The countryside has always represented life, terroir, and the harvest. And beyond stunning landscapes, every rural destination has something unique to offer besides a place to embrace serenity.
From the perched villages of the French Riviera to the verdant heart of Italy, get ready for a journey to five different countries where nature awaits.
The perched villages of Côte-d’Azur, France
Forget Cannes or Nice, and head to Èze, a bucolic village perched 1300-feet above the sea, connected by verdant footpaths. Wander through its winding cobblestone streets where colorful pottery, vines and ivy adorn arches and stone houses and numerous art galleries and workshops abound. Don’t miss the Exotic Garden of Èze, set in the ruins of an ancient fortress and filled with cacti, agave, aloe, and other tropical plants.
Near the Italian border at 2,600 feet above sea level sits Tende, a picturesque spot in the Roya Valley. After visiting the medieval highlights such as the Baroque church of Notre-Dame de l’Assomption, ascend into the Vallée des Merveilles, a glacial archeological site on Mont Bégo dotted with lakes and prehistoric engravings dating back to the Bronze Age. For a more relaxed pace, take a rest in one of the refuges along the way.
The verdant slopes of the Highlands, Scotland
Fort William, known as the “Outdoor Capital of the United Kingdom,” is surrounded by Loch Linnhe and the majestic Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the United Kingdom.
Here nature lovers can easily access wildlife and contemplate the mystical landscapes of the Highlands. Experienced hikers can plan a 10-mile-long trek to Ben Nevis’ summit, passing through the Glen Nevis Valley, one of the filming locations for Braveheart. Savor a walk along Loch Linnhe or take a boat trip to watch the Blackrock seals and golden eagles.
Complete your discovery at Glenfinnan, in the footsteps of Harry Potter. At the north of the Scottish village, you’ll find the Glenfinnan viaduct, where the Jacobite Express, aka the Hogwarts Express, runs. Don’t miss the steam locomotive on the viaduct around 10:15 a.m. for the perfect picture!
The historic wonders of Umbria, Italy
One of the richest Italian villages in terms of art and cultural heritage, Orvieto’s past has been marked by Etruscans, Goths, Byzantines, and Lombards since the ninth century B.C. From the magnificent Gothic cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Cielo to the medieval palazzos, many architectural relics await. As old as the village itself, Orvieto’s local white wine tradition is no less impressive. Dating back to ancient times, Etruscans stored the wine in cellars underground. With sweet fragrances of peach, Orvieto DOC wine is made from local Grechetto and Procanico grapes.
At Spello, a fortified village perfectly blending medieval and Roman architecture, a dreamy journey back in time awaits along its winding floral streets, stone houses, arches, and Roman ruins. Spello is well known for its flower carpet festival, where patterns and paintings made of flowers picked on Mount Subasio and the Umbria-Marche Apennines adorn alleys.
The fairytale romance of Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany
In the Rhineland-Palatinate, often referred to as “Romantic Germany,” the small town of Bacharach peacefully lies along the Rhine river, with a landscape shaped by vineyards, river valleys, and castles.
The old town offers a fairytale-like setting with charming half-timbered houses, and many of the medieval buildings boast restaurants and hotels with terraces. Head to Altkölnischer Hof on the main market square, to enjoy hearty local dishes such as Rhenish wild game specialties. For the best views over the village, take the Stahlberg-Schleife hiking trail, starting at the ruins of the Wernerkapelle and leading you to the heights of the sloping vineyards and other historic sites such as the Stahleck Castle, now a youth hostel.
Just as enchanting but more colorful, Cochem is located a little further west, on the banks of the Moselle river. Its majestic neo-Gothic castle sits atop the village, where you can, after a visit, enjoy a medieval feast served and hosted by costumed waitstaff. If you prefer a less tumultuous experience, a peculiar tour of the old town awaits each Saturday evening at 8:30 p.m., guided by Cochem’s night watchman, dressed-up and carrying a lantern, a horn, and even a halberd, who will regale you with tales of bygone days.
The peaks and valleys of the Pre-Alps, Switzerland
At the foot of the Pre-Alps, Gruyères is a pedestrian medieval village, with a rustic and traditional setting along its cobbled streets lined with 15th- and 17th-century houses. After visiting the Château de Gruyères, where storytellers dressed in medieval costumes guide you, enjoy a tasty break in the birthplace of Gruyère cheese at Gruyère Traditions. Here, local specialties such as fondue, rösti (potato pancakes), or croûte au fromage (gratinated wine-soaked bread accompanied by ham).
In the Italian side of Switzerland, the old fishing municipality of Morcote surprises with scenic topography. While its lower part is lined with seigneurial residences and arcaded houses along Lake Lugano, the higher part overlooks the village, with the church of Santa Maria del Sasso at the top.
Reach this Renaissance gem by climbing the 400 steps, and be rewarded with a breathtaking panoramic view of the lake. Don’t miss Scherrer Park, a small paradise embellished with palm trees, eucalyptus, camellias, and many other plants.