There are hidden gems of Europe in every part of the continent if you know where to look. Picture a seaside fishing village, a medieval church and houses perched on a cliff, or a secret pirate house in a wave-beaten oceanside cave. From Greece to Norway, Portugal to Croatia, here are some of the hidden gems of Europe recommended by European Best Destinations, a Brussels-based travel organization.
Asos, Kefalonia, Greece
This 500-year-old Greek village has crystal clear waters and a mild climate throughout the year. Enjoy the sun and beaches, as well as the region's local wines and cheeses at the nearby mountain vineyards.
This medieval city on the Alsace wine route is known as one of the most beautiful villages in France. The architecture, half-timbered houses and a 13th-century defensive gate and inner courtyards with old wells and fountains make Riquewihr a kind of open-air museum. Visit the Thieves Tower, the town's former prison, a 16th-century winemaker's house, and the 1291 Dolder Tower, which houses the Musee du Dolder, featuring centuries-old weapons.
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Islet of Virgin Mary, Parga, Greece
This charming little islet, just across from the port of Parga has a little church and a small fortress built by the French in the 18th century when they controlled the port. Swim or pedal boat up to its lovely beach from Parga, a resort town in northwestern Greece.
This small Ligurian town of less than 5,000 residents is a perfect destination for those looking to avoid the usual tourist spots. Bogliasco is an ancient fishing village perched on the coast a few miles south of Genoa, with a large piazza overlooking the sea.
Cala Figuera, Mallorca, Spain
Cala Figuera, on the island of Mallorca, is one of the most beautiful places in the Balearic Islands and one of the true hidden gems of Spain. It is a popular destination for artists from all over the world as well as tourists looking for authenticity and tranquility.
The birthplace of Pythagoras and the philosopher Epicurus, the island of Samos sits in the eastern Aegean Sea and is known for its sweet Muscat wine. The island is rich in history and beauty. Wander around the settlements, along old cobble streets, and see Sarakini Tower, a magnificent structure of the 16th century, a true fort of its era.
Civita di Bagnoregio, Italy
Civita di Bagnoregio, in central Italy, is actually two remote towns - Civita, a hilltop village accessed by a pedestrian bridge, and Bagnoregio, the more populated nearby village. Today, the medieval Civita has only about six year-round residents, so few that Civita is nicknamed "the Dying City." Supplies are brought in by mopeds.
The long bridge into Civita is steep and can be a challenging climb for some. Civita di Bagnoregio was founded by Etruscans more than 2,500 years ago. It was the birthplace of Saint Bonaventure, who died in 1274.
Rothenburg is well known for its well-preserved medieval old town, a destination for tourists from around the world. It is part of the popular Romantic Road through southern Germany. Stroll through the town and see the lovingly restored house fronts, fountains, gables, bay windows and street signs from a bygone age.
Preko is located on the island of Ugljan on the Adriatic Sea. The old center consists of typical Dalmatian architecture and numerous patrician family summer houses. In the mountains above Preko is the castle of St. Michael, which was built by Romans in the 6th century. Walk along the quay or sip a favorite drink on one of the terraces with a view of the Zadar Channel.
This clifftop village in south-central France is known for its complex of religious buildings, accessed by a long staircase. A holy city clinging to the steep rocky cliffs, it overlooks the Alzou River and is surrounded by the Causses du Quercy Regional Natural Park. The basilica of Saint-Sauveur and the crypt of Saint-Amadour, are both on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The jewel of the sanctuary, the Black Madonna, is kept in the Chapel of Miracles, one of eight chapels built against the rocks.
Slovenia's largest lake, Lake Bohinj, sits in a valley of the Julian Alps. During warmer months, this place is a paradise. This quiet valley features stunning landscapes and several small villages. See the 256-foot high Savica waterfall, swim in the lake, and taste the local products. In May, there is the International Festival of Wildflowers.
Faial, Azores, Portugal
This beautiful volcanic island in the Azores is knows as the Blue Island for the different colors of blue that decorate the houses. The Faial Nature Park protects 13 areas of the island. Faial is a tourist's island with a rich collection of historical, natural and modern attractions that annually attract yachts, cruise ships, tourist groups and naturalists.
This charming cliffside village on Italy's Amalfi Coast is a well-known holiday destination with steep, narrow streets and a pebble beach.
Wander among the boutiques and cafes, and see the beautiful 13th-century Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta with its Majolica-tiled dome. John Steinbeck called Positano "...a dream place that isn't quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone."
Menton, nestled on the French Riviera against the foothills of the Alps, is known for its beaches and gardens. The medieval old town is home to Basilique Saint-Michel, with its 18th-century bell tower. There are several public and private beaches in this sunny resort town.
Tellaro has long been a destination for artists, including writer and director Mario Soldati, who made it his home in the last years of his life. Soldati called this small cliffside fishing village "A nirvana between sea and sky, between the rocks and the green mountain."
Situated on the Adriatic Coast of Croatia, southeast of Dubrovnik, Cavtat offers lovely scenery, rich cultural and historical heritage and a range of services for visitors.
Santana (from the Portuguese Santa Ana, or St. Anne) is known for its traditional homes constructed with steep, triangular thatched roofs. These were mainly rural homes, used by local farmers, during the settlement of the island, with white walls, red doors and blue-trimmed windows. Today, most of the surviving buildings are tourist attractions.
The trulli, these whitewashed, cone-roofed stone huts of Alberobello, make up one of the 50 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy. The name derives from the Greek word for dome or cupola, and refers to the ancient stone houses with conical roofs, constructed with the limestone from the region. Alberobello's historic center is famous for these unusual white, pyramidal structures.
Polperro, Cornwall, England
Polperrro is a traditional Cornish fishing village in south Cornwall, and considered to be one of the most beautiful villages in the U.K.
Charming cottages cling to steep hillsides around a small harbor with spectacular views of land and sea, making it an artist's paradise. Stroll along the footpaths here, visit the tidal pool and take in the art at the many galleries.
Deia, Mallorca, Spain
Deia, located on the island of Mallorca in the Balearic Islands, is a small hidden gem located on the west side of the island. Enjoy the scenery and unspoiled nature of this millionaire's hideaway. Pierce Brosnan and Michael Douglas used to spend their holidays in Deia, as well as novelist and poet Robert Graves.
Cividale del Friuli, Italy
The historic center of this northern Italian village is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The 15th-century Ponte del Diavolo ("Devil's Bridge") leads to the church of San Martino, which contains an altar from the 8th century. According to the legend the devil offered the inhabitants of the town to build a bridge in exchange for the soul of the first person who would cross it. The clever locals fooled the devil and pushed a dog to cross the bridge first.
Camogli is a fishing village and tourist resort of about 5,000 residents located on the west side of the peninsula of Portofino, not far from Genoa. Camogli now thrives mainly on tourism and is known for its colorful houses that line the beach. The house colors once helped the fishermen of Camogli find the way back to their port.
This quiet little Norwegian village of just 110 people (and 500 goats) is a popular tourist destination. If it sounds familiar, it's because there's an IKEA collection of the same name. Goat cheese is a main source of income here.
This stunningly beautiful village in southern Italy dates back to the 5th century B.C. and has a number of historic sites. It's a good jumping-off point for touring other villages as well as the Lucanian Dolomites.
Pirate cave Poris de Candelaria, Tijarafe, Spain
The little "pirate village" near the town of Tijarafe in the Canary Islands offers a magnificent view of the ocean and good swimming when waters are calm. The steep drive and 7-mile walk are not for the faint of heart.
Zaandam, The Netherlands
Zaandam is the classic image of the Netherlands - a country of windmills, quaint villages, tulips and canals. It is about 30 minutes from Amsterdam. There are several villages in the area, the most interesting and authentic ones are Zaandijk and Zaandam.
One of the most photogenic cities in the Mediterranean, Piran is like stepping into a picture postcard. The narrow streets, old town wall and main square are evidence of the town's well-preserved charm.
This splendid Mediterranean sea resort with its pastel-colored houses, high-end boutiques and seafood restaurants also boasts an ancient marine culture, and of course, is another one of those spots beloved by artists and writers that have long sung its praises. The Piazzetta is a meeting-up point for the international jet-set, while the old port is still steeped in tradition.
Coimbra is a riverfront city in central Portugal and the country's former capital, and has its own special mystique. It is home to a preserved medieval old town and the historic University of Coimbra. Built on the grounds of a former palace, the university is famed for its baroque library and its 18th-century bell tower. In the city's old town lies the 12th-century Romanesque cathedral Sé Velha.
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The city of Hvar is a unique fusion of luxurious Mediterranean nature, rich cultural and historical heritage and tourism. The island on the Adriatic is best known as a summer resort, but has 13th-century walls, a hilltop fortress and a Renaissance-era cathedral on its main square. More great scenery includes beautiful beaches and inland lavender fields.