Over the years as we visited various countries in central Europe, we have always preferred to drive around instead of taking the trains, especially after the kids were born and we have had to travel with larger suitcases and multiple strollers. It has slowly dawned on us that instead of parking ourselves for the night in smaller hotels in larger cities, we should take advantage of the mobility and stay in smaller towns for a much better experience of the destination. Here are the top 5 small towns (in terms of population) we have stayed in while traveling across Europe. Though these have been excellent experiences, compiling this list also made us realize that we don’t do it nearly enough.
Starting from the largest town in the list –
5. Villafranca di Verona [Population: 32,500 or rather, 61]
A small town 20 minutes south-west from Verona in Italy, Villafranca di Verona’s population is officially shown to be around 32,500. Ca’ Maddalena
– the bed and breakfast we stayed at – is a good 10 minutes away from the town, and is much closer to Acquaroli which boasts a grand total of 61 inhabitants, and sits just 15 minutes to the north of the extremely picturesque Borghetto, shown above.
4. Buonconvento [Population: 3,100 or rather, ~20]
In the heart of Tuscany, very close to Montalcino, Buonconvento has a population of 3100. We had stayed at a country house relatively well known for agrotourismo
– Fattoria Pieve a Salti – a few hills of driving up and down from the main town, and boasting maybe 20-30 agrotourism residents. From our room and the adjoining grounds you could only see the endless rolling Tuscan hills for miles with hardly a few scattered villas here and there and no other signs of civilization. A quintessential Tuscan sunset as seen from the house gardens is shown above.
3. Telfes im Stubai [Population: 1,400]
On our very first visit to Europe through southern Germany, Switzerland and Austria
, we stayed in the small town of Telfes nestled in the Austrian Alps close to Innsbruck. The memory of the stay had faded away until today, when we were running systematically through all the cities and towns we had stayed at and came across Telfes. Given the relative lack of a pervasive Internet back then, this was an unconventional hotel reservation for us, and a cause for much anxiety and stress as we struggled to find the town in the dark at 10pm in the night without a GPS in hand.
2. Manarola [Population: 800]
A little off-center from our planned itinerary from Verona to Florence through Pisa, visiting the coastal towns of Cinque Terre was the best decision we had made for our trip to Italy – a big thank you to our friend Charles who recommended the towns. And even better was the decision to just let it go and stay in one of those towns for the night. We picked Manarola, primarily based on its oft-photographed ocean-front facade, and weren’t disappointed at all. We parked the car at La Spezia and took the train into the town (driving is non trivial and not recommended into these towns) and found our hotel – Affittacamere San Giorgio
– right outside the train station. It was one of our most memorable stays anywhere in Europe.
1. Solaz del Moros, Anaya [Population: 135]
And now, for the winner of the list. When we had booked this hotel – Solaz del Moros – close to Segovia in Spain, we had no idea about the size of the town of Anaya. It was a bitter cold evening in Segovia with the incessant fog rolling in and the chill cutting to the bone, when we decided to have a few quick bites at the Spanish Fast Food chain 100 Montaditos before heading out of Segovia towards Anaya. Missing the exit twice, we finally make it into town and were almost shocked at its size. At 135 inhabitants, the town amounts to at best 25 houses, assuming all those 135 still actually live there and its not just their official address.
It was 9.30pm when we finally checked in, and the hotel managers asked a simple question which had a dramatic impact on us the next morning – “Do you need keys for the main door to walk outside or do you plan to mostly stay in your room?”. I declined and saw the managers driving away from the property for the night. The next morning, we wake up and realize we were the only tenants in that Spanish mansion, in a village that barely had any souls walking around. It was surreal, peaceful and an unbelievable experience we will never forget.