The 2 months we spent in St. Germier were a much-needed lesson for starry-eyed newbie traveler me, who at one time imagined that absolutely everywhere in Europe must be absolutely fascinating. St. Germier turned out to be more of a cluster of farmhouses than an actual town. There were no shops, and no businesses of any kind for miles. We certainly achieved our goal of being immersed in a francophone community, but it was challenging to find ways to take advantage of this language-learning opportunity because, short of going door-to-door, there were no places where we could meet and connect with our neighbours. On the plus side, the wide open farmlands were ideal for long walks, and our days always ended with brilliant sunsets and clear skies for star-gazing (unfortunately, the wow-factor of these things wore off within about a week).
Wettenbostel is a classic blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town. It’s the perfect place if you’re looking to escape the city and plunge deep into real German countryside tranquility. Although, like in St. Germier, the absence of any significant town infrastructure left us feeling isolated most of the time. If I ran out of something as basic as toothpaste, I was in for a 45 min. bike ride into the nearest town, which was dazzlingly urbanized by comparison because it had an actual grocery store and even a post office. Fortunately, our host family kept us entertained, not to mention that Wettenbostel does hold a top-notch Easter celebration, in which the locals gather around a big bonfire to enjoy beer and bratwurst.
Algaida looks exactly the way I had always imagined a quaint Spanish village would. Narrow roads, a town square centered around a sandstone church, and an outdoor market on Friday mornings. My adoration was further enhanced by a cantina downtown, where we could bring empty 2L bottles to be filled with wine. Plus, Algaida is the home of Gordiola Glassworks, the oldest glass blowers’ in Mallorca. Visitors can watch the craftsmen work at their kilns, firing and shaping molten glass.
Capel Curig, Wales
Well-known by climbers, but less-so by other tourists, Capel Curig by far wins the prize for the most scenic town we visited with its mist-covered mountains, gleaming lakes, and endless hikes. Every day was an opportunity to climb to the top of a new mountain, explore a different trail, or visit one of the nearby medieval castles in Conwy or Caernarfon. Our evenings were spent in archetypical British pubs, where we could sit by the fire and drink pints of locally-brewed Purple Moose Ale.
Ostuni truly captures the Mediterranean spirit of Southern Italy. The old town is a maze of whitewashed houses, all clustered together and perched on a hilltop overlooking the sea. Although the population of Ostuni skyrockets during the tourist season, when we visited, it was just Brent and I exploring the quirky, winding roads, and feasting on the amazing cuisine. The old town is quite small and the streets are universally lovely-looking, making it the perfect city to get lost in.
Ok, Alkmaar is a little touristy, but I don’t think I’m the only one who hadn’t heard of this charming place before coming to Holland. Tourists typically come to Alkmaar to view one of the last traditional Dutch cheese markets (although sadly it’s more of a demonstration for tourists, and you can’t actually buy the cheese anymore). It’s not the most original adjective, but with the numerous bike paths and canals weaving around the town’s 17th century buildings, I don’t know how better to describe Alkmaar than “pretty”. For us, it was also an excellent place to enjoy the Queen’s Day celebrations without getting trampled by the crowds in nearby Amsterdam.