Nestled away in the hills of Europe, the cobblestone streets and castles from a time of real-life “knights in shining armor” still remain. Once upon a time, fairytales originated in places like these five towns.
This sleepy lakeside town was established around the year 600 A.D. amidst the Julian Alps. On the mainland, you’ll find Bled Castle 100 meters above the lake, complete with the mythical moat, ramparts, and towers depicted in storybooks. For 800 years this castle was the seat of the Bishops of Brixen and now houses a museum of the lake’s history along with jewelry, weapons, and armor collected from a local burial pit. The Church of Assumption stands upon an island in Lake Bled and can be reached via a Plenta (wooden boat). In true fairytale form, it’s customary for new husbands to carry their wives up the 99 steps of the church – which, after hundreds of years, is still intact. The easiest way to reach Bled is by bus from Ljubljana, buses depart hourly from 6 A.M. to 10 P.M. and the ride takes around an hour and 10 minutes.
As one of the most photographed places in the world, Hallstatt is a post-card perfect village. So perfect in fact, that in 2012 the province of Guangdong China replicated it as an upscale housing development. In the original Hallstatt, as you approach on the ferry, you see 16th-century Alpine homes adorning the mountainside along the mirror-like Lake Hallstattersee. Dating back over 7000 years this is the oldest village in Austria, home to a prehistoric salt minecontaining an ancient mummified miner and a subterranean lake. The Echerntal Trail winds through town and into the Echern Valley, over the centuries its majestic views have captured poets and painters from around the globe. The eye candy here ranges from historic architecture to a vast glacial garden and the enchanting Waldbachstrub Waterfall. Hallstatt is easily accessed by train or bus from Salzburg, the trip will take you between 2 and 2.5 hours including the short ferry ride.
Quite literally storybook famous, Vianden has been featured in such masterpieces as: Sherlock Holmes, Shadow of the Vampire, George and the Dragon, and The Leading Lady. On that same note, Victor Hugo called this hamlet home in 1871. To set the scene, the River Our flows passed cobblestone streets lined with cafes and watched over by the 14th-century castle atop the hill. Visitors can witness the wonder of this town by riding a chairlift from the river bank to beyond the peaks of the castle Just a stone’s throw away from Luxembourg, Vianden can be reached by hopping a train to Ettelbruckand then catching the 570 bus. The second bus stop is where you will want to be.
Officially, “The Most Beautiful Village of France” this medieval treasure with its flower-filled window boxes feels like a stroll through Little Red Riding Hood’s hometown. Today, 19 of the original 23 fortified gates still stand at the entrances to the cobblestone streets. Here you will find French history at its finest among the Colombage (half-timbered) buildings, and 78 historic monuments. A few favorites include The Church of Notre-Dame and its square tower decorated with gargoyles, a Lavoir (public linen washing house), and the remnants of the 13th-century castle of Noyers. When traveling from Paris, Noyers is a 1 hour and 50-minute train ride accompanied by a 35-minute bus jaunt. Or, if you happen to be driving it is a 2-hour 130-mile road trip.
During the Romanticism era, Portugal’s nobility constructed their summer homes in Sintra. The city has since remained the wealthiest and most extravagant area of the country. In today’s era, it is world-renowned for luxurious dining along with its elaborate palaces and castles. Sintra is overflowing with colorful villas, exotic plants, fountains, and ponds. The Pena Palaceis the most photographed piece of architecture, and rightfully so, with its mythological statues, intricate carvings, and dramatic opera theme. Francis Cook, known for being the wealthiest man in England built the sought after Palacio de Monserrate with special attention to detail in every piece of lattice and stone. Another popular structure is the Quinta de Regaleira, this rare gem holds secret passages and caves in its extraordinary gardens and a famous, now empty, ceremonial well. This fantasy land is a meer 40 minutes from Lisbon vis train and departures happen every 30 minutes.