 3, and running select nights through Thursday, December 30. Be sure to check the Old Sturbridge Village Calendar for specific days and times.

Pro Tip: Old Sturbridge Village is a unique living museum where you can dive deep into the early colonial life.

Patriots mascot in the tunnel of lights.
Photo Credit: Eric Adler / Kraft Sports + Entertainment

5. Foxborough, Massachusetts

Gillette Stadium in Foxborough is home to the New England Patriots. It is also home to the Magic of Lights, a drive-through lighting extravaganza. Running from November 13 through January 19, from 5 p.m. to 9:25 p.m., it is guaranteed to amp up your holiday spirit. Traverse the 200-foot-long light tunnel as it envelops you in a twinkling, wonderland environment. As you drive the 1-plus-mile course, you will encounter over 40 different scenes and tableaus of inspirational lighting displays. You will be dreaming of recreating these beauties in your own front yard … maybe next year.

Magic of Lights operates at many venues across New England.

Pro Tip: The cost for this event is per carload, so pack up all your friends and family in the SUV and head over to Foxborough for an inspirational lighting adventure.

Sparkiling lights at the Breakers.
Photo Credit: The Preservation Society of Newport

6. Newport, Rhode Island

The Gilded Age mansions in Newport are show-stopping at any time of year, but when they are decked out for Christmas, it is a holiday extravaganza. The Breakers, The Elms, and Marble House are adorned with garlands, wreaths, trees, baubles, lights, and copious amounts of silver and gold. The luxurious, jaw-dropping decorations are on display beginning November 20; please check their events calendar for specific days and times.

The Sparkling Lights at the Breakers is a spectacular outdoor walking adventure that traverses The Breakers gardens. The easily navigable pathways provide beautiful lighting displays and tableaus at every turn. With nearly half of the mansion’s 13 acres twinkling brightly, you will be surprised and delighted at the ornate displays.

The Newport area mansions are spectacularly dressed in their Christmas trappings. Check our story on the Newport Mansions At Christmas for more information and stunning photos.

Pro Tip: Newport is a lovely spot for a weekend getaway, and we have some great ideas about where to stay, dine, and play that will make your planning easier.

Christmas Ornament.
Photo Credit: Billings Farm & Museum

7. Bethlehem, Connecticut

When you are craving a charming, old-fashioned New England Christmas, the Christmas Town Festival will transport you back to a simpler, family-focused Christmas celebration. For 2 days, December 3 and 4, the town is transformed into a celebration of seasonal joy and good cheer.

The mostly free events include a tree lighting, Christmas concerts, fire truck parade, crafters, scavenger hunt, Bell Concert, and Santa arriving on a fire truck.

Each year, a specially designed, unique town ornament is crafted in pewter and is available for sale. The style of these collectible ornaments has changed over the years, but the sentiment remains the same: Christmas is a time to celebrate friends and family. You can purchase ornaments from as far back as 1982, they will give your tree an old-fashioned colonial feel.

Pro Tip: Spending a quiet weekend in this charming small town will impart a sense of the American Dream where simply enjoying life is the key to happiness.

The Breakers Morning Room
The Breakers Morning Room (Photo Credit: The Preservation Society of Newport)

New England Christmas Train Rides

Christmas train rides are a wonderful way to experience a special adventure with the youngsters in your life. Across New England, train depots are gearing up for a North Pole-inspired ride. Copious amounts of hot cocoa are steaming, cookies are baking, stationery for letters to Santa is printed, and elf casting is nearly complete.

We have compiled a list of small towns that celebrate big time when it comes to visiting the North Pole by rail. A train ride through the local scenery is a wonderful way to celebrate the arrival of the Christmas season.

The Essex Steam Train and River Boat in Essex, Connecticut, is a 90-minute train ride filled with sugar cookies, sing-a-longs, and a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Enjoy breakfast, pizza, or a sunset train ride with Santa on the Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad in Unity, Maine.

The Polar Express Train Ride out of Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, brings the movie to life. Each car has entertaining, costumed conductors and wait staff creating an immersive experience. Wear your jammies and pack your camera for this exciting ride.

The Hobo and Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad offers the Santa Express Trains in Lincoln, New Hampshire. Enjoy the beautiful Winnipesaukee scenic views while meeting with Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Another Polar Express Train Ride at the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. & Museum in Portland, Maine, whisks guests off to the North Pole where they can see Santa prepping his sleigh for his Christmas deliveries.

Whether you love a down-home, small-town Christmas; a scenic train ride through the winter landscape; a bustling festival full of high energy; or a ride through a tunnel of lights, you will find many New England towns that put on wonderful Christmas celebrations. Set a date with your friends and family, get away from all the crazy preparation, and simply enjoy each other in the spirit of the season.

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Travel Magazine says Hood River is among 20 best beer towns in U.S.

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland, Eugene and Bend are filled with craft breweries for beer lovers. But Travel Magazine says another Oregon city, Hood River, shouldn’t be overlooked. 

In an article published Tuesday, Travel Magazine said Hood River is among the 20 best beer towns in the United States. The city, which is situated along the Columbia River east of Portland, was recognized for breweries that are “well oiled machines pumping out quality beer,” according to the article. 

Hood River was the 19th city on the list and the magazine said its highlights include Full Sail Brewing Co., pFriem Family Brewers, and Double Mountain Brewery & Cidery. 

The article also mentioned how Hood River has a hard kombucha brewery and hosts the Hood River Hops Fest every October. 

Sunnyside, Washington also made the list. The magazine said the city is home to Snipes Mountain Brewery and Restaurant and Varietal Beer Co.  

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7 Quaint European Towns That Feel Like A Hallmark Christmas Movie

Travelling can really push you outside your comfort zone, especially when you are least expecting it. Finding a town where one feels at home, despite the distinct cultural differences, is a true reassurance and comfort to the soul. The streets may be crooked, the houses half-timbered, and the singsong of an unfamiliar language fills the air, but something stirs inside you. You could stay a while and settle into local life. Pinch yourself. Have you stepped onto the set of a Christmas movie? These 7 European towns are beyond quaint in appearance with the coziest of ambiances. 

Central street Grand Rue decorated and illuminated for Christmas celebrations in Colmar.
Boris Stroujko / Shutterstock.com

1. Colmar, France

Arriving in Colmar is like walking straight into a fairytale setting. This is true any time of the year. But during the Christmas season, under glowing lights, amidst intriguing market stalls and children singing carols from boats on the canal, it is truer than ever. 

Colmar, situated in the Alsace region of France, celebrates Christmas with six markets full of regional gourmet delights and local artisanal creations. Colmar is the capital of Alsace Wine Country, so celebrate with Christmas cheer from Alsace, including a glass of steaming Alsatian mulled wine. It is tradition to decorate the Christmas trees in Alsace with gingerbread, so it is no surprise that a variety of gingerbread treats are available. Known for its gastronomic traditions, you’ll find foie gras, Munster cheese, and if you are a meat lover, the classic “choucroute” with plenty of meat and sauerkraut. 

Stroll the medieval center with its colorful, crooked half-timbered homes, and admire snowflakes and angels decorating shuttered facades. Does it get more picturesque than this? Maybe a little. With tresses built across the canal topped with red baubles and pine boughs, Colmar is the ultimate in festive atmosphere. 

Pro Tip: Don’t miss these two treats only available during the Christmas season: Bredele, Christmas biscuits which come in many flavors, and Manelas de Saint Nicolas, a yummy, buttery brioche in the shape of a little person!

Tourists walking in the Christmas market of Montepulciano in Tuscany.
Buffy1982 / Shutterstock.com

2. Montepulciano, Italy 

Montepulciano in Tuscany, Italy was just a name in a guidebook. After my visit, it remains my favorite hilltop medieval town in Tuscany. This beautiful, walled Italian town just south of Siena, is one of those special places that touched my heart. Could it have been the gorgeous views over the Val d’Orcia and Val di Chiana, the rolling, lush valleys that surround it? Could it have been the elegant squares or the Renaissance buildings? Perhaps it was the numerous wine cellars and tastings of the local Vino Nobile di Montepulciano that the town is known for and the pride with which it was shared. Perhaps it was the local Pecorino cheese drizzled with spectacular homemade honey. Maybe, it was more of a feeling. Something from another century, straight out of a movie. 

With a chill in the air, Montepulciano has a marvelous Christmas market right in the main piazza, Piazza Grande. Explore the wooden chalets bursting with local Tuscan goods and don’t miss Santa’s workshop set up in the Montepulciano Fortress.

Pro Tip: How about timing your visit with the traditional annual barrel rolling competition (Bravio delle Botti) on the last Sunday in August? This historical challenge between the eight districts of Montepulciano has been going on since the 14th century. I can’t imagine the excitement surrounding pushing 196-pound wine barrels uphill and the medieval costume parade. 

Visitors drink gluwein on a winter afternoon at the Christmas market, Rudesheim, Germany.
Steve Estvanik / Shutterstock.com

3. Rudesheim Am Rhein, Germany 

The village of Rudesheim am Rhein, known simply as Rudesheim, is beyond charming. Situated in Germany’s Rheingau wine region, just a short trip from Frankfurt, Rudesheim is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage Rhine Gorge. 

Rudesheim cascades down a hill towards the Rhine River, its steep cobbled streets lined with medieval half-timbered houses. In the heart of the Old Town, the narrow and picturesque Drosselgasse lane is filled with shops and restaurants. Accompanied by chiming church bells or an accordion tune, savor the local bratwurst and schnitzel along with a stein of beer or the local wine, Rheingauer Reisling. A trip to Rudesheim is not complete without sampling the local specialty coffee drink, Rudesheimer Kaffee. Locally distilled Asbach Uralt Brandy and whipped cream make this coffee cocktail unforgettable. 

In any season, take a ride on the Rudesheim Seilbahn, a cable car that takes you to the Niederwalddenkmal, a monument that commemorates the Unification of Germany. Be prepared to “ooh” and “ah”; the views over the surrounding vineyards, the town, and the Rhine River are magnificent. 

A trip to Rudesheim necessitates a boat cruise down the Rhine River to witness the impressive castles perched on hilltops that hold legends of the area.

Rudesheim is known for its Christmas market, which attracts vendors and guests from all over the world. With snow crunching underfoot, stroll through the 120 market stalls with a cup of steaming Gluhwein, hot mulled wine. It’s the perfect place to purchase that elusive Christmas gift. 

Pro Tip: Hotel Zur Rose, just a few minutes’ walk to the Old Town, is a lovely, welcoming hotel. 

Saint Antonin noble val village, Tarn, Midi-Pyrénées, Occitanie, France.
AWP76 / Shutterstock.com

4. Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, France

Situated in the gorge of the Aveyron River and backed by the steep cliffs of Roc d’Anglars is the charming medieval town of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val. With the church spire stretching towards the heavens, a maze of cobbled streets, and a lively Sunday morning market, you may think you have walked onto a movie set. And that you have. Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val was the setting for the 2014 movie The One Hundred-Foot Journey with Helen Mirren. The picturesque village depicted in the movie is just as delightful, or possibly more so, in real life. In 2016, the French voted Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val one of their top three favorite villages. In a country full of quaint towns, this is quite the honor. 

Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val is full of interesting facades and historic buildings. Don’t miss the oldest civil building in France, Maison Romane, which hails from 1120. Pop into the artisan shops and then stop by a cafe in the main square, Place de la Halle, and soak up the relaxed local vibe.

Pro Tip: Drive up to Roc d’Anglars for spectacular views over Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val and the Aveyron Valley.

St. James' Church, Shere, Surrey.
St. James Church (Photo Credit: Alison Avery / Shutterstock.com)

5. Shere, England

Nestled in the rolling Surrey Hills, just 35 miles from London, is the darling town of Shere. This small village with its thatched roof and timber frame cottages is picture-perfect. Take a walk along the well-marked trails of the Surrey Hills and nestle back in Shere for a soothing cup of tea and freshly baked scones at Hillly’s Tea Shop. Wander up the cobbled lane through the roofed gateway to Saint James Church (1190) with its striking spire and down Rectory Lane to the bubbling River Tillingbourne. It’s no wonder that charming Shere has been used as a location in countless movies, my favorite being The Holiday (2006). If you love traditional British pubs, stop by The White Horse, a former 15th-century farmhouse, where Cameron Diaz met up with Jude Law and the sparks of romance took off!

Pro Tip: With Christmas lights twinkling in the lead paned windows, snowflakes falling. Don’t miss Carols in the Shere Square on Christmas Eve.

Santa Llucia christmas market at night.
Alberto Zamorano / Shutterstock.com

6. Sitges, Spain

Sitges, a short 25-mile trip from Barcelona, is nicknamed the “Saint-Tropez” of Spain. Located on the Catalan coast, the swaying palms, narrow charming streets, 17 pristine beaches, and elegant architecture make it unforgettable. This Christmas movie setting mingles sandy beaches, glitz, bohemian flare from its long-standing artistic vibe, and old-world charm to create a unique experience. Sitges, one of the best-known LGBTQ+ travel destinations, is filled with rainbow-colored flags. Wander past white-washed buildings in the ancient core boasting artisanal shops and lively bars and restaurants. Spanish tapas and sangria anyone? How about a glass of local Malvasia de Sitges, a sweet dessert wine? Stroll along the pedestrian boulevard, Passeig Maritim, and marvel at the glittering Mediterranean Sea and the mild temperatures. Visit the Christmas market right in Sitges or take a short train ride to Barcelona and wander the 300 stalls of the Christmas market, Fira de Santa Llucia, dating back to 1786. Don a pair of ice skates and twirl around the rink in Plaza Catalunya in Barcelona or head to the small town of Vilanova il a Geltru and skate with the locals. 

Pro Tip: Don’t miss Mama’s Picanteria for a delicious combination of international flavors concocted by the creative chefs from their worldly travels. 

Cityscape and main square in Bruges (Belgium), Belfry Tower.
Silvan Bachmann / Shutterstock.com

7. Bruges, Belgium

Just the canals meandering through the medieval city of Bruges evoke a sense of romance and wonder but the “piece de resistance” is Grote Markt (Market Square). Grote Markt has been the beating heart of Bruges since 958. Stand before the impressive colorful-stepped facades and the 272-foot belfry tower with its carillon chiming a gentle tune and be immediately transported a few centuries back. Float along the canals under ancient stone bridges, admiring medieval buildings and spires at every turn. Bruges is the ultimate experience for curious souls. Search out the quiet squares, the oldest tavern from 1515, boutique chocolate-makers, some strong Belgian beer and you’ll be left feeling right at home. In December, the seasonal buzz is infectious. Shop windows glitter with Christmas lights and unique artisanal gifts while Grote Markt hosts a Christmas market including an ice-skating rink. And just to add to the ambience, tuck a blanket over your knees as you clip-clop down the cobbled streets in a horse-drawn carriage. 

Pro Tip: Climb up the 366 stairs of the belfry tower for panoramic and magnificent views. Can you see the windmills and the North Sea? The staircase gets quite narrow the higher you climb.

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Most beautiful towns in Europe

(CNN) — Paris, Rome, Barcelona… Europe’s cities are bucket list destinations, and rightly so. But the continent’s small towns are a dream, too, with all the beautiful architecture and much of the culture you’ll find in the big hitters, only with fewer crowds to share them with.

Here are some of the prettiest small towns across Europe, from humble fishing towns to hilltop medieval power bases.

Giethoorn, Netherlands

Giethoorn is often called the Dutch answer to Venice.

Giethoorn is often called the Dutch answer to Venice.

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They call it the Dutch answer to Venice, but Giethoorn lacks one crucial thing that the Italian city has in spades: overtourism. As in Venice, life revolves around the water, here — there are no cars in the center so the only way to get around is on foot or on the water.

Take a boat tour around the thatched houses sitting on peat-filled islands. Hungry? Stop at the Michelin-starred restaurant Hollands-Venetië.


Guimarães, Portugal

Guimarães is sleepy today, but it was Portugal's first capital.

Guimarães is sleepy today, but it was Portugal’s first capital.

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Guimarães is crucial to Portugal’s history — it was named the country’s first capital in the 12th century, and its medieval core remains largely intact, full of convents, grand old palaces and a crumbling castle, perched on top of a bluff.

Like everywhere in Portugal, local bakeries make a mean pastel de nata, but here you should try the local speciality: torta di Guimarães — a pastry filled with squash and ground almonds.

Roscoff, France

Roscoff is one of the cutest port towns in France.

Roscoff is one of the cutest port towns in France.

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Port towns can be grubby. Not lovely little Roscoff, though, in France’s Brittany region, which built its fortune on maritime trade, including exporting its famous pink onions to the UK.

Today, it’s a center of thalassotherapy, using seawater to treat medical conditions, as well as a beautiful Breton town. Tiny fishing boats bob in the small harbor — with a larger one, where ferries leave for Plymouth in the UK, further out.

Anghiari, Italy

Anghiari's streets were designed for Renaissance-era warriors.

Anghiari’s streets were designed for Renaissance-era warriors.

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Hovering on a hillside near the Tuscan-Umbrian border, Anghiari is a delight — a tiny walled town curling round itself as it clings to the landscape.

It’s a pedestrianized warren of alleyways and roller-coastering streets, packed full of grand palazzi which were built by the mysterious, mercenary “men of arms” who lived here in the Renaissance period.

Find out more about them at the Museo della Battaglia di Anghiari, which traces the history of a momentous medieval battle which took place on the plain outside town.

Nafplio, Greece

Nafplio was modern Greece's first capital.

Nafplio was modern Greece’s first capital.

Suzanne Plunkett

Gorgeous Nafplio straddles the Aegean Sea in the Peloponnese, with its Venetian-built castle thrusting into the water (in fact, there are three castles to visit here) and a pretty Old Town spooling out behind the old walls.

This was the first capital of modern Greece, so there are things to do in spades. There’s a lido, if you want to take a safe dip in the sea, and if history’s more your thing, the archeological museum contains items dating back to the Mycenean age.

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzigovina

Mostar's bridge draws visitors from all over the region.

Mostar’s bridge draws visitors from all over the region.

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Mostar’s Stari Most, or “Old Bridge,” built by the Ottomans in the 16th century, was long considered one of the finest examples of Balkan Islamic architecture.

Arcing high across the Neretva river, it’s one of the most famous sights in the Balkans, and traditionally locals dive from the bridge — today it’s a stop on the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series.

The bridge was destroyed in November 1993 by Croat forces during the Balkan wars. A reconstructed bridge was built in 2004, and today, Mostar is a beloved destination in Bosnia and Herzigovina, and a popular day trip from Dubrovnik, over the border in Croatia.

Mazara del Vallo, Sicily

Mazara del Vallo is one of Sicily's prettiest fishing towns.

Mazara del Vallo is one of Sicily’s prettiest fishing towns.

Ulrike Leone/Alamy

Sicily is a melting pot, and Mazara del Vallo typifies that. Founded by the Phoenicians nearly 3,000 years ago, it’s seen myriad cultures flow throungh the island — its Kasbah area is similar to a north African medina, there’s a strong Tunisia community, and you’ll be more likely to find couscous on the menu than pasta.

Its stand out attraction is the Satiro Danzante, or dancing satyr — an ancient bronze statue fished out of the sea in 1998.

Clovelly, UK

Donkeys used to be the only way to get around cute Clovelly.

Donkeys used to be the only way to get around cute Clovelly.

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Donkeys used to be the only way to get up and down the steep streets of Clovelly, a pretty fishing village in Devon, southwest England.

Today, they still haven’t managed to bring cars in — it sits at the bottom of a 400-foot cliff. Instead, goods are transported by man-powered sledges — and if tourists can’t face the walk back up to the car park, they can grab a ride in a Land Rover instead.

Dinkelsbühl, Germany

Dinkelsbühl sits on Germany's 'romantic road.'

Dinkelsbühl sits on Germany’s ‘romantic road.’

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A cute historic center, timbered houses and stout towers — Dinkelsbühl has it all. It sits plum on Germany’s “Romantic Road” — a route known for its ravishing towns.

Wrapped by medieval walls with a vast Gothic church, St George’s Minster, it was the setting for Werner Herzog’s film “The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser.”

Korčula, Croatia

Korčula sits on a peninsula danging off the island of the same name.

Korčula sits on a peninsula danging off the island of the same name.

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When an island sitting peacefully in the Adriatic Sea just isn’t enough, there’s Korčula, striking out from the island of the same name on a tiny peninsula.

Locals say adventurer Marco Polo was born here; Venetians dispute that. Either way, it’s a world-class town, with gleaming white streets and buildings hewn from local stone, water almost all the way round, and beautiful buildings left by the Venetians, who ruled here for centuries.

Kenmare, Ireland

Kenmare's one of Ireland's big foodie destinations.

Kenmare’s one of Ireland’s big foodie destinations.

Justin Hannaford/Alamy

On the southwestern tip of Ireland, the land melts into the ocean in County Kerry. Kenmare dandles on the bay of the same name, where the Roughty River slides into the sea.

This is in the middle of some of Ireland’s best loved ares — it’s on the Wild Atlantic Way, between the Ring of Kerry and the Ring of Beara. Kenmare is known for its food, and for its views — with grand mountains rearing up behind the pristine bay.

Piran, Slovenia

Piran makes the most of Slovenia's sliver of Adriatic coastline.

Piran makes the most of Slovenia’s sliver of Adriatic coastline.

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Slovenia only has a sliver of coastline, located on the top of the wedge-shaped Istrian peninsula, hanging in the Adriatic Sea.

Though small, this stretch of coast, sandwiched between Italy and Croatia, is home to several beautiful towns, including Piran. Developed by the Venetians, who conquered it in 1283, it’s a beautiful mini Venice, with a stout belltower, frothy architecture, and fishing boats docked in the tiny harbor.

Reine, Norway

Reine is Norway at its most picture perfect.

Reine is Norway at its most picture perfect.

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You want: a cute Norwegian town — remote, tiny, and waterside.You need: Reine, the joy of the Lofoten Islands, whose pretty red cabins sit at the base of craggy mountain peaks that make this a cross between the Dolomites and Ha Long Bay.

This is one of the most spectacular spots in the Lofoten archipelago — with a jawdropping viewpoint of the islands and the village, Reinebringen, just outside.

Regencos, Spain

Regencos sits peacefully inland from the Coast Brava beaches.

Regencos sits peacefully inland from the Coast Brava beaches.

Wikimedia Commons

As far as Spain’s tourist-filled coastlines go, the Costa Brava, in Catalonia, is relatively quiet — but it doesn’t hold a candle to peaceful Regencos, just 10 minutes inland. Just south of the “Dali Triangle,” the area where the surrealist artist lived and worked, it’s a mountain-fringed area of quiet medieval villages.

Regencos, slightly larger, has remnants of its medieval walls, a pretty church, and traditional stone houses whirling out from the center.

Tarnów, Poland

Tarnów is a city, but still has a small-town feel.

Tarnów is a city, but still has a small-town feel.

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First things first — this is a city. But wander the Old Town and you’ll find it still has that small-town feel, with pretty medieval buildings that give a feel of how nearby Krakow was before mass tourism arrived.

The Old Town square is a glorious mix of architectural styles, there’s a beautiful gothic church and a lot of Jewish heritage — though the community was more or less wiped out during the Second World War.

Top image: Nafplio, Greece. Credit: Adobe Stock

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‘Beautiful buildings wherever you look’: Germany’s best towns and villages, by readers | Germany holidays

Winning tip: A ‘film set’ close to the Polish border

We arrived in Görlitz, Germany’s most easterly town, to find it packed with peasants swilling beer from pewter mugs and devouring sausages to a background of drums and pipes. It was the annual medieval festival, and they take the past seriously here. That’s understandable: Görlitz is jammed with arcaded squares, ancient towers and magnificent churches that have bedazzled film-makers from Tarantino to Wes Anderson. We lucked into the building that served as the Grand Budapest Hotel – actually an art nouveau department store. We went to Poland for a beer – the town of Zgorzelec is just over the River Neisse – before returning to Görlitz for carousing, 15th-century style.
David Ellis

Black Forest bathing

Oppenau, Black Forest
Photograph: robertharding/Alamy

We had a great family holiday in the Black Forest near Oppenau. It’s a beautiful old small town but the best thing about it was the huge, public open-air swimming pool, with water slides, grassy picnic areas and a cafe. Best of all when you pay your tourist tax you receive free entry and free train travel around the Black Forest region. This means you can explore the small towns, lakes, forests and waterfalls by train.

Alpine views and a beach, near Munich

Sunset at Ammersee Lake, Herrsching am Ammersee.
Sunset at Ammersee Lake, Herrsching am Ammersee. Photograph: Alamy

Herrsching am Ammersee is a small town at the end of the S-Bahn line from Munich, next to Ammersee, a beautiful 15km-long glacial lake. There are views to the Bavarian Alps over 60km away, a promenade, and beaches where people swim in the summer. A short hike through the woods brings you to Kloster Andechs, a stunning Benedictine abbey on a hill overlooking the lake. The abbey brews its own beer and has a Biergarten where you can sip its brews – some with evocative names: Spezial Hell, Weizenbock and Bergbock Hell – and crunch on a Brezeln (pretzel) or two. If you over-indulge on the “hells”, Nefis, on Seestrasse, does the best Turkish meze and kebabs. Taking the boat to Dießen am Ammersee is also a must, as is hiring a bike to explore the many fairytale Bavarian villages nearby.


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Luther’s legacy, near Berlin

Town hall, period houses and St Mary’s Church, Lutherstadt Wittenberg.
Town hall, period houses and St Mary’s Church, Lutherstadt Wittenberg. Photograph: Alamy

Lutherstadt Wittenberg is a beautiful town less than an hour by train from Berlin. It’s the perfect place for a day trip or overnight stay. For a cheap stay, Wittenberg Youth Hostel (€28.50) is next to where, according to some accounts, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses. It’s a beautiful place, especially if you are a fan of reformation history. The market square is stunning at sunset, and there is a shop where you can by anything in Martin Luther form, including a tiny Lego Luther.

Into the Harz mountains, Lower Saxony

Goslar Glockenspiel
Goslar Glockenspiel. Photograph: McCanner/Alamy

I recommend Goslar, a Unesco-listed city in an untouched area in the Harz mountains. It’s a beautiful old town with a charming centre. The slate-clad Kaiserringhaus has a glockenspiel (pictured) and automatons that chime regularly each day. The enchanting figures act out scenes from Goslar’s mining past. Parts of the Martkbrunnen fountain date back to the 12th century, adding to the timeless atmosphere of the centre. A great trip from Goslar is to take a scenic ride on the narrow-gauge, steam Brocken railway, an ideal way to see some of the least-known natural landscapes in Germany.
Gerard Gordon

Medieval magic, northern Bavaria

Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Photograph: Alamy

The fortified hilltop city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber is not just a beautiful place to visit but one of Germany’s most significant historical centres. Ringed by a huge defensive wall punctuated by towering city gates, the enclosed warren of narrow streets, lanes and alleyways are a delight to wander. Lush parks and gardens are to be stumbled across among the quintessentially German medieval architecture of half-timbered and brightly painted and decorated buildings. Cafes, restaurants and beer halls abound, as do museums, not least the glittery Christmas Museum, the Medieval Crime and Justice Museum and the Imperial City Museum, celebrating the town’s long and prestigious history.
Graeme Black

Architectural oddity near the North Sea

Bremen readers pic
Photograph: Nigel Gann

Bremen is a fascinating, beautiful small city with ancient streets, a lively Marktplatz, art at the Kunsthalle from such diverse sources as Masolino, Dürer, Monet, Van Gogh, Beckmann, Cage and Paik, and the fine Theater am Goetheplatz. There’s great countryside around, with nature parks, castles and Bremerhaven, where there’s the excellent German Maritime Museum. There are loads of good restaurants outside and in, with sensible Covid restrictions. The Böttcherstraße, which hosts a plethora of arts and crafts shops, is a remarkable piece of interwar architecture, and there’s a hotel right in the middle of it in Atlantis House. The walks along the River Weser are lovely too.
Nigel Gann

Where Bach played the organ, Thüringen

View over the old town of Muhlhausen
Photograph: Alamy

Mühlhausen, in Thüringen in the former GDR, is a small town with a huge history. The young JS Bach was organist here, and you can hear organ music in the church where he worked. Earlier, the theologian Thomas Müntzer, who opposed both the Roman Catholic church and Martin Luther, preached here and was executed outside the city in 1525. The medieval centre is one of the largest in Germany, with beautiful churches and buildings wherever you look. There are lovely old wooden doors, behind one of which is the town hall where a friendly civil servant can lead you to the amazing painted council chamber. The train journey goes through quiet countryside to the sleepy station, far from the bustle of the big cities.
Barbara Forbes

Wonky wonder, Bavaria

the medieval town of Dinkelsbuhl on the romantic road
Photograph: Laura Di Biase/Alamy

Not too far from Nuremberg is the red-roofed medieval town of Dinkelsbühl. A trout-filled river, a city wall reminiscent of Carcassonne, and more taverns than you can shake a schnitzel at. In the middle of July the town is overflowing with lederhosen-wearing young people swilling beer at bunting-bedecked trestle tables in the central square – all as part of the Children’s Festival, which marks the town’s escape from decimation by the Swedish army when the general took pity on the local peasant children. Brightly coloured doors, wonky windows and curious cobbled streets make Dinklesbuhl a fantastic historic stay.

Handsome and Hanseatic, Lübeck

Holsten Gate (Holstentor), Lübeck
Holsten Gate (Holstentor), Photograph: Alamy

The moment you walk through Lübeck’s Unesco-listed Holstentor Gate (pictured) you find a city stuffed with treats. As the former capital of the Hanseatic League, it abounds in history and culture, and has the added bonus of being within a few kilometres of wide, sandy beaches. The highlight for me, though, was savouring the tastes and sights of its edible claim to fame: marzipan. After walking down Breite Straße and sampling Niederegger Café’s signature nut tart, I visited the free museum upstairs and saw, among other fascinating exhibits, lifesize, local figures, including novelist Thomas Mann, sculpted from almond paste.

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7 European Towns That Are Better In The Winter Than The Summer

I don’t know what it is about winter, but not only is it probably my favorite season, but it also suits certain cities so much better than summer. I admit that this view might be subjective, as all the cities listed in this round-up are also great places to visit during other seasons. But, somehow, the best season to visit, in my mind at least, is winter.

Maybe it has something to do with the season I first visited and got to know each place, and looking at the list again, this is true for quite a few of them, but not all. Whatever the reason, these cities just are much more atmospheric in winter: They are either adorned with snow or are dressed up for the festive season, or they are perfect for walking around while wrapped in a warm coat.  

Why don’t you go and have a look to see if you agree?

Winter in Tallinn, Estonia
Alex Stemmers / Shutterstock.com

1. Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is like a time-stood-still fairy tale city. The old center is snuggled within a sturdy medieval city wall, complete with lookout towers with red pointed roofs, and the cobbled lanes are hemmed with ancient buildings, some half-timbered, others painted in pastel shades. The market square sits alongside the old town hall, which dates to 1404, making it the oldest in the Baltic States. There are shops selling the loveliest local arts and crafts, with those little big-nosed gnomes, also called tomte or tonttu, which originate from Norse folklore, making the cutest addition to your mantlepiece back home.

Now add snow, add cafes and restaurants with large open fires and serving either mulled wine, or glöggi, and decadent hot chocolate, add an ice rink set against a row of colorful old houses, and people warmly dressed simply enjoying being out at the market square filled with stalls during the Christmas season, and you have the perfect winter atmosphere.

Pro Tip: Stay at the Hotel Telegraaf in the heart of the old town. A gorgeous old building, modern amenities, huge open fire, and a great restaurant.

A canal in Strasbourg, France
cge2010 / Shutterstock.com

2. Strasbourg, France

Choosing Strasbourg for this list was a no-brainer because it is the Christmas setting personified. I have never seen a city more decorated at Christmas than Strasbourg. Not one shop window or street is without twinkling lights, window decorations, or market stalls. You can barely take it all in, there is so much to see. Don’t get me wrong, I have visited in summer and enjoyed sitting out by the river, and loving the atmosphere of the old town, but if you only get to visit once, make it December, and take in Christmas in Strasbourg. It has to be seen to be believed. And don’t think that it is too much or tacky. Not at all. It is simply perfect.

Pro Tip: While there are big Christmas markets around the cathedral and on the main square, concentrate on the smaller ones in Petite France, the really old part of the old town, where half-timbered houses, covered bridges, and tiny squares add that extra-special ambiance.

A square in Stockholm, Sweden, decorated for Christmas
dimbar76 / Shutterstock.com

3. Stockholm, Sweden

This is definitely a case of first impressions made in the snow and loved ever since. The first time I visited Stockholm I arrived on a ferry from Germany that had just made its way across the frozen Baltic Sea, landing in Stockholm after it had just snowed. The Gamla Stan, the old town, the palaces in and around the city, the parks, the streets, the roofs, everything was covered in a thick layer of perfectly white snow, making the already lovely setting of countless islands, canals, bridges, and harbors even more special. While Stockholm is great in summer, with its people enjoying the light, warmth, and the chance to enjoy the water, I have always preferred it in the winter. Maybe because the city is set up for winter, and knows how to make the most of it, while also offering creature comforts and making every place snuggly and warm?

Pro Tip: If you are lucky enough to be there when fresh snow has fallen, head straight out to Drottningholm Palace which is particularly picturesque in the snow.

A harbor in Helsinki, Finland
canadastock / Shutterstock.com

 4. Helsinki, Finland

Another northern winter winner delight is Helsinki, and do you know why? Because I fell in love with one particular café/restaurant called Kappeli, which is decked out in countless twinkling lights that light up the entire Esplanade in winter’s dark nights. Walking around the old harbor, visiting the covered market, the arts and crafts huts alongside the harbor, and then turning into the wide Esplanade, the historic Kappeli restaurant — one side lovely café, another side very nice restaurant — stands there like a special Christmas decoration, and it does serve rather good food, too.

And the square in front of the Helsinki Cathedral, just off the Esplanade steps from Kappeli, is another lovely sight, with a huge Christmas tree in front of the white cathedral.

Pro Tip: Finland is known as the land with 5.3 million people and 3.3 million saunas, and while the Finns love them year round, they are even better in winter. Book yourself in and get warm.

Winter at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France
Ekaterina Pokrovsky / Shutterstock.com

5. Paris, France

I have always maintained that winter was my favorite season in Paris, much to the horror of Parisians, who easily get a chill. But not only is Paris more void of people in winter but also, it is possible to walk along the beautiful architecture without the leaves of the trees being in the way of appreciating the scene. Not that I do not like the trees in Paris, it is lovely for the city to be so green, but when you walk along looking up, you often miss the details of the buildings for trees.

And should you get snow that stays on the ground, then head straight for the Eiffel Tower. That might sound like unnecessary advice but trust me. Once it snows properly, all the metros and buses go on reduced service, and no one heads out. I had the entire Champ de Mars to myself, with four other people, managing to take wonderful pictures of a snowy Eiffel Tower without people. Just imagine.  

Pro Tip: Every winter there are lots of ice rinks popping up in Paris, and whether you join in or not, try and go to the Grand Palais. The setting is wonderful, and it serves warm drinks as well as chilled champagne, and you can just watch others fall over.

A view from Calton Hill in Edinburgh, Scotland
ABO PHOTOGRAPHY / Shutterstock.com

6. Edinburgh, Scotland

The capital of Scotland is truly lovely in all seasons, and even if it rains, it still has a certain charm. But Edinburgh pulls out all the stops not just for Christmas, with the steep lanes up to the castle looking particularly lovely, but especially over the New Year. This is the time to come and watch how the Scots party and celebrate Hogmanay. Come prepared and get a torch ready for the torchlight procession down the Royal Mile, and learn the words to “Auld Lang Syne,” which everybody bursts into at midnight.  

Pro Tip: On January 2, when the party is over and the hangover has abated, head to the Botanical Gardens for the last visiting time slots for the light trail. The lights are so pretty.

Decorations on a canal in Hamburg, Germany
Scirocco340 / Shutterstock.com

7. Hamburg, Germany

Hamburg is my hometown and I love all seasons there, in summer the canals and lakes are full of boats and paddlers, and the parks full of picnickers, and it is lovely to have a break from the famous schmuddelwetter, meaning the dirty weather, i.e., the rain that dominates spring and fall. In winter, there is usually another break from the rain, when it turns to snow. And if luck has it, it gets cold enough for the two lakes that dominate the city center to freeze over. When that happens, all of Hamburg gets on the ice — walking, skating, setting up sausage and mulled wine stands, and people basically picnicking on the ice.

Then there are the Christmas concerts, best enjoyed in the modern Elbphilharmonie with its great views, or the truly iconic Hamburg setting of the St. Michaelis Church, the “Michel” as locals call it.

Add to that the great Christmas markets, especially the one in front of the historic town hall, and you will get the idea why this city is just perfect in wintertime.

Pro Tip: Head to Konditorei Lindtner in the Eppendorf neighborhood. This is a traditional old café that embodies the Germans’ famous love of cake. Try the Lübecker Marzipantorte, a cream cake with a layer of marzipan on top. Very decadent, but in winter you burn more calories, so this doesn’t count.

Wintertime in Europe also means Christmas markets:

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‘Sleepy, leafy and lusciously bucolic’: France’s best towns and villages by readers | France holidays

Winning tip: Saint-Nectaire: picnic paradise, Puy-de-Dôme

I really loved the peacefulness of Saint-Nectaire. The local cheese is enough to put it on any list but it also has woodland trails, grottos, a spa and an 11th-century hilltop church. It’s also a wonderful base for exploring the Puys but you can’t beat taking a picnic (remember the cheese!) to nearby Lac Chambon and enjoying the crystal clear waters surrounded by ancient volcanic hills. We stayed at the family run Hotel Regina (doubles from €65 B&B) where our bathroom was in a turret.
Anthony T

Brouage – a sumptuous citadel south of La Rochelle

The ancient royal harbour of Brouage
Photograph: M@rcel/Alamy

Brouage is a fortified, star-shaped and once-coastal village in the Charente-Maritime region. The old battlements and eight-metre-high walls make for hours of exploring and give far-reaching views over the surrounding salt marshes (the sea is about 3km away nowadays). The pretty village feels somewhat like a Roman encampment; a hollyhock-lined grid of streets holds the quaint church of St Peter and St Paul with a model boat suspended from the ceiling; meanwhile, the quirky Musée du Vélo is a must for bike enthusiasts. A lazy lunch in the leafy garden of La Conserverie is recommended for a bit of shade, followed by plenty more playing at “archers” in the watchtowers atop the citadelle walls.
Anna Kennett

Medieval watery charm, L’Isle sur la Sorgue, Provence

Photograph: BTWImages/Alamy

This is a very pretty little town, 30km or so east of Avignon. Close to other perhaps more famous Luberon hotspots such as Ménerbes, Cavaillon and Gordes, it has its own distinct medieval watery charm because it was constructed on islands amid five arms of the Sorgue River. Wander round the compact centre, stroll along the Waterwheel Circuit (there are about 15 waterwheels around the village), view the stunning baroque church or simply sip a morning coffee or lunchtime pastis at a waterside cafe. Sunday is flea market day, and bartering is the norm.
Paul MacDermott


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Champagne and chocolate, Troyes

Troyes, France
Photograph: Jeanette Teare/Alamy

A little known medieval gem of a city in the Grand-Est, Troyes is full of beautiful half-timbered houses, narrow cobbled alleyways and glorious churches. Once the capital of the Champagne region Troyes is a great place to base yourself while visiting famous Champagne vineyards in the surrounding countryside. In town, one of several great places to sample some fizz is Aux Crieurs de Vins. Cellier Saint Pierre by the cathedral is a good place to buy a few bottles of regional plonk. The much-feted master chocolatier Pascal Caffet sells his exquisite confections in the heart of the ancient city. Look out for excellent restaurants and cafes by the side of the canal which flows through the centre of town and discover sculptures, art galleries and quirky museums. The modern art museum is particularly excellent. It’s all just 90 minutes on the train from Paris Gare de l’Est.

No petrol but lovely cheese, Bain-de-Bretagne, Brittany

Bertaud mill, Bain-de-Bretagne.
Bertaud mill, Bain-de-Bretagne. Photograph: Phil Wahlbrink/Alamy

I discovered Bain-de-Bretagne by accident when running out of fuel while driving south from Rennes to Nantes. A modest town in luscious Brittany countryside, it has bakeries with pain aux raisin so good I diverted for them on my way home. There is an enchanting village square with geraniums and outside tables for eating and relaxing with friends and an ancient church. It is sleepy, leafy and lusciously bucolic. I discovered a crèmerie with cheeses wrapped in wild flowers and a wine shop with great choices and even better advice. There is a tiny night market if you want to cook at home. I dreamed of it often in the bleak 2020/21 winter. I am going back soon.

Take the Roman road to Narbonne, Occitanie

Saint-Just Cathedral, Narbonne.
Saint-Just Cathedral, Narbonne. Photograph: John Kellerman/Alamy

We arrived in Narbonne for an afternoon trip from Béziers (just 12 minutes by train) and stayed for three days. Plenty of time then to explore the Palais Vieux, Palais Neuf and the 13-century Cathedrale Saint-Just et Saint-Pasteur. Don’t miss the section of Roman road preserved in the centre of Place de l’Hotel de Ville. Plenty of eating places along Canal de la Robine but our highlight was the bustling Les Halles where we managed to squeeze into an end table at Les Tapas de la Clape for great seafood, wine and coffee. For a place to stay we stumbled across Hotel La Résidence (doubles from €80 B&B) which unexpectedly gave us stunning views of the cathedral. Don’t miss (any) of it.

High on the ramparts, Montreuil-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calais

The historic old fortified ramparts of Montreuil sur Mer, France
Photograph: Ian Shaw/Alamy

The ramparts walk that circles the town of Montreuil-sur-Mer stands out for me, not least because the path is rather close to sheer drops in places, but also for the extensive views over the countryside and the town itself. I also enjoyed wandering the cobbled streets with their charming buildings and exploring the citadel. About an hour’s drive from Calais, there was once a seaport here before the Canche estuary silted up, explaining the “sur-Mer”. Victor Hugo used the town as a setting in Les Misérables – each summer Son et Lumière shows are performed at the citadel, celebrating this link.
Sharon Pinner

Hive of culture, Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, Burgundy

Saint Sauveur en Puisaye
Photograph: Hemis/Alamy

Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye in Burgundy, the birthplace of the writer Colette, is the village I return often, to replenish my energy in the midst of forests and lakes and castles. A colourful market town with diverse artists, galleries, funky bars, theatre, film evenings, music events, courtyard exhibitions, writer’s festival, even a British tea room. History lovers must see Guédelon, a 13th-century chateau construction. Visit La Poeterie, a sculpture garden with concerts and a deer herd. I spend long summers swimming in the Lac du Bourdon, eating Belgian-style chips while the sun set. Two hours from Paris, to quote the estate agents, it’s the place to be.

I adore Cahors, Occitanie

Pont Valentré.
Pont Valentré. Photograph: Laurent Fox/Getty Images

Nestled in a meander of the Lot river, Cahors lies protected by the limestone cliffs of the causses (bluffs). Medieval half-timbered buildings delight the eye whether wandering by foot or tourist train.A secret garden trail steeped in the area’s folklore begins with a vine garden at the medieval Pont Valentré bridge Seen from land or a boat trip, it is a worthy step on the pilgrimage way to Santiago de Campostela. Eat at the Petite Auberge for hearty local cuisine and local vin rouge and watch out for the exposed staircase beside it.
Clare Burke

Hooray for Auray, Brittany

Pont Neuf and the Port de St Goustan at night, Auray
Photograph: David Noton Photography/Alamy

I found the town of Auray, 100km or so north-west of Nantes, a lovely place to stay and the perfect base to explore the stunning southern coast of Brittany. It truly bustles on Monday market day, with stalls full of local produce cramming the main square. It’s also close to beautiful beaches as well as the neolithic sites around Carnac. The town’s port of Saint-Goustan is picturesque by day and magical at night, when street lamps reflect across the river by the old bridge. We really enjoyed the simple dining in restaurants lining the quayside and cobbled streets – Crêperie La Goustanaise was our favourite – serving delicious, inexpensive galettes (savoury filled crepes) and Breton cider.
Jean Rich

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