Chris and I are always looking for charming European towns to add to our travel Itinerary. We think we discovered a few you might just love as well.
Ghent, Belgium – A Charming European Town
When Chris and I arrived at the Marriott in Ghent, it was quite late at night. From the entrance, the exterior of the hotel had a modern look to it.
We planned our stay at this Marriott using hotel reward points. Want to know how to maximize your travel reward points? Here are 6 Steps to Plan Travel with Reward Points.
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From the front entrance the hotel gave off a totally modern vibe; inside the lobby, it was a spectacle of glass and structure. Ghent wasn’t immediately living up to the hype of being a charming European town.
At then at the back of the hotel—in the restaurant—Chris and I stepped back in time.
We found beautiful stained glass windows, wide-plank wood floors, and fantastic beamed ceilings as we sat down to breakfast.
Apparently, Marriott had purchased three row homes along the canal and refurbished the homes into a hotel, keeping the rear of the hotel exterior as it had once been.
Chris and I exited at the rear of the hotel after breakfast and walked into a medieval storybook setting with the buildings, the canal, the cobbled streets, the smell, the beautiful sunshine. It was THE quintessential charming European town.
And we couldn’t have asked for better weather. For November, we were just wearing our Fleece Jackets(affiliate).
Our path took us onto Korenlei Street next to the canal in the center of the historic district. The sights and sounds were just amazing. We continued past the Korenmarkt and St. Nicholas’ Church to St. Bavo’s Cathedral.
There was something like 300 crazy narrow steps to the top of the church to the bell tower!
Good to note that there was an elevator that you could take part of the way up. Every 15 minutes the bells chimed and on the hour music played; we happened to be in the room where the large organ grinder type thing started to play. It wasn’t too loud, but cool.
Ghent boasts a castle surrounded by a moat. If you tour the site, you will be able to see the castle’s gatehouse, keep, ramparts, count’s residence, and stables. And don’t overlook the castle’s unique collection of torture devices.
We enjoyed a boat tour along the canal after exploring St. Bavo’s Cathedral and St. Nicholas’ church. Our guide, Matt, gave the tour in French and then English. I LOVED Ghent. It was a hidden gem we were thrilled to find and explore.
The view from St. Michael’s bridge at night offered a beautiful vista of the romantic side of Ghent. My husband snapped this awesome picture with his iPhone(affiliate).
Check out more of my Favorite Photos of Belgium.
Colmar and Riquewihr, France
On our way from Strasbourg, France to Freiberg, Germany we stopped at charming European towns two and three—Colmar and Riquewihr. The scenery was beautiful as we zoomed through the countryside.
Chris had done extensive research to determine that though we couldn’t leave our luggage at the Colmar train station, we could leave it at the bike store adjacent to the train station for a small fee. We had thought we might rent bikes later in the day, so this was a perfect option. (You’ll want to contact the bike store directly to see if this is a service they still provide.)
The timing here was perfect. The bike shop closed at noon and we arrived at 11:45 am to drop off our luggage.
We then quickly found the bus to Riquewihr for the noon departure. Our family was the only riders on the bus as we passed through the French countryside dotted with vineyards and farms.
We stepped off the bus into a fairy tale. Apparently, the animators and creators of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast came to Riquewihr when looking for inspiration in creating that old provincial town. If ever there was a charming European town, this was it.
And you could see the charm the moment you stepped under the arch into Riquewihr.
The scene was delightful and picturesque. It has been classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France. If you go, you’ll see why. It didn’t even seem too overrun with tourists. At least not when we arrived.
We found this cute little sidewalk cafe for lunch—Restaurant-Pizzeria du Vignoble. It was out of the way of the main flow of tourists and a perfect place to enjoy lunch on the patio.
We spent the afternoon happily wandering the streets, taking pictures, and checking out the many shops. It did get busier later in the afternoon…and it started to rain just as we were ready to leave. We stood under an awning waiting out the rain while also waiting for a taxi to come and pick us up.
We shared the awning with a British couple who were happy to chat. They were so much fun. The new word that Chris taught the British lady—hangry: to be hungry and angry all at once. She said it fit her son’s personality perfectly. “Oh, I’ll remember that one,” she quipped.
As we returned to Colmar, our taxi driver dropped us off in the Old Town of Colmar (another charming European town) and we wandered around the cobbled streets, stopping at some of the quaint shops, and drooling over the patisserie windows. We may have sampled a few of their wares.
Want to see more photos?
Take a peak at more of my Favorite Photos of France in 2017 and each charming European town that we visited.
Segovia was the perfect day trip from Madrid. We hopped on one of the fast trains out of Chamartin Train Station in Madrid.
Segovia, a town in the higher mountain regions of Spain, sported chilly temperatures in the 40s for our November day of touring yet it still met our charming European town requirements.
Chris and I were grateful for the warmth of our Puffy Jackets(affiliate). We joked that we were the “puffies” on vacation in Segovia! I will admit I was getting pretty tired of the puffy jacket. Mine was leaking feathers all over my clothes! (I bought this new one when we got home.)
The train station in Segovia was quite a distance from the city, not walkable for sure. We took a bus in to the Aqueduct bus stop and from there walked up the hill away from the Aqueduct (where all of the other recently arrived tourists were congregating) and continued on toward the Alcazar of Segovia (literally meaning Segovia Fortress) a castle on the far end of town.
Our intent was to outsmart the tourists and work our way back to see the Aqueduct later in the day as we visited this charming European town.
In our research, Chris and I learned that Segovia was famous for three main attractions: the Roman Aqueduct, the cathedral, and the castle.
Hurrying past all of the tourists, we arrived at the castle and purchased tickets that included an audio tour of the castle. Apparently this castle was used as a model for Disney’s Cinderella castle.
As far as castles go, this castle was perfectly situated as it was completely impenetrable and inescapable, used at one time to house prisoners.
We loved the views of the city from the top of the castle, posting photos to Instagram from our iPhones(affiliate) while we were there.
Chris ordered pizza, and I ordered Gnocchi a la Bolognese. Even in Europe, I changed my ordered to my liking. There was so much food; one meal between the two of us would have been fine.
As the afternoon wore on, the sun sunk in the sky and started to cool off the temperatures even more. We checked out the Segovia Cathedral (it was really dark inside) and other structures close to the main square.
Chris and I followed winding streets, hoping to pop out at the top of the Aqueduct. Success!
After the necessary picture-taking (switching back and forth between my Canon 6d Mark II and my cell phone camera), we took the stairs down to the base of the Aqueduct.
The Aqueduct, amazingly well preserved, was built by the Romans around 50 BC. It’s two tiers of arches have stood strong over the years, as the structure was designed and built with un-mortared, brick-like granite blocks.
Before leaving Segovia, Chris and I warmed up with delicious Spanish hot chocolate.
We took a bumpy number 11 bus back to the train station, a train back to Chamartin, and a metro to Puerto del Sol.
Chris found this cool restaurant on Yelp called Takos Al Pastor. It was a trendy spot offering tacos for 1€. The queue formed out the door; we waited for about 30 minutes before ordering something we hoped would be great. It was tasty and messy—fingers only and a “ten-napkin” meal for me. If you are ever in Madrid, Chris and I highly recommend it.
- Check out more of my Favorite Photos of Spain here.
Lourmarin, nestled in the Luberon Valley, was about one hour from Aix-en-Provence. The Luberon Valley offered one little charming European town after another of picturesque beauty.
As Chris and I drove, we enjoyed the beautiful vineyards with yellow changing leaves, olive gardens, apple orchards, and rolling hills. We were both enchanted with Lourmarin.
Because I tend to wander about with My Camera(affiliate) (I hadn’t upgraded to this yet) where ever I travel, I especially loved the charm of Lourmarin. It was just a lovely little village with the cutest shops. I was telling Chris that the French really know how to create a vignette to draw you in to their stores, as well as picturesque scenes as you drive to make the passing countryside even more beautiful.
Since we were visiting late in the season, there were a lot or shops and restaurants that weren’t open. Of the shops that we did visit, we were always welcomed in with “bonjour”. We felt welcome in this charming European town and all the other ones we were able to visit as we toured the South of France.
We enjoyed dinner at L’Insolite on our return to Aix-en-Provence.
- This picture with the curved stairs and blue doors is one of my all time Favorite Photos of the South of France. In fact, my husband had it printed on metal and it is stunning. If you are ever interested in purchasing this photo as a metal print, let me know.
The clouds rolled in for the afternoon as we set off toward Hallstatt, a charming European town tucked into the mountainside next to Hallstatt Lake in the Salzkammergut Region of Austria. Hallstatt is famous for its salt mines.
We stopped at a bathroom before entering the town and amazingly enough, they were free to use. Not always the case as most public restrooms are usually 50 euro per person to use.
Just as we arrived on the main street of town, rain started with a few drops here and there, and then it just poured.
We stood under a tree on the patio of a restaurant, keeping dry and watching as the wait staff secured the outdoor seating area.
The tourists hurried back to their cars and the streets of this charming European town were left bare except for a few patient tourists such as ourselves who had waited out the rain.
Really, it was like watching ants pouring out of their anthill!
It took about a half an hour for the rain to stop, and when it did, we had most of the town to ourselves. And it was delightful.
Hallstatt has been named the most Instagrammable town in the world. As such, it is often overrun by tourists. It was a blessing in disguise to have a rainy day for our visit to this charming European town.
Don’t forget to journal your travel experiences along the way. Check out my latest lined, blank Travel Journal on Amazon.
Final Thoughts on Charming European Towns to Explore
I would happily return to any of these amazing towns. They were charming, beautiful, and welcoming.