Get your camera ready. Once you’ve laid eyes on Europe’s most charming mountain villages, you may not want to put it down. You also may not ever want to leave. These are the places that fairy tales are made of, only they happen to be real. From medieval villages in Spain to traditional timber chalets in Switzerland, to the towering mountain-side fortresses of San Marino, these small but fully functioning towns are waiting to warmly welcome visitors who appreciate their quaint style of living.
When you think of a typical European mountain village, your thoughts might turn to a scene out of the well-loved Heidi story set high in the Swiss Alps. And you wouldn’t be too far off. But Switzerland is just the beginning; there are many more picturesque mountain towns featuring some of the most breathtaking backdrops in the world. Find them in the snow-covered Italian Dolomites, the Spanish and French Pyrenees, and in Scandinavia and beyond.
Time slows down just a little in towns like Gimmelwald, perfectly perched on the edge of a cliff in the bucolic Bernese Highlands of Switzerland. Situated in the shadow of Jungfrau Mountain, it’s a touch off the beaten path, but the pristine alpine views are well worth a stop. “Alp-aholics” are crazy about Gimmelwald for its ready access to hiking and climbing trails. Ride the modern gondola to the peak of 10,000-foot Schilthorn Mountain, where a revolving restaurant offers unforgettable 360-degree views. Hike your way down for an extra challenge.
Get your medieval history fix in Albarracin, an idyllic village set along a cliff in the Universale Mountains in the Aragon region of northern Spain. Named as one of Spain’s most beautiful villages, walking along its cobblestone streets is like walking back in time. Snap photos of the Albarracin’s castle at the top of the hill and admire the Flemish tapestries in the Diocesan Museum attached to Dolz del Espejo, the Bishop’s Palace.
Naturalists and sports enthusiasts will fall in love with cozy Canazei, located in Trentino’s storied Val di Fassa. This 2,000-person town is totally surrounded by the majestic Dolomites, providing fantastic views of Italy’s tallest peaks, including the queenly Marmolada. There are 25 miles of ski slopes nearby, but summer brings about a hiker’s paradise with lush green meadows and ancient forests to explore. Not the sporting type? No problem: you can relax and unwind in one of Canazei’s many spas and wellness centers.