Oia, Santorini – Greece
If you have ever thought about island hopping southern Greece, or taking a Mediterranean cruise, chances are likely that you have seen pictures of Oia and its famous blue domed church, clinging to the edge of the gigantic volcanic caldera that is the island of Santorini.
Oia offers arguably the most picturesque example of the white-washed cubic architectural style found across a number of Greek islands. Known as Cycladic, the architectural style derives its name from the Greek island group the Cyclades of which Santorini is a part.
Santorini was once a center of the Minoan culture, and the natural disaster that befell the island during their dominance of the Mediterranean, is believed by some to be the source of Plato’s legend about the civilization of Atlantis. The eruption is also credited as one of the major reasons for the disappearance of the Minoan, and changing the coarse of Greek and World history.
Plane rides from Athens to Santorini are about 45 minutes, while a ferry ride can take between 5-8 hours.
Manarola (Cinque Terre) – Italy
Manarola is part of a grouping of five scenic coastal villages known as the Cinque Terre (The Five Lands). The Cinque Terre was designated a national park due to the unique character of these villages, and the rugged landscape upon which they are built. Manarola is known for its brightly colored buildings, perched above a rocky boat harbor. Manarola shares a similar look to Vernazza, a sister city that can sometimes be confused as the same place. Both towns are equally beautiful, and the best time to photograph them is after sunset, as blue hour sets in.
The most convenient way to visit all 5 villages is by train from La Spezia. Unlimited day passes are available and the journey between each village is only a few minutes. Other methods to reach the area include a ferry from nearby coastal towns, as well as a hiking trail that connects the villages. If you are touring Italy by car, its recommended that you park at La Spezia and take the train. Reaching any of these villages by car is a difficult proposition.
Bibury is a village in the Cotswolds region of Britain, known for its beautiful 17th century stone cottages. The gold color of the cottages is derived from the region’s Jurassic limestone, that was quarried as a building material, and creates a unique grassland region that is rare in the UK. The most famous grouping of cottages, known as Arlington Row, were originally part of a monastic wool store, that was later converted into residences for wool weavers who supplied cloth to the nearby Arlington Mill.
Other notable sites in the village, include Bibury Court, the town’s largest building, constructed in 1633, and a marshy area near Arlington Row, that once served as the area for drying wool. This spot known as Rack Isle, has since been designated as a national waterfowl reserve.
The Cotswolds region is world-renowned for its natural beauty, and many picturesque villages and towns, offering many a photo opportunity beyond Bibury itself.
Google Maps: Find
Hohenschwangau is a small village in the Bavarian Alps, that serves as a nice base for exploring one of Germany’s most beautiful locations. While Munich served as the capital of the Kings of Bavaria, it was the scenic beauty of the Schwangau that drew the attention of this noble family, particularly Maximilian II, and his son Ludwig II (also known as the Swan King), both of whom built summer residences in the area. Maximilian built the castle Hohenschwangau, from which the village draws its name, while Ludwig II built the world famous fairy-tale castle Neuschwanstein Castle (Schloss Neuschwanstein), which served as an inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. Neuschwanstein was so elaborate and costly that it drew protests from local residents, and it is speculated that it also contributed to Ludwig’s dethroning and suspicious death at the age of 40.
Both castles can be seen from multiple vantage points, including from hiking trails above the valley, and Mary’s Bridge (Marienbrucke) across the Pollat River which was built for Maximilian’s wife Marie Friederike Franziska Hedwig, the daughter of the Prince of Prussia.
While in the area, its worth visiting the nearby church of St. Coloman, the Medieval town of Fussen, and the last castle built by Ludwig II, Linderhof Palace, built to the south of Schwangau near the Ettal Monastery and the Austrian border.
Hallstatt is a village in the Salzkammergut region of Austria. Centered in the Dachstein mountains, next to the Hallstatter See, Hallstatt is known for its scenic natural beauty and its distinction as the country’s oldest village. Archaeological evidence suggests that people have inhabited the area since 5,500 B.C., much of that time taking advantage of the area’s rich underground salt deposits. The town offers some of the earliest evidence for the Celtic culture, and lends its name to a group of Early Iron Age people that inhabited much of Europe between 800-450 B.C.
Reine is a remote fishing village that lies above the Arctic Circle on the island of Moskenesøya (part of the Lofoten archipelago), more than 800 miles north of Oslo. The village is known for its dramatic landscape of prominent mountain peaks (mountain Olstind in particular) rising from open ocean and sheltered bays. If wilderness and solitude remain in Norway, this is one place you will find both.
Reine has been a center of commercial activity since 1743. It is connected to the mainland via European Highway 10, and can also be reached via ferry from the town of Bodø.
While the village is a great place to visit any time of year, winter offers a special treat. As the midnight sun gives way to long winter nights, the wondrous northern lights (Aurora Borealis) are a frequent visitors. And if you happen to be in town on a calm night, you just might witness magic, as a perfect reflection of the Aurora appears in the waters that surround you. Make sure you didn’t forget your camera, and a steady tripod.
Santa Magdalena, Italy
If there is a scenic vista that captures the essence of what awaits visitors to Italy’s Dolomite region, its the tiny village of Santa Magdalena and its community church, set against the jagged Odle Mountain peaks, and the emerald green pastures that fill the Val di Funes (Villnöss Valley). But if its Santa Maddalena that draws you to the Dolomites, its everything else there is to see that will keep you coming back. The Dolomite range, made largely of a ancient reef system, dominates the northeastern corner of Italy. It offers a veritable playground to photographers, hikers, climbers and adventure seekers. You have the natural beauty of the mountains and valleys juxtaposed against human communities and cultures that have existed for centuries. And while riding the train, or taking a car will allow you quick access to various towns, to really experience these mountains, requires taking things a step further and ultimately hiking under your own power. This may require dedicating an entire vacation to this place, but its well worth it, particularly if scenic beauty drives you.
Gimmelwald is a small village nestled high in the Swiss Alps, perched above the deep and sharply sloped glacial valley of Lauterbrunnen. Adding to this dramatic natural landscape are the peaks Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau that rise opposite Gimmelwald on the other side of the Lauterbrunnen. Gimmelwald is one of the few car-free villages remaining in the Alps, so the best way to get there is by gondola from the valley floor, or by train from the nearby village of Murren.
For the best views, its recommended that Gimmelwald be visited later in the day, after the morning sun has had a chance to pass far enough west to eliminate any obscuring of the mountain peaks.
One of the medieval towns one might see on a Rhine River cruise, Colmar is renowned for its well-preserved town center and the picturesque Lauch River that flows through it. Founded in the 9th century, the town was considered an Imperial Free City under the Holy Roman Empire, which meant to a large extent it managed its own affairs. Since that time, Colmar has seen many rulers come and go, including multiple transitions between the French and Germans, as well as a relatively brief occupation by the Swedish army. For the most part, the city has weathered its tumultuous history, to become a prosperous center of tourism, wine production, and the headquarters of several European multi-national corporations. In fact, it considers itself the capital of Alsatian wine (capitale des vins d’Alsace), and is one of the stops on the Route des Vins d’Alsace (Alsace Wine Route), a 170 km route that connects over 60 wine producing communities in the Alsace.
Adare has been called one of Ireland’s prettiest village, and is designated as a Heritage Town by the Irish government. It was originally created to serve the estate of the Earl of Dunraven and Mount-Earl. It is famous for its traditional thatched roof house which are becoming increasingly rare in modern Ireland. Besides Dunraven Manor, Adare is also known for its three former Catholic Monasteries (the Trinitarian, Franciscan, and Augustinian Abbeys) and the ruins of Desmond Castle.
Adare is a 20 minute drive from the city of Limerick, and just over 2 hours from Ireland’s capitol of Dublin.