7 Best Countryside Getaways in Europe
From the lavender fields of Provence to the vineyard-dotted hills of Franconia, Germany, these romantic countryside escapes in Europe are all about slowing down. So breathe in, and let the natural surroundings inspire your next move.
Sandwiched between Portugal to the west and France to the east, Spain’s unique geography affords it not one but two spectacular coastal landscapes. While Andalucia to the south is known for its hot sun, Moorish influences, and well-developed coastlines, hilly Asturias to the north has more moderate Atlantic winds, colorful fishing ports lining quiet beaches, and mineral-rich soil that’s helped make this region’s cider famous. Inland is just as beautiful, where the looming Cantabrian Mountains surround medieval villages lost to time. Begin your journey in Oviedo, the region’s cool capital with an eye-popping historic center, then branch out in any number of directions. To the north, Gijón, a long-standing fishing village with a seafront promenade and gorgeous botanical garden that spans more than 60 acres, makes for a great weekend escape, as does Ribadesella to the east with its three spectacular prehistoric caves—Tito Bustillo, Cuevas del Agua, Argüelles—whose drawings date back more than 14,000 years.
Everyone from Paul Cézanne to Brigitte Bardot has answered the siren call of Provence, a storybook landscape of vineyards and lavender fields that stretches from the shores of the Mediterranean all the way into the French hills. You can’t go wrong with any of the local towns you choose to visit here, whether that’s the walled city of Avignon or the sun-dappled streets of Aix-en-Provence. If you choose the latter, grab a table on the terrace (and a healthy pour of rosé) at Les Deux Garçons—once a haunt for the likes of Picasso and Churchill—before retiring in the nearby village of Les Baux-de-Provence at Domaine de Manville. The 100-acre farm estate turned hotel has a next-level gourmet restaurant, shaded pool, and plenty of joie de vivre.
Verdant rolling hills and river valleys, forgotten castles, timber-framed villages built up around steepled churches, an ancient wine culture that dates back to Roman times. Drives through Franconia, a region of northern Bavaria, are as dreamy as road trips get. This is the home of Nuremberg (a medieval red-roofed city with its own fortified castle), Coburg (famous for its Franconian sausages), Bamberg (were one section of the city is known as “Little Venice”), and countless storybook villages built up around the region’s strong wine culture. You can get a taste of the area’s popular Riesling and less acidic Silvaner in tiny towns like Escherndorf, home to the family-owned winery Rainer Sauer Weingut, and Volkach, where a 1692 bishop-built wine house is now the home base for 4th-generation winemaker Max Müller. Bed down at Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten, a charming historic boutique on Volkach’s main strip.
A round-up of quintessential European countrysides would not be complete without a mention of Tuscany. The rolling, picturesque patchwork of vineyards and villages that comprise Italy’s heartland remains one of the world’s most visited regions—and with good reason. This is the birthplace of vintages like Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino as well as the Italian Renaissance, experienced in no place better than at Florence’s famed Pitti Palace and Uffizi Galleries. World Heritage Sites are everywhere here from Pisa’s Cathedral square to the historic town centers of San Gimignano and Siena, whose labyrinth of medieval streets lead to a central courtyard bordered by a gothic cathedral and amphitheater of restaurants and bars. Just as charming is the town of Montaione, where locals press their own olive oil around the 2,700-acre estate known as Hotel Il Castelfalfi. The 800-year-old village turned five-star resort has cozy-chic farmhouses-turned-villa rentals, excellent restaurants, and an 11,000-square-foot spa.
It’s hard to believe a wild, unenclosed expanse of forest, heath, and pasture lies less than two hours outside one of the world’s most visited cities, but that’s exactly what you’ll find when you enter the New Forest, in Hampshire. Much of the woodland—now a designated National Park—is as it was when William the Conqueror named it a royal hunting ground in 1079. This is the backdrop for the Lime Wood Hotel, a formidable 13th-century Regency hunting lodge made over into an effortlessly beautiful 32-room retreat—we’re talking Velvet French chairs, raw-silk wall coverings, grand fireplaces, as well as an excellent restaurant and retractable glass roof that lets light shine down on the central atrium. Hampshire also lays claim to Winchester and its cathedral; the Great Hall (home of “King Arthur’s Round Table”); and Highclere Castle, the setting for Downton Abbey.
Seeking the wellness benefits of the herbal meadows, crystal-clear mountain streams, and fresh alpine air you can only find in the Alps? Tyrol, in the upper reaches of western Austria, is a picturesque cure-all. Here, snowcapped mountains descend into patchworks of sloping farmland roamed by grazing cows and sheep, and crisscrossing trails encompass some of the world’s best hiking, biking, and rock-climbing routes. The warmth of spring and summer, however, is not the only time to revel in this region’s beauty. As soon as temperatures begin to drop, the local mountain culture comes alive in über-chic ski towns like Innsbruck, Sölden, and Kitzbühel, where jet-set crowds descend for competitive downhill races, Christmas markets, and the magic of the snowy season.
Douro Valley, Portugal
A UNESCO designation has kept this quiet wine country in northern Portugal completely pristine—not that it needed much help. While wine lovers have long crowded into the vineyard hotels and tasting rooms of Bordeaux, France, and Tuscany, Italy, Douro Valley has for centuries remained relatively off the radar—that is, until Six Senses transformed a 19th-century terra-cotta farmhouse into their first European-based wellness resort. Guests here have access farm-fresh meals and drinks using ingredients sourced from the property’s organic garden, nightly wine tastings, an indoor pool, and a destination spa with its own yoga pavilion. The valley itself is anchored by the river Douro—a beautiful setting for some of the area’s best sights and restaurants, including DOC, which specializes in the region’s rural cuisine, and Regua’s Wine Museum.
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