There are many beautiful European towns in the mountains, with the Alps stretching across nearly 750 miles of Europe, their jagged peaks rising from eight different countries. That includes everything from the lesser-known Julian Alps, a mountain range of the Southern Limestone Alps in northeastern Italy and Slovenia, to the world-renowned Swiss Alps.
But the Alps aren’t the only mountains you’ll find here, with everything from iconic peaks in Norway’s Lofoten Islands to the rugged and untamed mountains of Andalusia, Spain. An escape to any of these idyllic mountain towns brings a wealth of outdoor adventure, breathtaking scenery, and often much more.
Don’t forget your camera or your LARQ water bottle to stay hydrated during all of your activities without having to buy plastic, single-use water bottles that can harm these unspoiled treasures. LARQ Bottle PureVis™ is ideal as it will neutralize harmful odor-causing bacteria, doing the cleaning for you to ensure your water stays fresh throughout the trip – no need to worry about washing it in your hotel room.
An easy day trip from Ljubljana, the alpine town of Bled is home to Lake Bled with its glacial sapphire waters boasting a backdrop of the Julian Alps, some of the most beautiful mountains in Europe. In the middle is an islet topped by a church, which makes it look like something straight out of a fairytale. Visitors can rent a small boat to row out to the island and then perhaps visit Bled Castle for a breathtaking view over the lake. The 12th-century castle hosts a museum, a restaurant, and a cellar where you can bottle wine and seal it with wax.
Vintgar Gorge, carved by the Radovna River, lies just northwest of Bled in Triglav National Park. One of the country’s most popular attractions, a walk through the canyon will allow you to admire its enchanting beauty, with the surreal turquoise water, rapids, waterfalls, and pools framed by the vertical rocks.
Cordon is an atmospheric town perfectly positioned for a magnificent view of Mont Blanc. In fact, its nickname is the “Balcony of Mont Blanc.” It’s the perfect place to rest and recharge, perhaps spending a few days in a traditional mountain chalet, breathing in the fresh mountain air. There are plenty of activities to enjoy as well, including peaceful strolls through alpine meadows, hikes through the pine forest, and adventurous outings on mountain bikes.
Cordon also hosts the family-friendly Cordon ski resort in the heart of the Pays du Mont Blanc. It’s directly in front of Mont Blanc with the Aravis Mountains behind, offering a mix of mostly intermediate and advanced slopes, with one for beginners. There’s a ski slope and other activities like snowshoeing too.
The picturesque mountain town of Annecy is known as the “Pearl of the French Alps.” Set at the tip of Lake Annecy with crystal-clear water that ranges in hues from deep emerald to brilliant aquamarine, the scenery is truly jaw-dropping. The town hosts many heritage-rich landmarks like Palais de I’lle, a 12th-century castle perched on an island in the Thiou River, along with museums, churches, and cozy cafes. It’s enjoyable just to wander, with scenes that look like they’ve come straight out of a romantic movie, like the Pont des Amours bridge. With narrow, arcaded lanes, pastel homes, and colorful flowers, it’s a photographer’s dream.
The mountain town of Zermatt is one of the most popular for winter sports although it offers a wide range of outdoor activities all year long, from hiking and mountain biking to skiing. It’s home to the most famous peak in the Alps, the Matterhorn which soars over the Swiss/Italian border at nearly 15,000 feet. At the summit, you’ll find the highest scenic outlook platform in all of Europe. While the adventurous come to climb to the top, there’s a cable car for easier access. If you’re here during the warmer months, be sure to take a trek on at least one of the hiking trails with miles and miles of options that bring awe-inspiring scenic views, with many waterfalls and serene creeks.
Hallstatt is another fairytale-like town, set along the banks of Hallstatt Lake at the foot of the dramatic Dachstein Mountains, part of the UNESCO-listed Hallstatt-Dachstein-Salzkammergut region. The mountains not only provide a stunning backdrop but they’re home to the famous Ice Cave, one of the few that can easily be accessed, open from late October through May. During the warmer months, you’ll want to head to another one of the most jaw-dropping lookout platforms in the Alps: the 5 fingers viewing platform. It reaches out like a hand over a 1,312-foot drop.
Beyond its good looks, Hallstatt has a rich history, originally founded in 5000 BC by settlers who came to take advantage of the vast salt reserves in the mountains. Thousands of years of salt mining is what made it so prosperous, something that can still be seen today in the pretty square and its ivy-draped buildings.
One of Spain’s oldest and most striking cities, Ronda is nestled in the Serrania de Ronda mountains, surrounded by lush river valleys. It sits on a mountaintop in a dramatic setting overlooking a deep gorge with its most spectacular sight straddling it, the Puento Nuevo bridge, completed in 1793. It joins the old Moorish town and the newer, El Mercadillo parts of the city. One of the most popular things to do and a great way to get a good view of the bridge and waterfalls is to descend the steep trail on the west side to the lookout.
You’ll see many traces of its prehistoric past throughout, with settlements dating to the Neolithic Age, including the famous rock paintings of Cueva de la Pileta. In the old Arab Quarter, the country’s most well-preserved, you’ll find the 13th-century bath with the big cauldron used to heat the water still visible. Ronda has a strong connection to bullfighting as the home of the Romero dynasty of matadors who developed modern rules in the 18th and 19th centuries. The 1785 Plaza de Toros is a testament to its famous custom and Spain’s second-oldest bullfighting ring.
Santa Maddalena Village, Val di Funes, Italy
The tiny village of Santa Maddalena is surrounded by incredible natural beauty in the Dolomite Mountains, nestled in the storybook valley of Val di Funes in Italy’s South Tyrol region. It offers access to one of the best trails in the region, the Santa Maddalena Panoramic Trail, a 6.2-mile loop featuring lush meadows, forests, and farmsteads. You’ll enjoy the best views of the sawtooth peaks of the Odle/Geisler which form the dramatic backdrop of the historic Santa Maddalena Church.
While Santa Maddalena has a population of less than 400, it boasts some fabulous restaurants for sampling the local cuisine and prized local wines, Lagrein and St. Magdalener.
The little fishing village of Reine is located on the island of Moskenesoya in the Lofoten archipelago. It’s surrounded by sparkling bays, fjords, and towering mountains, about 60 miles above the Arctic Circle which makes it a prime destination for viewing the northern lights, with the best odds from September through April. If you stay in one of the traditional red fisherman’s cabins called rorbuers that were transformed into cottage accommodations, you’ll enjoy spectacular views of the sea and mountains. If your timing is right, the aurora borealis might display remarkable colors in the night sky above.
Under the Midnight Sun, from around mid-May through late July when the sun never dips behind the horizon, creating a magical golden light, hiking to the top of Reinebringen is especially unforgettable. You’ll enjoy a panoramic view over the picturesque village, the fjords, and the mountains, a big reward for a relatively short hike at just 1.25 miles round-trip.