Fancy going somewhere completely different this year? A holiday doesn't have to mean staying in an overpriced, over-visited tourist hotspot: get off the beaten track and explore some of Europe's lesser-known regions. These little villages will charm the pants off you: think pretty cobbled streets, whitewashed houses and historic squares... and best of all, no hordes of tourists to blot the landscape!
Ten secret European villages
Ten undiscovered villages for proper escapes
On the island of Naxos lies the mountainous village of Apeiranthos set in the hilltop of Mount Fanaria, which looks as though it is making its way to the top in order to glimpse a better view of the Aegean Sea. Named the 'Marble Village' by locals and surrounded by lush green valleys and rocky cliffs, the architecture of Apeiranthos has been well preserved with its neoclassical mansions, beautiful squares and churches, all made of white marble. Amazingly, the local dialect and traditions of Apeiranthos are similar to those of mountainous villages in Crete.
This gorgeous little village on the east coast of Ireland is somewhat overlooked by tourists but popular among the locals, with its great seafood and annual Leprechaun Hunt. Steeped in history, legend and mythology, medieval Carlingford is known for its narrow streets and castles, while overlooking the Mountains of Mourne. Visitors can enjoy local and international cuisine in its 12 restaurants, hill walking, heritage trails and fishing.
Located at the base of one of Iceland’s imposing eastern fjords, the peaceful village of Seydisfjordur, shaped by Norwegian entrepreneurs over a century ago, lies in the shelter of dramatic snow-flecked mountains – Mount Strandartindur and Mount Bjólfur. The colourful, Norwegian-style wooden houses characterise the unique village, with a population of just 750, and during the summer it has a thriving arts scene, with visiting artists and a growing community of artists-in-residence. When in Seydisfjordur, try sea fishing, cruising and bird watching in the safe hands of the local fishermen.
Soglio in the canton of Graubünden, close to the Italian border, is one of Switzerland's most romantic and traditional villages, famous for its flowers. Located on a sunny mountain terrace with amazing views, Soglio is home to a baroque rose garden and sequoia trees. The locals speak Italian but also their local Lombard dialect. Stay at Palazzo Salis, which was nominated Swiss Historic Hotel of the Year in 1998.
The white village of Thorn in Holland boasts pretty cobbled streets, the beautiful Abbey Church and cute whitewashed houses. Dating back to the late 10th century, Thorn became a 'white village' when the French arrived and claimed a tax based on the size of the windows. The poor population living in large houses formerly owned by aristocrats could not afford this, so they bricked up the windows and tried to cover up their poverty by whitewashing their homes. Visit the Museum Land of Thorn, devoted to the village's history with pottery, art and jewellery exhibits.
Saint-Montan in the southern Ardeche is a beautiful, medieval French village of character set on a hill with a ruined castle, narrow streets and vaulted passageways. Visitors to Saint-Montan can enjoy lovely views across the rooftops of the houses, a visit to the two small Roman-style chapels and dining in the village restaurants. Saint-Montan was named after a hermit who lived in the village for 30 years in the fifth century and you can visit the Cave of the Hermit of Saint-Montan.
Set in the region of Lombardy on a small hill overlooking a heart-shaped lake, Castellaro Lagusello is one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, known to Italians who have kept this picturesque part of the country to themselves - until now. The fortified village dates back to the 11th century and is dominated by Villa Arringhi, the former feudal castle. Castellaro Lagusello is famed for its Mantova cuisine and fine wines.
Picturesque Schwarzenberg in Austria's Bregenzerwald region is a chocolate box village with a riverside, mountain and ski location. The village has a modern twist and is heritage-protected for its clapboard houses. Every year the chamber music festival Schubertiade Schwarzenberg takes place with performances from various artists. Visitors come for hiking and skiing in winter, while in the summer there is horse riding, swimming and climbing to enjoy.
The locals call the village of Vitt the most romantic place on Rugen island. The picturesque village is characterised by its thatched-roof cottages, a tiny harbour and quaint octagonal chapel. The fishing village is best seen by bike or horse-drawn carriage as private cars are not allowed. With fewer than 50 residents and just 11 houses, Vitt is the perfect place to view true village life in Germany.
If you're looking for remote beauty in Spain, the whitewashed village of Capileira in Andalucía is set among mountains and forests, making it appear protected and mysterious. The village is a beautiful maze of quaint houses, ancient fountains and dramatic views. It has a special charm and the houses adapt to the rugged terrain. Inside the Pedro Antonio de Alarcón Ethnological Museum, you'll find displays devoted to the famous Spanish author.