The 7 Most Charming Alpine Villages
The hills are alive with… well, you know. The Sound of Music’s scenic set may epitomize the Alps, but the film only shows one small Austrian area. As Europe's largest and highest mountain range, the Alps span eight countries, including France, Italy, Switzerland, Monaco, Germany, Slovenia, Lichtenstein, and yes, Austria. Here, we’ve scouted the region’s seven most cinematic towns.
Mount Lussari Village, Italy
After riding a 15-minute lift up to the Borgo Lussari summit, travelers will find something unexpected: the magical 16th-century Sanctuary of the Virgin Mary. Legend has it that a vision of the Madonna appeared on the mountaintop, and shortly thereafter a chapel was built. The ruins of the original 1360 church are now buried beneath the foundation of the sanctuary, but even today many worshipers make the pilgrimage to see the spiritual site, which teeters over the forested Valcanale and Tarvisio basin below. Meanwhile, the village itself has plenty of its own pursuits, including a challenging ski run and cozy taverns serving homemade goulash.
Set in a valley of the Bernese Oberland, Lauterbrunnen looks like it’s something out of a fairytale. A charming yellow train connects the hamlet to Interlaken, just 20 minutes away, and Jungfrau, a craggy, snow-capped peak known as the Top of Europe. Hikers who stop at Lauterbrunnen will find rustic Swiss chalets, wildflower meadows, and a 1,000-foot waterfall—one of 72 in the area—that cascades from a cliff near the edge of town.
Bled’s storybook shores are one of the most underrated sites in the region. Explore the medieval 11th-century clifftop castle, or take a pletna (traditional wooden boot) to the tiny island at the center of the crystalline glacial lake, where there is a spired church that dates back to the 1400s. Before the chapel was built, the island was home to a 9th-century pagan temple honoring the ancient Slavic goddess of love.
Bavarian buildings covered with colorful murals and flower window boxes line the cobblestoned streets of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The alpine enclave is surrounded by opulent palaces, historic monasteries, and striking gorges. Just 20 minutes away, you’ll find the Linderhof and Schachen estates, the Ettal and Benediktbeuern abbeys, and the Walchensee and Kochelsee lakes. If you’re up for the trip, an hour’s drive will land you at Neuschwanstein, a 19th-century Romanesque Revival fortress that was the inspiration behind Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella castles.
This stamp-sized country sure knows how to pack a punch. Balzers stands out thanks to its scenic location: nestled along the Rhine River in the verdant Neckar Valley, the town is connected to its neighbors by a 230-mile bike path. On a hilltop in the center of the community rises the striking Gutenberg Castle, which was built around 1100. Today, the free Castle Museum offers falconry lessons, forest walking tours, sword-fighting seminars, and exhibits on the Middle Ages.
We’re not ones to judge, but when a place titles itself the most beautiful village in all of Austria (an accolade it has held since the ‘80s), it’s pretty hard to disagree. Every year, thousands of people visit this secluded Tyrolean town to take in its wooden lodges, cute white churches, and miles of untouched alpine landscape. Of course, the slopes are the big draw here—so grab your skis and hit the trails around the neighboring Ski Juwel resorts.
Want to know where France’s rich and glamorous go to après-ski? Look no further than Chamonix, a glitzy ski resort town at the base of Mont Blanc, the highest summit in the Alps. The 1924 Winter Olympics were held here, and it has gained popularity ever since. Today, it has six ski areas, world-class hotels, and a Baroque village with high-end boutiques and brasseries. For a bird’s-eye view, take the gondola to Le Panoramic, a sprawling glass-walled terrace on the tip of Le Brévent, or to Aiguille du Midi’s rustic-chic mountaintop restaurant, Le 3842, which dishes up foie gras with truffle sauce, escargot with morel mushrooms, and wild boar with a Burgundy wine glaze.
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