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World's 10 most picturesque villages

Sandra Ramani
February 24, 2012

Bibury, England (Photo: Travel Pictures Ltd / SuperStock)
Bibury, England (Photo: Travel Pictures Ltd / SuperStock)


Spend a few minutes in these 10 villages and you'll realize that "quaint" and "charming" aren't just adjectives, they are a way of life. You'll find the unique beauty in the stone cottages of what has been dubbed the most beautiful village in England, and along cobblestone streets lined with Gothic architecture in the Bohemia valley of Czech Republic. These are all functioning towns, with residents who keep local industries alive (check out the century-old trout farm) as well as preserving the town's look, which is why there's no building "taller than a coconut tree" on a certain Hawaiian island. The locals will be happy to clue you in to the best photo ops as well. Some of the spots are easier to get to than others (we've provided detailed info on how to reach them all below), but all are worthy of taking a detour—and maxing out your camera's memory card.

Bibury, England

Located on the River Coln in hilly west-central England, Bibury was described by 19th-century artist-writer William Morris as "the most beautiful village in England"—which is saying something in a country known for its watercolor views. Honey-colored 17th-century stone cottages, the Saxon Church of St. Mary, and a still-working 1902 trout farm are some of the ancient village's must-sees. The most photographed spot is Arlington Row, a collection of 14th-century stone buildings that were converted into weavers' cottages in the 1600s.

Getting There: The closest train station to Bibury is 12 miles away, in Kemble. Multiple trains make the 80-minute journey from London's Paddington Station (from $57 round-trip; nationalrail.co.uk). Cirencester, seven miles away, is linked to London by daily buses (from $30 round-trip; nationalexpress.com). There is no public transport directly to Bibury, but taxis are available and local hotels will often arrange transport for guests.

Savoca, Italy

The ruins of the Castello di Pentefur stand guard above Savoca, a historic Sicilian village located on a hill between the cities of Messina and Taormina, on the island's east coast. Thought to be about 1,000 years old, the town was a stand-in for too-developed Corleone in The Godfather, and fans can still visit the Chiesa di Santa Lucia church on Via San Michele, where Michael Corleone was married, then trace the newlyweds' walk down to Bar Vitelli on Piazza Fossia for some cooling lemon granita. Don't miss a visit to the Cappuccini Monastery on the northern end of town to view the collection of mummified monks, some dating back to the 1700s.

Getting There:  It's a little over an hour by car from the international airport in Catania to Savoca, or a scenic 40-minute drive from the popular resort town of Taormina. Many tour companies also offer day trips from Taormina, most of them with a Godfather theme ($170 for up to three people; sicilylimousineservice.com).

Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia

It's blue and white for as far as the eye can see in Sidi Bou Said. All of the buildings in this cliff-top village in northern Tunisia are stark white and adorned with vivid blue doors, shutters, and decorative ironwork—and backed by the deeper blues of the Bay of Tunis. Sometimes called the Montmartre of Tunisia, the village was a favorite of Swiss-German painter Paul Klee and writers Colette and Simone de Beauvoir. The bohemian vibe exists today, with day trippers coming to stroll the stone streets and visit the galleries and cafes.

Getting There: Sidi Bou Said is 13 miles from Tunis, and accessible via road or the TGM train (about $3 round-trip). Day tours are available.

Shirakawa-go, Japan

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, Shirakawa-go is known for its triangle-roof houses, built in a style known as gassho, that resemble hands folded in prayer. The hallmarks of the houses are roofs with 60-degree slopes (to help the snow slide off more easily) and attics used as warm spots for raising silkworms in winter. Not many of the traditional houses remain in the area, and some in Shirakawa-go (including the Wada House and Nagase House) are regularly open to the public. Once you've seen the interiors, head to the top of Ogimachi Castle for the best views of the houses as well as the surrounding Shogawa River Valley and mountains.

Getting There: Take the four-hour train ride from Tokyo to the town of Takayama (about $178, includes a transfer in Nagoya, hyperdia.com). Nohi Bus operates several buses a day to Shirakawa-go. The ride takes about 50 minutes ($54 roundtrip, nouhibus.co.jp).

Shirakawa-go (Photo: Ekaterina Pokrovsky / Dreamstime.com)
Shirakawa-go (Photo: Ekaterina Pokrovsky / Dreamstime.com)

Wengen, Switzerland (Photo: age fotostock / SuperStock)
Wengen, Switzerland (Photo: age fotostock / SuperStock)

Wengen, Switzerland

Thanks to an Alpine location and traditional timber chalets, Wengen is the Swiss village of your dreams and looks like something straight out of Heidi (the fact that cars have been banned here for more than 100 years also adds to the charm). The alpine mountain village has been a tourist hub since the late 1800s, when notable guests like writer Mary Shelley sang Wengen's praises (she wrote Frankenstein while traveling in Switzerland, and described the Alps as ""belonging to another earth"). Many of the belle époque hotels of the era remain, including the Hotel Bellevue (from $235 per night; bellevue-wengen.ch). The village's altitude of almost 4,200 feet attracts skiers, of course, increasing the population almost ten-fold in the winter to around 10,000.

Getting There: Since cars are not allowed, travelers coming by road must park in Lauterbrunnen and take a 15-minute train ride up to town ($3.50; swisstravelsystem.ch). Train service is available from Interlaken as well; the ride takes about 45 minutes from Wengen ($7.45; swisstravelsystem.ch).

Eze, France

Sweeping Mediterranean views and tons of medieval charm have made this cliff-top town a popular stop on the French Riviera. Thanks to its key location near Nice, Eze was coveted by various invaders over the centuries, and this tangled history is reflected in its architecture—from the baroque church's Egyptian cross dating back to the Phoenicians to the Genovese-style bell turret on the 14th-century Chapelle de la Sainte Croix. Not surprisingly, the fairy-tale village was a favorite of Walt Disney's.

Getting There: Eze is about a 30-minute bus ride from Nice ($1.50, lignesdazur.com) and 15 minutes from Monaco ($1.50, lignesdazur.com).

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

One of the oldest villages in the Czech Republic, Cesky Krumlov is set in a valley in Bohemia south of the Blansko Forest and circled by the Vltava River. The village grew up around the 13th-century Gothic castle of the Lords of Krumlov, which has 40 buildings and palaces, gardens, and turrets and today is a major performing arts location. The cobblestone streets of Cesky Krumlov's Old Town are lined with Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance buildings housing art galleries, cafes, and quaint B&Bs. One of the best ways to experience the town is to take a ride down the Vltava on a wooden raft ($24, en.ceskykrumlov-info.cz).

Getting There: Prague, about 110 miles away, is connected to Cesky Krumlov by a three-hour bus ride ($10 each way; jizdnirady.idnes.cz).

Pariangan, West Sumatra, Indonesia

The active Mount Marapi volcano looms over this spot in Indonesia's Western Sumatra province, a protected national monument. Pariangan is said to be the oldest—and most culturally significant—village of the Minangkabau people and has numerous well-preserved examples of traditional Minangkabau pointed-roof architecture, including a 300-year-old house with woven rattan walls and wood carvings and a 19th-century mosque with still-operating communal hot springs.

Getting There: Pariangan is about nine miles by car from Batusangkar, the capital of the Tanah Datar regency in western Sumatra. The closest airport is in Padang, linked by air to major cities like Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur.

Göreme, Turkey

The iconic "fairy chimney" rock formations of Cappadocia surround the village of Göreme in Turkey's Central Anatolia region. First settled back in Roman times, the town (which has gone by several names throughout history) is today best known for its national park/open-air museum, which features some of the best-preserved examples of ancient cave churches and monasteries. The town itself has several "pigeon houses" carved right into the rocks. There are also funky cave hotels like the Kelebek Hotel, where 18 of the 35 rooms are carved into the cave (from $53; kelebekhotel.com). Nearby Uchisar offers a great view of Göreme from its hilltop castle, the highest point in the valley.

Getting There: There are regular flights from Istanbul to Kayseri, about 43 miles from Göreme. Shuttle service is available from the airport (about $13 each way; goreme.com) and most hotels can arrange transfers.

St. George, Bermuda

St. George is the oldest continually occupied English town in the Americas, and little has changed since the Brits established residence here in 1612. Sure, nowadays you've got gourmet restaurants, hopping bars, and upscale shops specializing in things like hand-rolled cigars and custom-made perfumes. But it's all surrounded by beautifully preserved colonial architecture and historic sites like Fort St. Catherine, the 17th-century stone State House, and St. Peter's Church, the oldest continuously occupied Anglican church in the Western Hemisphere.

Getting There: Bermuda is less than a two-hour flight from most Northeast U.S. cities. St. George is just over the bay from the international airport.

In pictures: World's Most Picturesque Villages

Eze, France (Photo: Samuel Strickler / Dreamstime.com)
Eze, France (Photo: Samuel Strickler / Dreamstime.com)

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic (Photo: Mikhail Markovskiy/Dreamstime.com)
Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic (Photo: Mikhail Markovskiy/Dreamstime.com)

St. George, Bermuda (Photo: George Oze / Alamy)
St. George, Bermuda (Photo: George Oze / Alamy)