Where on earth do you even start to list the top 10 most beautiful villages in Europe? The list goes into thousands, of course, so we decided to put it out to our favourite experts.
We’re going to get personal here and base our choices for the top 10 most beautiful villages in Europe on our team’s travels, rather than places that have won awards, are protected by UNESCO or national park status, or even boast France’s prestigious nomenclature of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. Of course, some of our personal favourites may have these accolades too but, because in reality it’s impossible to pick a top ten, we put it out to a team vote. These are also all villages that feature on our walking or cycling holidays, sometimes ones where you get to spend a night, or where you definitely want to dawdle for a while longer before hitting the hills again. So forgive our subjectiveness. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all.
Anton am Arlberg, Austria
Anton am Arlberg, in the Tyrolean Alps, is an award-winner, not just with us but also with the UN World Tourism Organisation, chosen as one of the best tourism villages in 2023. Our criteria come down to the fact that it’s a stupendous starting point for people walking the Lechweg Trail or cycling the Lechradweg. You arrive into this idyllic village by train and immediately get a sense of the landscapes and love of all things Tyrolean that await. Although it’s a modern skiing mecca, it’s also deeply ingrained in Alpine tradition, with two thirds of the community practising farming, they have their own dialect and are loyal stewards of their surroundings, with cable cars straight out of the village to take you to nearby peaks such as and Galzig (2,184m) and Valluga (2,811m).
It’s a slight cheat as it’s categorised as a small town rather than a village, but it’s still got a village vibe really. It’s also perfectly perched, boasts a palette of the prettiest colours, and it’s just one of a collection of shamelessly stunning villages along the Amalfi Coast. Be warned though, Positano gets positively packed in peak summer months, but thankfully our walking holidays along the Amalfi Coast run between March and October, so you can happily saunter there in the still shimmering shoulder seasons. And you will feel the love, we can assure you, with its vertical display of architectural wonders, a backdrop of the Monti Lattari, and a foreground of pebbly beaches and the Med. Two of the best ways to take in its beauty is by swimming out a bit and looking back, but also by taking on a walk into the valley above it, such as on this holiday, following ancient footpaths up to Santa Maria al Castello fortress. If that has you craving the Amalfi, check out our blog on The best time to go to the Amalfi Coast.
The starting point for our Snowdonia walking holiday, and short walking break, Beddgelert is in the heart of Snowdonia National Park, which is now known by its Welsh name of Eryri. The village, which has a resident population of only 450 people, lies at the confluence of the rivers Afon Glaslyn and Afon Colwyn, and is enveloped by the foothills of Snowdonia, including Hebog Ridge to the west, and Craig Wen or Yr Aran to the north. On our short break holiday, you stay in Beddgelert throughout, with a choice of several traditional, charming hotels, all of which give immediate access to walks around the village. These include trails through moorlands and woodland, river and rural trails to the likes of Sygun Copper Mine, Llyn Dinas Lake and Mynydd Llyndy, where you have superb views of Snowdonia in all directions.
For medieval and Mudéjar architecture, along with pink houses set into a rocky promontory with balconies overlooking the Río Guadalaviar below, it doesn’t get more dramatic or aesthetic than Albarracín. Everything hangs off the earthy cliffs here it would seem, including churches, fortresses and restaurants, and your jaw will be hanging too when you see Albarracín for the first time. Which you can do on our cycling holiday along the Via Verde de Ojos Negros, with your adventure starting in Albarracín, or while cycling from Madrid to Valencia, arriving into Albarracín from Tragacete on a day that hangs in your memory for a long time to come.
Cinque Terre, Italy
Slight cheat again, as we are rolling five villages into one for this favourite, but then again so did the national park authority, which bundled the beauties of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore into Cinque Terre National Park. They are all jewels in the crown of the national park, linked by the Azure Trail which you can hike on this holiday. It’s best to do so out of season, so that you can take in the colourful streets and winding alleys of Manarola, secret swimming spots of Riomaggiore, or the ruined castle or chic boutiques of Vernazza. The best way to choose your fave of the five is to do so over a glass of their famous dessert wine, Sciacchetrà.
This is another high five, as Gordes is just one of the stars of these celebrated hilltop villages in the Verdon region of Provence. The other four French fancies are Lacoste, Bonnieux, Saignon and Roussillon, with plenty others scattered around these limestone cliffs, canyons and ridges. Gordes is as close to Provençal perfection as you can imagine, with an 11th-century castle, plenty of property porn if that’s your thing, with ancient stone houses that have been ravishingly restored, all looking like shining jewels on the hill at sunset. Which you could catch on our Hidden gems of Provence holiday as you walk into the village from St. Remy on day three, or on this Winter sun walking holiday, when you approach from Cabrières d’Avignon. It is also a stop on two of our cycling holidays in Provence, one that lasts eight days and the other six days.
Shiroka Laka, Bulgaria
Shiroka Laka is famous for its 18th-century Revival period stone and wooden houses which line the riverfront here. This village is not only in the heart of trekking land, it is also an important architectural and cultural artery, where folklore is fundamental, with the National School of Folk Arts established in Shiroka Laka in 1972. We are delighted to bring our natural adventurers here on our various walking holidays, as it’s located in the heart of the Rhodope Mountains at an altitude of 1,060m. High enough to escape some of the Ottoman invaders, as many of the houses have built-in cupboards and small cellars with hiding places, where people kept their valuables and weapons during this time. If the walls of this pretty village could tell stories. Although our guide on this small group holiday will have plenty for you.
It’s not all ancient here, however, with a spa hotel in its heart which features on our Rhodope Mountains holiday and our Walking and spa holiday, with one of the most spectacular walks within the Rhodopes being from Shiroka Laka to Gela, a small village in the Oreshica River valley.
Stein am Rhein, Switzerland
We are throwing one more small town rather than a village into the mix, because it’s rude not to include Stein am Rhein in this beauty parade really. Not only a refined riverside burg, Stein am Rhein is also just 25km from Bodensee, or Lake Constance, which borders three countries, Switzerland being one. Its architecture is so fairytale-like, you almost have to touch it to make sure it isn’t made from gingerbread. Its medieval centre is a maze of small streets with perfect shops and coffee houses, the perfectly painted houses are reflected in the river on a clear day, and even the most hardened ‘I refuse to turn on my phone to take a photo’ person will be grabbing a gadget. Cycle through it on this Lake Constance cycling holiday, and although this one starts and ends in Konstanz, you could always plan an extra day at the end of the trip, and take a 37mins train journey to Stein am Rhein.
This Cantabrian cultural hotspot is a revelation for many visitors, and is still very much off the international tourism map. Potes is beyond pretty, surrounded by mountains and fed by a collection of rivers and streams, with the ancient bridges of San Cayetano and La Cárcel taking you over the Quiviesa River. Its historic quarter dates back to the 14th century when it was home to the son of King Alfonso XI of Castile. From its impressive tower, Torre del Infantado to its historic mansions and churches, we think this is one of the most glorious spots on our Camino Lebaiego tour, as well as a perfect rest day in the middle of our Picos de Europa Circuit walking holiday.
Crail is considered one of the most photographed villages along the Fife Coastal Path, a 174km walking trail between Kincardine, north-west of Edinburgh, up to Newburgh, walking between the Forth and Tay estuaries. If you walk the complete Fife Coastal Path, you come to Crail on day six, spending the night in this idyllic harbour village, before heading to the town of St. Andrews, also on the coast. Crail dates back to medieval times, and its narrow streets of traditional cottages and 12th-century church and steeple make you feel like you’re in Cornwall but without the crowds. It also has fishing running through its veins, and the Crail Museum and Heritage Centre curates that heritage perfectly. As does its Food Festival in early summer. If you don’t have time to walk the complete Fife Coastal Path, Crail is a perfect overnight stop on this six day section between Burntisland and St. Andrews.
We hope you have enjoyed our journey through our top 10 most beautiful villages in Europe. For other lesser known beauty spots, you may also enjoy our blogs on Lesser-known lake districts, Walking breaks to combine with city breaks and Lesser-known national parks.