‘Straight out of a fairytale’: Portugal’s best towns and villages, by readers | Portugal holidays


Winning tip: Tavira, Algarve

Even the most cold-hearted atheist cannot fail to be impressed by the 37 churches of Tavira, the small town which, thanks to a slightly inland location, has avoided the overdevelopment of some Algarve resorts. And what could be more appropriate than to stay in a converted convent – Pousada Convento Tavira – in the centre of town, from where ferries run to Tavira island for beach lovers? But it’s hard to tear yourself away from the riverside restaurants and bars with views of the famous Ponte Romana bridge.
pousadas.pt, doubles from €123
Malcolm Matthew


SOUTH

Aljezur, Algarve

Aljezur, town and moorish castle ruin
Aljezur’s moorish castle overlooks the town. Photograph: Mikehoward 2/Alamy

In October, you can smell the woodsmoke twisting and turning in the crisp morning air above the whitewashed cottages of Aljezur. The old town is a cascade of zigzagging narrow streets. They cut through a jumble of buildings – half chic Airbnbs, half crooked cottages stacked with gourds and firewood. A Moorish castle – a ubiquitous feature in the towns of southern Portugal – looms overhead. Go there at sunset to watch the light fade over the Aljezur estuary. During the day, drive through the wildflower meadows to Arrifana Beach to surf and sunbathe.
Joseph Francis

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Évora, Alentejo

View from Miradoro do Jardim Diana, Evora.
View from the Diana Garden, Evora. Photograph: Jon Lovette/Alamy

A beautiful historic city, Évora is a living museum with monuments from Roman times. The landscape is beautiful and surrounded by stunning villages with, I think, the best wine in the world, and typical Alentejo cuisine. It has excellent restaurants and bars as well as several museums and galleries. In summer, temperatures reach 40C but luckily Évora has beautiful pools and several river beaches. There is also a university, founded in 1559; this is truly a cultural city.
João Domingues

Elvas, Alentejo

The late medieval Amoreira aqueduct, Elvas, Portalegre District, Portugal. The Amoreira aqueduct. Aqueduto da Amoreira. Built between 1498 and 1622. It is five miles long. Elvas is a U
The Amoreira aqueduct, Elvas. Photograph: Ken Welsh/Alamy

Elvas is right next to the Spanish border and is full of historical meaning to Portugal, as many battles between Portugal and Spain have been fought in the area. Sites like the town fortress, the castle, the aqueduct and the army museum I found to be very interesting. The local gastronomy is amazing and it’s easy to get an excellent meal at a reasonable price. Accommodation is affordable even during the summer (£50-£70 a nigh with breakfast and outdoor pool), the place is ideal for hiking and other outdoor activities and offers the possibility of a day trip to Spain, a few miles away.
Bruno

CENTRAL

Piodão, Serra do Açor

Piodao on the slope of the hill with the houses in shale and slate
Photograph: Luis Costa/Alamy

There is a small village nestled up in the mountains of the Serra do Açor that looks like it is out of a fairytale. This village is called Piodão and is one of 12 classified as Aldeias Históricas de Portugal – Historical Villages of Portugal. Piódão has featured in historical accounts since the 14th century, and was probably used by medieval fugitives hiding in the wild Portuguese mountains. Indeed, on a rainy day you should look from the other side of the mountain to see the village coming out of the fog. We went to Piodão on a rainy day and it couldn’t have been more perfect. We loved exploring all the peculiar alleys made of schist rock, and tasting some the local cajadas – milk tarts.
Laura Di Stefano

Monsanto, Castelo Branco

Monsanto, Portugal
Photograph: Cro Magnon/Alamy

Monsanto is a mountain village with houses built into rock formations and a fabulous pousada – inn – with a superb restaurant. It’s a truly atmospheric and ancient village where local traditions are still played out in the streets, especially during religious holidays – and it’s good walking country too. The plains of east Portugal stretch away to the west and from the castle above the village, it seems that you have a view of the whole country. The cost of food and drink is low, even for Portugal, and bars serve simple, local dishes that are as impressive as anything found in more upscale places. A truly magical little town.
James David Rattigan

Tomar, Santarém

The Knights Templar Castle and Church, Tomar.
The Knights Templar Castle and Church, Tomar. Photograph: Wayne Perry/Alamy

Tomar is truly a hidden gem, home to one of the most significant Templar strongholds, which evolved into the Convento de Cristo, now a Unesco world heritage site, as the extraordinary design of the chapel is unique in the world. It’s a delight to wander the quiet cobbled streets and alleyways of the old town or sit at one of the bars in the main square with views up to the fortifications on the hill above. While you’re there, drop into Le P’tit Français for brunch or coffee and delicious pastries sitting in a quiet sidestreet.
Gus MacLeod

Santa Comba Dão, Viseu, central Portugal

Santa Comba Dão is a beautiful small inland city that overlooks the Cris river where it joins the Dão, before the Dão joins the Mondego. The local granite buildings come with a beautifully formed wooden walkway through the old town. The centre of the local municipality, it used to provide a summer retreat for the wealthy. Now the local facilities of the cycle path, the Ecopista de Dão, and the beautiful beach of the Ribeira da Senhora on the Mondego river are available to all.
Diana

WEST

Aveiro

Traditional moliceiro boats with hand painted bows in Aveiro
Moliceiro boats with hand painted bows in Aveiro. Photograph: Sergio Azenha/Alamy

After driving nearly the full length of Portugal late this summer, it was picturesque Aveiro that held the most surprises. It was in this historic canal city, sometimes regarded as the “Portuguese Venice”, that we discovered art nouveau buildings, vast and unspoiled beaches lined with distinctively colourful striped houses (originally huts built by local fishermen), and a range of eating options (try the traditional egg sweets ovos moles) including vegetarian/vegan, sometimes a rarity elsewhere in the country. Just like Venice, there is much to discover beyond just gliding down the canals – in this case in a moliceiro, not a gondola.
Victoria Cao

NORTH

Guimarães

People on Oliveira Square.
Oliveira Square, Guimarães. Photograph: Tasfoto/Alamy

Given its claim to be the “birthplace of Portugal”, it’s odd Guimarães isn’t on the regular tourist itinerary. A 55-minute train-ride from Porto and a 10-minute walk bring you to the old town, with elegant understated buildings, quiet streets where people bring their kitchen chairs on to the pavement to chat, royal monasteries, palaces, and the general relaxed ambience of a small Portuguese town that doesn’t flaunt its treasures. A gondola provides an easy route up Penha hill, a huge area of forest and gigantic boulders, with a remarkable mid-20th-century church drawing crowds on Catholic feast days and festivals. From here, the views across the plains to the north are spectacular.
Barbara Forbes



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7 Small French Towns That Could Star In A Hallmark Movie


In North America, Hallmark movies have become part of the Christmas tradition, a celebratory viewing of feel-good movies together with the whole family while snuggled on the couch, with Christmas decorations surrounding you. But what about those of us who want to travel over the holiday season, but would still like that warm feel-good feeling that small, Christmassy towns give you in the films?

If you find yourself in France, fret not, there are plenty of small, friendly towns and villages that give you that Christmas cheer and charm. I have selected some of my favorite places that give you a warm fuzzy feeling, with a quaintness that makes your heart soar, and doubly so around Christmas time.

Here are some not to be missed.

Amazing house near the small picturesque waterfall in Moret-sur-Loing.
Kiev.Victor / Shutterstock.com

1. Moret-sur-Loing

Picture yourself walking through medieval city gates, across an ancient bridge, looking down to an old watermill sitting in the middle of the river. Nearby are restaurants looking out over the river, and a main street decorated with pretty lights. Moret-sur-Loing lies on the perimeter of the Fontainebleau Forest and is picture perfect. If you ever wanted to send a Hallmark postcard from France, the view from the bridge at Moret-sur-Loing would certainly be on the front. Not surprising that the painter Sisley was inspired by the town, and you can follow in his footsteps on a private walking tour hitting all the scenic spots. 

Pro Tip: While walking along the Loing River will occupy you for a while, this is a small, if hugely quaint town, so why not combine it with nearby, and also rather pretty, but a bit more lively Fontainebleau?

Exterior of La Petite France, Strasbourg.
Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey

2. La Petite France, Strasbourg

Strasbourg is well known for its Christmas cheer, but when it comes to Hallmark movie-perfect settings, head straight to the old quarter by the river. La Petite France was, in the Middle Ages, the home of the tanners, because of its proximity to the river Ill. In those days, I am sure it was not a desirable place to be, with the tightly huddled houses, narrow lanes, tiny squares, and those smells. Today, Petite France is not just a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but at Christmastime, it is still the same as centuries ago, but much improved. Tightly packed half-timbered buildings, all a little crooked, tiny squares filled with huts and stalls and twinkling trees, and the smells lingering in the air are that of mulled wine, hot chocolate, sausages with sauerkraut, and plenty of sweet things. The river is now clean and gurgling through locks and a double-decker 17th-century dam. Add covered bridges, and the cutest houses on little peninsulas right in the river, and you have probably found the most Hallmark movie spot in France. I would never suggest that you don’t look at the whole of Strasbourg, it is so lovely, but La Petite France is where you could easily imagine a film crew capturing the utter prettiness and charm of this quarter. And, you have a good chance of it snowing at Christmas.

Pro Tip: To really soak up the romance of Petite France, stay at the Hotel & Spa Regent Petite France located in a 17th-century former watermill, and you will be right in the movie.

Produce and fruit stand in St-Germain-en-Laye.
Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey

3. Saint-Germain-en-Laye

Saint-Germain-en-Laye is a community just across the Seine from Paris. Perched high on a hill, with Paris stretching out below, not only are the views movie-appropriate but so is the small town. The marketplace of St-Germain-en-Laye is filled with a gorgeous selection of fresh food and produce stalls every Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday, and together with the narrow, cobbled streets that lead out to a grand castle and those views across Paris, are reason enough to love this community. But add the Christmas sparkle and the Christmas Village which has the backdrop of the chateau, and it gets very picturesque indeed. This is the place many choose to live in preference to central Paris, mostly because of the community, charm, and quaintness, all within a 20-minute RER A train ride of Paris.

Pro Tip: Sit with coffee and a croissant on the terrace of Café de l’Industrie, at the back of the market square, and watch the hustle and bustle, and you will see why this community is included. Everybody knows everybody else, stopping to chat, and then go about their daily business, and you can just imagine a Hallmark plot taking place here.

4. The Saint-Louis Quarter, Versailles

Versailles is beautiful at Christmas, but for that extra touch of charm, away from the rather grandiose palace, head to the Saint-Louis Quarter. Here you find no imposing grandeur, nor rugged medieval history, but the superbly quaint and charming “Carrés Saint-Louis.” A village within the small town of Versailles, so very different from the rest of the town. There are squares hemmed by tiny buildings, the ground floor usually housing an individual boutique, an art gallery, an artisan workshop, or a small café, and on the floor above, former living accommodations. All painted in beautiful colors, and too cute for words, these little buildings cover a few blocks. They surround picturesque squares where children play and old people sit and chat and were constructed under Louis XV as accommodation for a new market, still perfectly retaining their unique charm that would be a perfect setting for a Hallmark movie.

Pro Tip: Stay within Saint-Louis so as to not lose that Christmassy feeling and sleep in the small and utterly romantic Hotel Berry.

exterior of Dijon.
Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey

5. Dijon

Dijon has so many cutesy corners, crooked half-timbered houses, and small historic spots, that it is always a delight. But at Christmastime, all these special little corners are lit up, filled with market stalls, and turn into a Christmas wonderland. Especially the corner of Place Francois Rude, nearly too charming for words.

Place Darcy and Rue de la Liberté contain around 60 chalets selling beautiful arts and crafts and offering the best of Dijon’s famous cuisine, which is even better when sampled in winter. Who can beat a warming beef bourguignon? For that little bit of an extra special treat at Christmas, head to the truffle market held in the market hall.

The pretty market hall, designed by Monsieur Gustave Eiffel of tower fame, is one of the most iconic would-be Hallmark movie locations, with families doing their seasonal shopping, people meeting friends at the various stands over a glass of wine, and everything twinkling with pretty lights.

Pro Tip: For that old-world charm, stay at the Maison Philippe le Bon, which is a lovely hotel in the center, which has kept the old features of the house and enhanced them with modern touches. The restaurant is superb, too.

Reims Christmas decorations.
Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey

6. Reims

The capital of France’s Champagne region comes into its best at Christmas, with a Christmas market huddled around the ancient cathedral where France’s kings were crowned. Ignoring the rest of the city, however lovely and historic, and just strolling through the market, with its miniature train, Christmas trees everywhere, chalets full of mulled wine and warming food, and stalls of pretty Christmas decorations hand-crafted in the region, gets that warm fuzzy feeling going pretty quickly. Families are walking hand-in-hand, enjoying the miniature fairground and the large snow globe where Santa resides, and Christmas cheer is everywhere. What makes Reims stand out when it comes to potentially starring in a Hallmark movie, are the small champagne outlets that pop up throughout the market. Cozy little corners where you are provided with a warm blanket and a flute of champagne, and you can just visualize someone meeting up with the (future) love of their life.

Pro Tip: For a lovely, cozy meal after walking around the city, pop into the romantic L’Alambic for dinner.

The Place du Tertre with tables of cafe and the Sacre-Coeur in the morning, quarter Montmartre in Paris.
France kavalenkava / Shutterstock.com

7. Montmartre, Paris

Ask anybody, and most people will say that Montmartre is their favorite neighborhood in Paris. And the reason? Because it is a perfectly preserved village within a large city. Perched on the hill Butte Montmartre, it not only offers great views but is distinctly different and separate from the rest of Paris. At Christmas time, this village is prettier than ever. Even the carousel, which always stands at the bottom of the steep steps up to Sacre Coeur, looks prettier at Christmas if that is possible. But twinkling lights, stalls, and decorations enhance every feature of this neighborhood and if you cannot imagine a romantic girl-find-boy movie set right on Place du Tertre, the one with all the artists exhibiting their wares, then you don’t have a romantic bone in your body. On Place des Abbesses, the one with the gorgeous metro stop, a Christmas market takes over the square, and you can wander from there past the small shops and cafes and find yourself in movieland — quite literally, because this is where Amelie was filmed.Pro Tip: To soak up the atmosphere and run your own film edits in your head while watching life go on at Place du Tertre, sit in La Mer Catherine, one of the oldest restaurants in Montmartre, dating to 1793.

Visiting France at Christmas offers opportunities for other activities:



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As New Zealand lifts Covid lockdowns, some small towns ask tourists to stay away | New Zealand


Every summer, with Christmas and New Year stacked in the middle of the hot season, city-dwelling New Zealanders pack their car boots and make for the beaches, festivals and campgrounds dotting the country’s coastlines and remote forests.

As the country prepares to lift its last lockdowns, prime minister Jacinda Ardern has promised that the “classic kiwi summer” will roll on. But this year, there are fears that packed among their chilly bins and camping chairs, holidaymakers will bring other baggage – infectious particles of Covid-19, carried to communities ill-prepared to greet it. In the face of that prospect, leaders of some of New Zealand’s small towns and settlements have returned to prospective holidaymakers with a blunt message: please stay away.

“At Christmas I will sit out here on my veranda, and I will watch literally hundreds and hundreds vehicles, just heading north,” says Hone Harawira, former parliamentary representative for Te Tai Tokerau, a region at the far northern tip of New Zealand. “If the doors are open, quite literally tens of thousands of Aucklanders will be coming – there’s nothing to stop anyone.”

‘You may as well send up body bags’

Auckland, the centre of New Zealand’s thousands-strong Covid outbreak, has been in a strict lockdown for nearly 100 days. As the region approaches 90% of eligible adults vaccinated, Ardern announced those restrictions would soon be lifted – and alongside them, the strict border that has prevented all non-essential travel in or out of the city. While that reprieve was greeted with relief and celebration by many Aucklanders, experts and community leaders say it could also send a huge influx of Covid-carrying Aucklanders around the country, seeding the virus in communities with far lower vaccination rates and fewer health resources.

“You may as well send up body bags,” northern iwi [tribal] leaders said when the news was first announced. The area’s isolation and dramatic terrain – some of the very attributes that make it so attractive to holidaymakers – also make its population vulnerable to Covid outbreaks. The region is served by just a handful of ICU hospital beds, and many towns are an hours-long drive from the nearest health facilities. On top of that, vaccination rates – particularly among Māori – are lagging up to 30 percentage points behind Auckland.

Northland from the top of the Brynderwyn Hills
Northland from the top of the Brynderwyn Hills Photograph: Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

“You’ve got to remember we don’t have the services or infrastructure to cope with a large outbreak,” says Antony Thompson, spokesperson for Te Kahu o Taonui, a collective of 12 iwi in the north.

“Right now we’re just not ready, that’s all it is,” Harewira says. “Māori in Te Tai Tokerau [Northland] are currently 60% vaccinated. That’s a long, long way from the 90% that is the standard for Auckland.”

Harawira has spent months during the latest outbreak running checkpoints, or pou korero [talking posts] to ensure people entering the region aren’t in breach of Covid rules. Soon, however, most of those restrictions will be formally lifted. Without any backing from central government, he’s concerned that visitors will simply breeze on through. “As far as they’re concerned, to hell with the local yokels,” he says. “[People will say] we’ve got the keys to the north, we’ve been given the go-ahead by the prime minister herself, so get out of the way.”

“Unfortunately, I think the message being provided by government is go, go, go.”

While the government has indicated people need to be fully vaccinated or produce a negative test to leave the city, there isn’t any comprehensive system in place, beyond possible spot checks, to ensure that carloads of tourists are compliant.

“You’re going to see the virus seeded everywhere,” epidemiologist and public health prof Michael Baker said last week. Baker said the South Island may be better protected, given the requirements for vaccine passports on flights and ferries, but summer travel around the North Island was likely to lead to widespread transmission.

Thompson says spot checks will not be sufficient. “Thirty thousand cars leave Auckland on a daily basis during summer. Can you really honestly hand on heart say that you can pick up which cars … don’t have vaccinated people in them?”

Inland, in Te Urewera, the North Island ex-national park now governed by Tūhoe, the tribe has said it will be closed to visitors until the end of January. “Te Urewera is unique,” said board chair Tāmati Kruger. “Unlike New Zealand’s national parks, it is the home of Tūhoe communities, including some of the country’s most remote and vulnerable populations during the current pandemic.”

But elsewhere, communities don’t have the option of simply closing private campgrounds or public roads. Instead, they’re relying on the goodwill of potential visitors: at the very least, be double vaccinated – and at best, consider delaying your summer road trip one more year. “I’d ask that [the rest of the country] join with me in a campaign to have Christmas moved to 25 January,” Harawira says. “If we hit 90% by then, we’ll open our arms to the nation. We’d welcome people here.”

“I live in Auckland, I’ve been going to the exact same thing every other Auckland has been going through,” Thompson says. “I’d love to go north, I’m from the north as well. But my family, we’ve made the conscious decision to stay home.”



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7 New England Towns That Put On The Best Christmas Celebrations


Twinkling lights reflect softly falling snow, setting the stage for a New England-style white Christmas. You will find small-town squares with pine trees festively draped in thousands of lights, fragrant boughs, wreaths adorned with velvety ribbons and trinkets, and the aroma of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg waft through the air. New England towns’ Christmas celebrations are steeped in tradition from decades of coming together to say goodbye to the past year and prepare for the arrival of the promising New Year. These charming towns put on the best Christmas celebrations that are sure to enhance your Christmas spirit.

Whether you desire an old-fashioned celebration; a ride through a riotous collection of colorful lights; elaborately decorated historic mansions; or a scenic, family-friendly locomotive ride, you will love visiting these New England towns. These holiday season standouts are listed in no particular order.

1. Kennebunkport, Maine

The Christmas Prelude in Kennebunkport is scheduled for December 2–12. This 40th anniversary holiday celebration offers guests 10 days of fun, entertaining activities. The celebratory kickoff begins with the annual Dock Square Tree Lighting on December 3.

Other holiday happenings during the celebration include Cape Porpoise lobster trap tree lighting, a hat parade, Christmas caroling at the Franciscan monastery, Santa’s arrival by lobster boat, and Pooch Parade. The event is always a fun and festive time.

Pro Tip: A charming seafaring town, you can explore more about where to stay and what to see while you are visiting in our Best Things To Do in Kennebunkport guide.

Candle Light Stroll Under the Stars, Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Photo Credit: David J. Murray / ClearEyePhoto.com

2. Portsmouth, New Hampshire

The Strawbery Banke Museum presents the Candlelight Stroll Under The Stars, a stunning outdoor lighting experience. Enjoy the illuminated exteriors of the museum’s historic buildings where designers have crafted a magical display in a gorgeous, twinkling wonderland. Stop by Strawbery Banke Museum on one of the first three Saturdays (5 p.m. to 9 p.m.) and Sundays (4 p.m. to 8 p.m.) in December for a delightful holiday stroll.

On Saturday, December 4, the Illuminated Holiday Parade and Tree Lighting transforms coastal Portsmouth into a twinkling winter fairyland. The tree lighting ceremony in Market Square begins at 5:25 p.m. The parade begins at 6 p.m. and runs along sections of Islington Street.

From December 1 through December 19, The Historic Theater presents The Ogunquit Playhouse’s production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. Enjoying a theater production of this time-honored musical is a wonderful way to savor the Christmas season.

Pro Tip: Coastal New England road trips take on a frosty appeal in the winter. When you visit Portsmouth, consider a short drive up to Bangor or down to Boston for a different perspective of the Atlantic Ocean beaches.

Billings Farm Christmas Parlor.
Photo Credit: Billings Farm & Museum

3. Woodstock, Vermont

Experience Christmas at the Billings Farm where you can explore traditional Victorian decorations and traditions with friends and family. Demonstrations at the farm include candle dipping and gingerbread ornament making served up with traditional holiday stories. 

Christmas at the Farm is Saturday, December 4, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is fun for the whole family.

Wassail Weekend at Billings Farm in Woodstock runs from December 10 through the 12th. Festivities begin at 10 a.m. and run throughout the day until 4 p.m. On Sunday, December 12, horse-drawn wagon or sleigh rides are available (conditions permitting). Visit the Dairy Bar for a delicious cider donut and a mug of wassail, a hot mulled cider with spices. Wassailing is a charming English Yuletide tradition where neighbors gather with neighbors toasting a good cider apple harvest in the year to come.

Pro Tip: Visit our Best Things to do and see in Woodstock guide for great tips on where to stay and play in this lovely small town.

4. Sturbridge, Massachusetts

Christmas by Candlelight at Old Sturbridge Village will transport you to Christmas in colonial times. Stroll through the village and enjoy a crisp December evening as you ooh and ahh at the traditional holiday decorations adorning the village homes. Wander through the Christmas Tree Trail where you are surrounded by fragrant pines and twinkling lights. Immerse yourself in the spirit of days gone by with stories passed down from generation to generation, then hop aboard the horse-drawn carryall for a scenic winter ride around the village. Christmas by Candlelight is open beginning Friday, December 3, and running select nights through Thursday, December 30. Be sure to check the Old Sturbridge Village Calendar for specific days and times.

Pro Tip: Old Sturbridge Village is a unique living museum where you can dive deep into the early colonial life.

Patriots mascot in the tunnel of lights.
Photo Credit: Eric Adler / Kraft Sports + Entertainment

5. Foxborough, Massachusetts

Gillette Stadium in Foxborough is home to the New England Patriots. It is also home to the Magic of Lights, a drive-through lighting extravaganza. Running from November 13 through January 19, from 5 p.m. to 9:25 p.m., it is guaranteed to amp up your holiday spirit. Traverse the 200-foot-long light tunnel as it envelops you in a twinkling, wonderland environment. As you drive the 1-plus-mile course, you will encounter over 40 different scenes and tableaus of inspirational lighting displays. You will be dreaming of recreating these beauties in your own front yard … maybe next year.

Magic of Lights operates at many venues across New England.

Pro Tip: The cost for this event is per carload, so pack up all your friends and family in the SUV and head over to Foxborough for an inspirational lighting adventure.

Sparkiling lights at the Breakers.
Photo Credit: The Preservation Society of Newport

6. Newport, Rhode Island

The Gilded Age mansions in Newport are show-stopping at any time of year, but when they are decked out for Christmas, it is a holiday extravaganza. The Breakers, The Elms, and Marble House are adorned with garlands, wreaths, trees, baubles, lights, and copious amounts of silver and gold. The luxurious, jaw-dropping decorations are on display beginning November 20; please check their events calendar for specific days and times.

The Sparkling Lights at the Breakers is a spectacular outdoor walking adventure that traverses The Breakers gardens. The easily navigable pathways provide beautiful lighting displays and tableaus at every turn. With nearly half of the mansion’s 13 acres twinkling brightly, you will be surprised and delighted at the ornate displays.

The Newport area mansions are spectacularly dressed in their Christmas trappings. Check our story on the Newport Mansions At Christmas for more information and stunning photos.

Pro Tip: Newport is a lovely spot for a weekend getaway, and we have some great ideas about where to stay, dine, and play that will make your planning easier.

Christmas Ornament.
Photo Credit: Billings Farm & Museum

7. Bethlehem, Connecticut

When you are craving a charming, old-fashioned New England Christmas, the Christmas Town Festival will transport you back to a simpler, family-focused Christmas celebration. For 2 days, December 3 and 4, the town is transformed into a celebration of seasonal joy and good cheer.

The mostly free events include a tree lighting, Christmas concerts, fire truck parade, crafters, scavenger hunt, Bell Concert, and Santa arriving on a fire truck.

Each year, a specially designed, unique town ornament is crafted in pewter and is available for sale. The style of these collectible ornaments has changed over the years, but the sentiment remains the same: Christmas is a time to celebrate friends and family. You can purchase ornaments from as far back as 1982, they will give your tree an old-fashioned colonial feel.

Pro Tip: Spending a quiet weekend in this charming small town will impart a sense of the American Dream where simply enjoying life is the key to happiness.

The Breakers Morning Room
The Breakers Morning Room (Photo Credit: The Preservation Society of Newport)

New England Christmas Train Rides

Christmas train rides are a wonderful way to experience a special adventure with the youngsters in your life. Across New England, train depots are gearing up for a North Pole-inspired ride. Copious amounts of hot cocoa are steaming, cookies are baking, stationery for letters to Santa is printed, and elf casting is nearly complete.

We have compiled a list of small towns that celebrate big time when it comes to visiting the North Pole by rail. A train ride through the local scenery is a wonderful way to celebrate the arrival of the Christmas season.

The Essex Steam Train and River Boat in Essex, Connecticut, is a 90-minute train ride filled with sugar cookies, sing-a-longs, and a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Enjoy breakfast, pizza, or a sunset train ride with Santa on the Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad in Unity, Maine.

The Polar Express Train Ride out of Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, brings the movie to life. Each car has entertaining, costumed conductors and wait staff creating an immersive experience. Wear your jammies and pack your camera for this exciting ride.

The Hobo and Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad offers the Santa Express Trains in Lincoln, New Hampshire. Enjoy the beautiful Winnipesaukee scenic views while meeting with Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Another Polar Express Train Ride at the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. & Museum in Portland, Maine, whisks guests off to the North Pole where they can see Santa prepping his sleigh for his Christmas deliveries.

Whether you love a down-home, small-town Christmas; a scenic train ride through the winter landscape; a bustling festival full of high energy; or a ride through a tunnel of lights, you will find many New England towns that put on wonderful Christmas celebrations. Set a date with your friends and family, get away from all the crazy preparation, and simply enjoy each other in the spirit of the season.



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Travel Magazine says Hood River is among 20 best beer towns in U.S.


PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland, Eugene and Bend are filled with craft breweries for beer lovers. But Travel Magazine says another Oregon city, Hood River, shouldn’t be overlooked. 

In an article published Tuesday, Travel Magazine said Hood River is among the 20 best beer towns in the United States. The city, which is situated along the Columbia River east of Portland, was recognized for breweries that are “well oiled machines pumping out quality beer,” according to the article. 

Hood River was the 19th city on the list and the magazine said its highlights include Full Sail Brewing Co., pFriem Family Brewers, and Double Mountain Brewery & Cidery. 

The article also mentioned how Hood River has a hard kombucha brewery and hosts the Hood River Hops Fest every October. 

Sunnyside, Washington also made the list. The magazine said the city is home to Snipes Mountain Brewery and Restaurant and Varietal Beer Co.  



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7 Quaint European Towns That Feel Like A Hallmark Christmas Movie


Travelling can really push you outside your comfort zone, especially when you are least expecting it. Finding a town where one feels at home, despite the distinct cultural differences, is a true reassurance and comfort to the soul. The streets may be crooked, the houses half-timbered, and the singsong of an unfamiliar language fills the air, but something stirs inside you. You could stay a while and settle into local life. Pinch yourself. Have you stepped onto the set of a Christmas movie? These 7 European towns are beyond quaint in appearance with the coziest of ambiances. 

Central street Grand Rue decorated and illuminated for Christmas celebrations in Colmar.
Boris Stroujko / Shutterstock.com

1. Colmar, France

Arriving in Colmar is like walking straight into a fairytale setting. This is true any time of the year. But during the Christmas season, under glowing lights, amidst intriguing market stalls and children singing carols from boats on the canal, it is truer than ever. 

Colmar, situated in the Alsace region of France, celebrates Christmas with six markets full of regional gourmet delights and local artisanal creations. Colmar is the capital of Alsace Wine Country, so celebrate with Christmas cheer from Alsace, including a glass of steaming Alsatian mulled wine. It is tradition to decorate the Christmas trees in Alsace with gingerbread, so it is no surprise that a variety of gingerbread treats are available. Known for its gastronomic traditions, you’ll find foie gras, Munster cheese, and if you are a meat lover, the classic “choucroute” with plenty of meat and sauerkraut. 

Stroll the medieval center with its colorful, crooked half-timbered homes, and admire snowflakes and angels decorating shuttered facades. Does it get more picturesque than this? Maybe a little. With tresses built across the canal topped with red baubles and pine boughs, Colmar is the ultimate in festive atmosphere. 

Pro Tip: Don’t miss these two treats only available during the Christmas season: Bredele, Christmas biscuits which come in many flavors, and Manelas de Saint Nicolas, a yummy, buttery brioche in the shape of a little person!

Tourists walking in the Christmas market of Montepulciano in Tuscany.
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2. Montepulciano, Italy 

Montepulciano in Tuscany, Italy was just a name in a guidebook. After my visit, it remains my favorite hilltop medieval town in Tuscany. This beautiful, walled Italian town just south of Siena, is one of those special places that touched my heart. Could it have been the gorgeous views over the Val d’Orcia and Val di Chiana, the rolling, lush valleys that surround it? Could it have been the elegant squares or the Renaissance buildings? Perhaps it was the numerous wine cellars and tastings of the local Vino Nobile di Montepulciano that the town is known for and the pride with which it was shared. Perhaps it was the local Pecorino cheese drizzled with spectacular homemade honey. Maybe, it was more of a feeling. Something from another century, straight out of a movie. 

With a chill in the air, Montepulciano has a marvelous Christmas market right in the main piazza, Piazza Grande. Explore the wooden chalets bursting with local Tuscan goods and don’t miss Santa’s workshop set up in the Montepulciano Fortress.

Pro Tip: How about timing your visit with the traditional annual barrel rolling competition (Bravio delle Botti) on the last Sunday in August? This historical challenge between the eight districts of Montepulciano has been going on since the 14th century. I can’t imagine the excitement surrounding pushing 196-pound wine barrels uphill and the medieval costume parade. 

Visitors drink gluwein on a winter afternoon at the Christmas market, Rudesheim, Germany.
Steve Estvanik / Shutterstock.com

3. Rudesheim Am Rhein, Germany 

The village of Rudesheim am Rhein, known simply as Rudesheim, is beyond charming. Situated in Germany’s Rheingau wine region, just a short trip from Frankfurt, Rudesheim is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage Rhine Gorge. 

Rudesheim cascades down a hill towards the Rhine River, its steep cobbled streets lined with medieval half-timbered houses. In the heart of the Old Town, the narrow and picturesque Drosselgasse lane is filled with shops and restaurants. Accompanied by chiming church bells or an accordion tune, savor the local bratwurst and schnitzel along with a stein of beer or the local wine, Rheingauer Reisling. A trip to Rudesheim is not complete without sampling the local specialty coffee drink, Rudesheimer Kaffee. Locally distilled Asbach Uralt Brandy and whipped cream make this coffee cocktail unforgettable. 

In any season, take a ride on the Rudesheim Seilbahn, a cable car that takes you to the Niederwalddenkmal, a monument that commemorates the Unification of Germany. Be prepared to “ooh” and “ah”; the views over the surrounding vineyards, the town, and the Rhine River are magnificent. 

A trip to Rudesheim necessitates a boat cruise down the Rhine River to witness the impressive castles perched on hilltops that hold legends of the area.

Rudesheim is known for its Christmas market, which attracts vendors and guests from all over the world. With snow crunching underfoot, stroll through the 120 market stalls with a cup of steaming Gluhwein, hot mulled wine. It’s the perfect place to purchase that elusive Christmas gift. 

Pro Tip: Hotel Zur Rose, just a few minutes’ walk to the Old Town, is a lovely, welcoming hotel. 

Saint Antonin noble val village, Tarn, Midi-Pyrénées, Occitanie, France.
AWP76 / Shutterstock.com

4. Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, France

Situated in the gorge of the Aveyron River and backed by the steep cliffs of Roc d’Anglars is the charming medieval town of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val. With the church spire stretching towards the heavens, a maze of cobbled streets, and a lively Sunday morning market, you may think you have walked onto a movie set. And that you have. Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val was the setting for the 2014 movie The One Hundred-Foot Journey with Helen Mirren. The picturesque village depicted in the movie is just as delightful, or possibly more so, in real life. In 2016, the French voted Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val one of their top three favorite villages. In a country full of quaint towns, this is quite the honor. 

Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val is full of interesting facades and historic buildings. Don’t miss the oldest civil building in France, Maison Romane, which hails from 1120. Pop into the artisan shops and then stop by a cafe in the main square, Place de la Halle, and soak up the relaxed local vibe.

Pro Tip: Drive up to Roc d’Anglars for spectacular views over Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val and the Aveyron Valley.

St. James' Church, Shere, Surrey.
St. James Church (Photo Credit: Alison Avery / Shutterstock.com)

5. Shere, England

Nestled in the rolling Surrey Hills, just 35 miles from London, is the darling town of Shere. This small village with its thatched roof and timber frame cottages is picture-perfect. Take a walk along the well-marked trails of the Surrey Hills and nestle back in Shere for a soothing cup of tea and freshly baked scones at Hillly’s Tea Shop. Wander up the cobbled lane through the roofed gateway to Saint James Church (1190) with its striking spire and down Rectory Lane to the bubbling River Tillingbourne. It’s no wonder that charming Shere has been used as a location in countless movies, my favorite being The Holiday (2006). If you love traditional British pubs, stop by The White Horse, a former 15th-century farmhouse, where Cameron Diaz met up with Jude Law and the sparks of romance took off!

Pro Tip: With Christmas lights twinkling in the lead paned windows, snowflakes falling. Don’t miss Carols in the Shere Square on Christmas Eve.

Santa Llucia christmas market at night.
Alberto Zamorano / Shutterstock.com

6. Sitges, Spain

Sitges, a short 25-mile trip from Barcelona, is nicknamed the “Saint-Tropez” of Spain. Located on the Catalan coast, the swaying palms, narrow charming streets, 17 pristine beaches, and elegant architecture make it unforgettable. This Christmas movie setting mingles sandy beaches, glitz, bohemian flare from its long-standing artistic vibe, and old-world charm to create a unique experience. Sitges, one of the best-known LGBTQ+ travel destinations, is filled with rainbow-colored flags. Wander past white-washed buildings in the ancient core boasting artisanal shops and lively bars and restaurants. Spanish tapas and sangria anyone? How about a glass of local Malvasia de Sitges, a sweet dessert wine? Stroll along the pedestrian boulevard, Passeig Maritim, and marvel at the glittering Mediterranean Sea and the mild temperatures. Visit the Christmas market right in Sitges or take a short train ride to Barcelona and wander the 300 stalls of the Christmas market, Fira de Santa Llucia, dating back to 1786. Don a pair of ice skates and twirl around the rink in Plaza Catalunya in Barcelona or head to the small town of Vilanova il a Geltru and skate with the locals. 

Pro Tip: Don’t miss Mama’s Picanteria for a delicious combination of international flavors concocted by the creative chefs from their worldly travels. 

Cityscape and main square in Bruges (Belgium), Belfry Tower.
Silvan Bachmann / Shutterstock.com

7. Bruges, Belgium

Just the canals meandering through the medieval city of Bruges evoke a sense of romance and wonder but the “piece de resistance” is Grote Markt (Market Square). Grote Markt has been the beating heart of Bruges since 958. Stand before the impressive colorful-stepped facades and the 272-foot belfry tower with its carillon chiming a gentle tune and be immediately transported a few centuries back. Float along the canals under ancient stone bridges, admiring medieval buildings and spires at every turn. Bruges is the ultimate experience for curious souls. Search out the quiet squares, the oldest tavern from 1515, boutique chocolate-makers, some strong Belgian beer and you’ll be left feeling right at home. In December, the seasonal buzz is infectious. Shop windows glitter with Christmas lights and unique artisanal gifts while Grote Markt hosts a Christmas market including an ice-skating rink. And just to add to the ambience, tuck a blanket over your knees as you clip-clop down the cobbled streets in a horse-drawn carriage. 

Pro Tip: Climb up the 366 stairs of the belfry tower for panoramic and magnificent views. Can you see the windmills and the North Sea? The staircase gets quite narrow the higher you climb.



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Most beautiful towns in Europe


(CNN) — Paris, Rome, Barcelona… Europe’s cities are bucket list destinations, and rightly so. But the continent’s small towns are a dream, too, with all the beautiful architecture and much of the culture you’ll find in the big hitters, only with fewer crowds to share them with.

Here are some of the prettiest small towns across Europe, from humble fishing towns to hilltop medieval power bases.

Giethoorn, Netherlands

Giethoorn is often called the Dutch answer to Venice.

Giethoorn is often called the Dutch answer to Venice.

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They call it the Dutch answer to Venice, but Giethoorn lacks one crucial thing that the Italian city has in spades: overtourism. As in Venice, life revolves around the water, here — there are no cars in the center so the only way to get around is on foot or on the water.

Take a boat tour around the thatched houses sitting on peat-filled islands. Hungry? Stop at the Michelin-starred restaurant Hollands-Venetië.

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Guimarães, Portugal

Guimarães is sleepy today, but it was Portugal's first capital.

Guimarães is sleepy today, but it was Portugal’s first capital.

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Guimarães is crucial to Portugal’s history — it was named the country’s first capital in the 12th century, and its medieval core remains largely intact, full of convents, grand old palaces and a crumbling castle, perched on top of a bluff.

Like everywhere in Portugal, local bakeries make a mean pastel de nata, but here you should try the local speciality: torta di Guimarães — a pastry filled with squash and ground almonds.

Roscoff, France

Roscoff is one of the cutest port towns in France.

Roscoff is one of the cutest port towns in France.

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Port towns can be grubby. Not lovely little Roscoff, though, in France’s Brittany region, which built its fortune on maritime trade, including exporting its famous pink onions to the UK.

Today, it’s a center of thalassotherapy, using seawater to treat medical conditions, as well as a beautiful Breton town. Tiny fishing boats bob in the small harbor — with a larger one, where ferries leave for Plymouth in the UK, further out.

Anghiari, Italy

Anghiari's streets were designed for Renaissance-era warriors.

Anghiari’s streets were designed for Renaissance-era warriors.

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Hovering on a hillside near the Tuscan-Umbrian border, Anghiari is a delight — a tiny walled town curling round itself as it clings to the landscape.

It’s a pedestrianized warren of alleyways and roller-coastering streets, packed full of grand palazzi which were built by the mysterious, mercenary “men of arms” who lived here in the Renaissance period.

Find out more about them at the Museo della Battaglia di Anghiari, which traces the history of a momentous medieval battle which took place on the plain outside town.

Nafplio, Greece

Nafplio was modern Greece's first capital.

Nafplio was modern Greece’s first capital.

Suzanne Plunkett

Gorgeous Nafplio straddles the Aegean Sea in the Peloponnese, with its Venetian-built castle thrusting into the water (in fact, there are three castles to visit here) and a pretty Old Town spooling out behind the old walls.

This was the first capital of modern Greece, so there are things to do in spades. There’s a lido, if you want to take a safe dip in the sea, and if history’s more your thing, the archeological museum contains items dating back to the Mycenean age.

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzigovina

Mostar's bridge draws visitors from all over the region.

Mostar’s bridge draws visitors from all over the region.

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Mostar’s Stari Most, or “Old Bridge,” built by the Ottomans in the 16th century, was long considered one of the finest examples of Balkan Islamic architecture.

Arcing high across the Neretva river, it’s one of the most famous sights in the Balkans, and traditionally locals dive from the bridge — today it’s a stop on the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series.

The bridge was destroyed in November 1993 by Croat forces during the Balkan wars. A reconstructed bridge was built in 2004, and today, Mostar is a beloved destination in Bosnia and Herzigovina, and a popular day trip from Dubrovnik, over the border in Croatia.

Mazara del Vallo, Sicily

Mazara del Vallo is one of Sicily's prettiest fishing towns.

Mazara del Vallo is one of Sicily’s prettiest fishing towns.

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Sicily is a melting pot, and Mazara del Vallo typifies that. Founded by the Phoenicians nearly 3,000 years ago, it’s seen myriad cultures flow throungh the island — its Kasbah area is similar to a north African medina, there’s a strong Tunisia community, and you’ll be more likely to find couscous on the menu than pasta.

Its stand out attraction is the Satiro Danzante, or dancing satyr — an ancient bronze statue fished out of the sea in 1998.

Clovelly, UK

Donkeys used to be the only way to get around cute Clovelly.

Donkeys used to be the only way to get around cute Clovelly.

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Donkeys used to be the only way to get up and down the steep streets of Clovelly, a pretty fishing village in Devon, southwest England.

Today, they still haven’t managed to bring cars in — it sits at the bottom of a 400-foot cliff. Instead, goods are transported by man-powered sledges — and if tourists can’t face the walk back up to the car park, they can grab a ride in a Land Rover instead.

Dinkelsbühl, Germany

Dinkelsbühl sits on Germany's 'romantic road.'

Dinkelsbühl sits on Germany’s ‘romantic road.’

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A cute historic center, timbered houses and stout towers — Dinkelsbühl has it all. It sits plum on Germany’s “Romantic Road” — a route known for its ravishing towns.

Wrapped by medieval walls with a vast Gothic church, St George’s Minster, it was the setting for Werner Herzog’s film “The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser.”

Korčula, Croatia

Korčula sits on a peninsula danging off the island of the same name.

Korčula sits on a peninsula danging off the island of the same name.

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When an island sitting peacefully in the Adriatic Sea just isn’t enough, there’s Korčula, striking out from the island of the same name on a tiny peninsula.

Locals say adventurer Marco Polo was born here; Venetians dispute that. Either way, it’s a world-class town, with gleaming white streets and buildings hewn from local stone, water almost all the way round, and beautiful buildings left by the Venetians, who ruled here for centuries.

Kenmare, Ireland

Kenmare's one of Ireland's big foodie destinations.

Kenmare’s one of Ireland’s big foodie destinations.

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On the southwestern tip of Ireland, the land melts into the ocean in County Kerry. Kenmare dandles on the bay of the same name, where the Roughty River slides into the sea.

This is in the middle of some of Ireland’s best loved ares — it’s on the Wild Atlantic Way, between the Ring of Kerry and the Ring of Beara. Kenmare is known for its food, and for its views — with grand mountains rearing up behind the pristine bay.

Piran, Slovenia

Piran makes the most of Slovenia's sliver of Adriatic coastline.

Piran makes the most of Slovenia’s sliver of Adriatic coastline.

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Slovenia only has a sliver of coastline, located on the top of the wedge-shaped Istrian peninsula, hanging in the Adriatic Sea.

Though small, this stretch of coast, sandwiched between Italy and Croatia, is home to several beautiful towns, including Piran. Developed by the Venetians, who conquered it in 1283, it’s a beautiful mini Venice, with a stout belltower, frothy architecture, and fishing boats docked in the tiny harbor.

Reine, Norway

Reine is Norway at its most picture perfect.

Reine is Norway at its most picture perfect.

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You want: a cute Norwegian town — remote, tiny, and waterside.You need: Reine, the joy of the Lofoten Islands, whose pretty red cabins sit at the base of craggy mountain peaks that make this a cross between the Dolomites and Ha Long Bay.

This is one of the most spectacular spots in the Lofoten archipelago — with a jawdropping viewpoint of the islands and the village, Reinebringen, just outside.

Regencos, Spain

Regencos sits peacefully inland from the Coast Brava beaches.

Regencos sits peacefully inland from the Coast Brava beaches.

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As far as Spain’s tourist-filled coastlines go, the Costa Brava, in Catalonia, is relatively quiet — but it doesn’t hold a candle to peaceful Regencos, just 10 minutes inland. Just south of the “Dali Triangle,” the area where the surrealist artist lived and worked, it’s a mountain-fringed area of quiet medieval villages.

Regencos, slightly larger, has remnants of its medieval walls, a pretty church, and traditional stone houses whirling out from the center.

Tarnów, Poland

Tarnów is a city, but still has a small-town feel.

Tarnów is a city, but still has a small-town feel.

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First things first — this is a city. But wander the Old Town and you’ll find it still has that small-town feel, with pretty medieval buildings that give a feel of how nearby Krakow was before mass tourism arrived.

The Old Town square is a glorious mix of architectural styles, there’s a beautiful gothic church and a lot of Jewish heritage — though the community was more or less wiped out during the Second World War.

Top image: Nafplio, Greece. Credit: Adobe Stock



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9 Charming Towns To Visit In East Texas This Fall


Contrary to popular belief, Texas does have lovely fall foliage, but you’ll have to wait later in the year to see it. When fall does arrive — usually in late October — it’s a beaut, and East Texas is where you’ll see rich autumn colors of yellow, orange, red, brown, and green from maple, oak, dogwood, and many other trees. 

Many towns in the area are getting prepared for their fall festivals, fall foliage driving trails are getting their manicure from Mother Nature, and travelers who want to experience East Texas’s rolling hills, forests of green, and cooler temperatures are making plans to visit. So get ready to plan a day trip, or better yet, an autumn getaway in this neck of the (piney) woods.

I’ve listed the best scenic towns in no particular order for a charming fall visit complete with fall foliage, scenic drives, and family fun. To me, fall is the most enjoyable time to visit Texas.

Pro Tips: If you’re coming to East Texas just to see fall colors, plan your visit in late October. In some areas, fall foliage can last until early December. But if you’re coming for the festivals, be sure to check the dates. Some can even be in September. 

When you do find yourself in East Texas during fall, be sure to meander through the back roads as much as possible for the most picturesque backdrops of what fall has to offer in this area of Texas.

Marshall Courthouse Monument to the Confederate soldier.
Marshall Courthouse (Photo Credit: Jeffrey M. Frank / Shutterstock.com)

1. Marshall

Marshall, Texas is better known for having the best winter light show during the holidays called Wonderland of Lights, but autumn rolls around first, and Old Stagecoach Road turns into an 8-mile fall frolic drive. It’s a narrow dirt road that begins in Marshall and ends in Karnack, Texas. Legends have it that this road is haunted, or maybe it’s just spooky.

Marshall is roughly 150 miles east of Dallas on I-20, or for the scenic route, take Highway 80. If you’re looking for things to do in town, check out historic downtown, Enoch’s Stomp Vineyard & Winery, and Karma Farms — one of the best places to go horseback riding. When I was there recently, it was just me and the owner on the trails. She showed me a great time, and I even got to trot the horse.

Pro Tip: Caddo Lake is close by and is another area with gorgeous fall foliage, plus you can take a tour on the bayou to see the hanging Cypress trees. The peak time for color tends to be the end of October through late November.

Texas Railroad Train going from Palestine, TX to Rusk TX.
Donna Chance Hall / Shutterstock.com

2. Palestine

In mid-November, beautiful autumn colors swarm the town of Palestine and every year visitors get their cars ready to drive the Pineywoods Autumn Trail. The trail is a 145-mile scenic road trip along breathtaking back roads in Palestine that includes historical markers and magnificent fall colors. Autumn colors are expected to arrive mid to late November.

While in town, you may want to stick around to enjoy outdoor adventures, train excursions, local cuisine, and historic shops. Also, catch a ride on the well-known Texas State Railroad, and ride it to Rusk, Texas, and back for a scenic fall tour of pinewood, rolling hills, nature, and wildlife. The railroad has a park at each end of the excursion route. 

Pro Tip: It’s best to call ahead for foliage updates at (800) 659-3484 (Visit Palestine).

3. Athens

The 55-mile self-guided scenic fall foliage trail through Athens has once been named the best fall foliage trail in East Texas. On this route, you’ll have a chance to visit several points of interest, including the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center and the East Texas Arboretum & Botanical Society where you can take an afternoon stroll through the gardens. If you like the adrenaline of zipping across treetops, check out New York Texas Zipline Adventure for a fun time. It’s less than a 20-minute drive from town and is also on the driving route. I’ve ziplined there twice, not in the fall, but in the summer, and it was the most thrilling zipline course my grandson and I have been on. If you’re up for it, be sure to zip the nine lines. The best is at the end!

Pro Tip: If you’d like to check out farmers markets in Athens, the last one for the year is the last weekend in October, at 212 North Palestine Street, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The Gateway statue by Michael Boyett, honoring the first settlers of Texas during fall.
Gateway Statue (Photo Credit: Roberto Galan / Shutterstock.com)

4. Nacogdoches

The town claims the title of “Garden Capital of Texas,” and with beautiful landscapes at the Mast Arboretum on the Stephen F. Austin University campus, that’s a good reason to plan a visit. The oldest town in Texas, Nacogdoches (Nac for short) is especially stunning during the fall season. Deep East Texas Fall Foliage Trail (PDF) loops from Nacogdoches to Alto, Crockett, Livingston, Newton, Hemphill, San Augustine, and Shelbyville. A map of the trail is available at the Visitor’s Center located at 200 East Main Street. When planning your trip, be sure to look for the downtown art walk, vintage market days, and the several festivals in town. The best time to visit for fall foliage is in late October through early December. A year-round farmers market is held every Saturday at 107 West Pearl Street. 

Pro Tip: Auntie Pasta’s Italian Restaurant is a great place to grab a pizza or pasta — all handmade.

Tranquil scenery in Daingerfield State Park, Texas.
Daingerfield State Park (Photo Credit: Jasmine Sahin / Shutterstock.com)

5. Daingerfield

This town is on every list when it comes to the best towns to visit in Texas in the fall. Why? Because of the natural beauty of blazing yellow, orange, red, and pink colors of autumn you’ll see at Daingerfield State Park. In late October, the leaves start tumbling down all over the park, making way for an excellent fall backdrop. The tree’s reflection on the lake and the wildlife out there is another reason this area is so special. If a day visit is all you have, plan for it, but if a weekend stay is in the works, check out the cabins for rent in the park. That way, you’ll get at least two days to see and experience autumn at probably the best place in Texas. And don’t forget about all the hiking you could do there. The very best time to visit the park is in early to mid-November. There is a small entrance fee to enter the park.

Pro Tip: Right outside of town is Greer Farm which offers lovely cabins to rent overlooking a pond, with free bicycle rentals. This would make a nice and quiet autumn getaway option if all the cabins in the park are full.

6. Jefferson

Jefferson, Texas, is a town that shows up on lists for the best places to stay with big Texas charm. It is a large bed and breakfast community — probably the first town to do so in Texas — and offers many fun attractions for the whole family. There is always something fun going on in town, including a Texas Bigfoot Conference. Yes, the locals swear by seeing Bigfoot out there a time or two. He’s so popular, it seems there’s a need for a conference! 

Pro Tip: Lake O’ The Pines is a nice lake nearby that offers parks, camping, canoes, kayaks, and boat rentals, and of course, beautiful fall colors.

For the outdoor adventurer traveling to Jefferson, check out the 9 Excellent Outdoor Activities Near Jefferson, Texas.

7. Winnsboro

Winnsboro is one of those towns you want to live in, or at least near, for the close community it seems to have, and the fun activities that go on all year long. The town is well-known for its annual festivals, including its free Winnsboro Autumn Trails. Also look for a chili cook-off, antique car parade, and a trail ride. The Winnsboro Autumn Trails put this town on the map — complete with a brochure and all. There are three routes to choose from. Check with the Winnsboro Autumn Trails Association for exact routes and more information.

Highway 14 and Highway 16, or virtually any farm-to-market road, are excellent drives for fall favorites.

Fall Pond in The Piney Woods.
Piney Woods (Photo Credit: Kamille A. Cherry / Shutterstock.com)

8. Longview

Located on I-20 between Dallas and Shreveport, it gives travelers easy access to a place well-known for its East Texas charm. Longview, one of the largest cities in the piney woods, would be an excellent choice for a visit in the fall with the family. With gorgeous views of the Longview Arboretum and Nature Center in the fall, and the events going on there in October, including a wine festival, it would certainly be my pick for a fun time.

Pro Tip: If you’re a fan of coffee, head down to the local’s favorite coffee shop, Silver Grizzly Espresso, for a cold brew, Americano, or any one of their specialty coffees.

Pathway leading through rose garden with brick archway.
Tyler Municipal Rose Garden (Photo Credit: Donna Chance Hall / Shutterstock.com)

9. Tyler

The Rose Capital of America is none other than Tyler, Texas, and for good reason. The Tyler Municipal Rose Garden includes over 38,000 rose bushes and over 600 different varieties, and it holds the Texas Rose Festival every year in mid-October. Fall coloring may not be around for it just yet. However, when it’s time, Tyler State Park will explode into a palette of orange, yellow, and red foliage (usually in late November), but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t arrive until early December. Also be sure to see How To Spend A Fantastic Weekend In Charming Tyler, Texas

Pro Tip: From spring to fall, you can buy cut roses from a vendor that sells out of her van in the French Quarter Shopping Center at the corner of Loop 323 and Broadway, near Einstein Brothers Bagels. For as long as I can remember, Tyler roses have been sold on street corners in Dallas — but I just don’t see this anymore.

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‘Beautiful buildings wherever you look’: Germany’s best towns and villages, by readers | Germany holidays


Winning tip: A ‘film set’ close to the Polish border

We arrived in Görlitz, Germany’s most easterly town, to find it packed with peasants swilling beer from pewter mugs and devouring sausages to a background of drums and pipes. It was the annual medieval festival, and they take the past seriously here. That’s understandable: Görlitz is jammed with arcaded squares, ancient towers and magnificent churches that have bedazzled film-makers from Tarantino to Wes Anderson. We lucked into the building that served as the Grand Budapest Hotel – actually an art nouveau department store. We went to Poland for a beer – the town of Zgorzelec is just over the River Neisse – before returning to Görlitz for carousing, 15th-century style.
David Ellis

Black Forest bathing

Oppenau, Black Forest
Photograph: robertharding/Alamy

We had a great family holiday in the Black Forest near Oppenau. It’s a beautiful old small town but the best thing about it was the huge, public open-air swimming pool, with water slides, grassy picnic areas and a cafe. Best of all when you pay your tourist tax you receive free entry and free train travel around the Black Forest region. This means you can explore the small towns, lakes, forests and waterfalls by train.
Rebecca

Alpine views and a beach, near Munich

Sunset at Ammersee Lake, Herrsching am Ammersee.
Sunset at Ammersee Lake, Herrsching am Ammersee. Photograph: Alamy

Herrsching am Ammersee is a small town at the end of the S-Bahn line from Munich, next to Ammersee, a beautiful 15km-long glacial lake. There are views to the Bavarian Alps over 60km away, a promenade, and beaches where people swim in the summer. A short hike through the woods brings you to Kloster Andechs, a stunning Benedictine abbey on a hill overlooking the lake. The abbey brews its own beer and has a Biergarten where you can sip its brews – some with evocative names: Spezial Hell, Weizenbock and Bergbock Hell – and crunch on a Brezeln (pretzel) or two. If you over-indulge on the “hells”, Nefis, on Seestrasse, does the best Turkish meze and kebabs. Taking the boat to Dießen am Ammersee is also a must, as is hiring a bike to explore the many fairytale Bavarian villages nearby.
Tom

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Guardian Travel readers’ tips

Every week we ask our readers for recommendations from their travels. A selection of tips will be featured online and may appear in print. To enter the latest competition visit the readers’ tips homepage

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Luther’s legacy, near Berlin

Town hall, period houses and St Mary’s Church, Lutherstadt Wittenberg.
Town hall, period houses and St Mary’s Church, Lutherstadt Wittenberg. Photograph: Alamy

Lutherstadt Wittenberg is a beautiful town less than an hour by train from Berlin. It’s the perfect place for a day trip or overnight stay. For a cheap stay, Wittenberg Youth Hostel (€28.50) is next to where, according to some accounts, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses. It’s a beautiful place, especially if you are a fan of reformation history. The market square is stunning at sunset, and there is a shop where you can by anything in Martin Luther form, including a tiny Lego Luther.
Ellen

Into the Harz mountains, Lower Saxony

Goslar Glockenspiel
Goslar Glockenspiel. Photograph: McCanner/Alamy

I recommend Goslar, a Unesco-listed city in an untouched area in the Harz mountains. It’s a beautiful old town with a charming centre. The slate-clad Kaiserringhaus has a glockenspiel (pictured) and automatons that chime regularly each day. The enchanting figures act out scenes from Goslar’s mining past. Parts of the Martkbrunnen fountain date back to the 12th century, adding to the timeless atmosphere of the centre. A great trip from Goslar is to take a scenic ride on the narrow-gauge, steam Brocken railway, an ideal way to see some of the least-known natural landscapes in Germany.
Gerard Gordon

Medieval magic, northern Bavaria

Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Photograph: Alamy

The fortified hilltop city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber is not just a beautiful place to visit but one of Germany’s most significant historical centres. Ringed by a huge defensive wall punctuated by towering city gates, the enclosed warren of narrow streets, lanes and alleyways are a delight to wander. Lush parks and gardens are to be stumbled across among the quintessentially German medieval architecture of half-timbered and brightly painted and decorated buildings. Cafes, restaurants and beer halls abound, as do museums, not least the glittery Christmas Museum, the Medieval Crime and Justice Museum and the Imperial City Museum, celebrating the town’s long and prestigious history.
Graeme Black

Architectural oddity near the North Sea

Bremen readers pic
Photograph: Nigel Gann

Bremen is a fascinating, beautiful small city with ancient streets, a lively Marktplatz, art at the Kunsthalle from such diverse sources as Masolino, Dürer, Monet, Van Gogh, Beckmann, Cage and Paik, and the fine Theater am Goetheplatz. There’s great countryside around, with nature parks, castles and Bremerhaven, where there’s the excellent German Maritime Museum. There are loads of good restaurants outside and in, with sensible Covid restrictions. The Böttcherstraße, which hosts a plethora of arts and crafts shops, is a remarkable piece of interwar architecture, and there’s a hotel right in the middle of it in Atlantis House. The walks along the River Weser are lovely too.
Nigel Gann

Where Bach played the organ, Thüringen

View over the old town of Muhlhausen
Photograph: Alamy

Mühlhausen, in Thüringen in the former GDR, is a small town with a huge history. The young JS Bach was organist here, and you can hear organ music in the church where he worked. Earlier, the theologian Thomas Müntzer, who opposed both the Roman Catholic church and Martin Luther, preached here and was executed outside the city in 1525. The medieval centre is one of the largest in Germany, with beautiful churches and buildings wherever you look. There are lovely old wooden doors, behind one of which is the town hall where a friendly civil servant can lead you to the amazing painted council chamber. The train journey goes through quiet countryside to the sleepy station, far from the bustle of the big cities.
Barbara Forbes

Wonky wonder, Bavaria

the medieval town of Dinkelsbuhl on the romantic road
Photograph: Laura Di Biase/Alamy

Not too far from Nuremberg is the red-roofed medieval town of Dinkelsbühl. A trout-filled river, a city wall reminiscent of Carcassonne, and more taverns than you can shake a schnitzel at. In the middle of July the town is overflowing with lederhosen-wearing young people swilling beer at bunting-bedecked trestle tables in the central square – all as part of the Children’s Festival, which marks the town’s escape from decimation by the Swedish army when the general took pity on the local peasant children. Brightly coloured doors, wonky windows and curious cobbled streets make Dinklesbuhl a fantastic historic stay.
Rosey

Handsome and Hanseatic, Lübeck

Holsten Gate (Holstentor), Lübeck
Holsten Gate (Holstentor), Photograph: Alamy

The moment you walk through Lübeck’s Unesco-listed Holstentor Gate (pictured) you find a city stuffed with treats. As the former capital of the Hanseatic League, it abounds in history and culture, and has the added bonus of being within a few kilometres of wide, sandy beaches. The highlight for me, though, was savouring the tastes and sights of its edible claim to fame: marzipan. After walking down Breite Straße and sampling Niederegger Café’s signature nut tart, I visited the free museum upstairs and saw, among other fascinating exhibits, lifesize, local figures, including novelist Thomas Mann, sculpted from almond paste.
Rod



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7 European Towns That Are Better In The Winter Than The Summer


I don’t know what it is about winter, but not only is it probably my favorite season, but it also suits certain cities so much better than summer. I admit that this view might be subjective, as all the cities listed in this round-up are also great places to visit during other seasons. But, somehow, the best season to visit, in my mind at least, is winter.

Maybe it has something to do with the season I first visited and got to know each place, and looking at the list again, this is true for quite a few of them, but not all. Whatever the reason, these cities just are much more atmospheric in winter: They are either adorned with snow or are dressed up for the festive season, or they are perfect for walking around while wrapped in a warm coat.  

Why don’t you go and have a look to see if you agree?

Winter in Tallinn, Estonia
Alex Stemmers / Shutterstock.com

1. Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is like a time-stood-still fairy tale city. The old center is snuggled within a sturdy medieval city wall, complete with lookout towers with red pointed roofs, and the cobbled lanes are hemmed with ancient buildings, some half-timbered, others painted in pastel shades. The market square sits alongside the old town hall, which dates to 1404, making it the oldest in the Baltic States. There are shops selling the loveliest local arts and crafts, with those little big-nosed gnomes, also called tomte or tonttu, which originate from Norse folklore, making the cutest addition to your mantlepiece back home.

Now add snow, add cafes and restaurants with large open fires and serving either mulled wine, or glöggi, and decadent hot chocolate, add an ice rink set against a row of colorful old houses, and people warmly dressed simply enjoying being out at the market square filled with stalls during the Christmas season, and you have the perfect winter atmosphere.

Pro Tip: Stay at the Hotel Telegraaf in the heart of the old town. A gorgeous old building, modern amenities, huge open fire, and a great restaurant.

A canal in Strasbourg, France
cge2010 / Shutterstock.com

2. Strasbourg, France

Choosing Strasbourg for this list was a no-brainer because it is the Christmas setting personified. I have never seen a city more decorated at Christmas than Strasbourg. Not one shop window or street is without twinkling lights, window decorations, or market stalls. You can barely take it all in, there is so much to see. Don’t get me wrong, I have visited in summer and enjoyed sitting out by the river, and loving the atmosphere of the old town, but if you only get to visit once, make it December, and take in Christmas in Strasbourg. It has to be seen to be believed. And don’t think that it is too much or tacky. Not at all. It is simply perfect.

Pro Tip: While there are big Christmas markets around the cathedral and on the main square, concentrate on the smaller ones in Petite France, the really old part of the old town, where half-timbered houses, covered bridges, and tiny squares add that extra-special ambiance.

A square in Stockholm, Sweden, decorated for Christmas
dimbar76 / Shutterstock.com

3. Stockholm, Sweden

This is definitely a case of first impressions made in the snow and loved ever since. The first time I visited Stockholm I arrived on a ferry from Germany that had just made its way across the frozen Baltic Sea, landing in Stockholm after it had just snowed. The Gamla Stan, the old town, the palaces in and around the city, the parks, the streets, the roofs, everything was covered in a thick layer of perfectly white snow, making the already lovely setting of countless islands, canals, bridges, and harbors even more special. While Stockholm is great in summer, with its people enjoying the light, warmth, and the chance to enjoy the water, I have always preferred it in the winter. Maybe because the city is set up for winter, and knows how to make the most of it, while also offering creature comforts and making every place snuggly and warm?

Pro Tip: If you are lucky enough to be there when fresh snow has fallen, head straight out to Drottningholm Palace which is particularly picturesque in the snow.

A harbor in Helsinki, Finland
canadastock / Shutterstock.com

 4. Helsinki, Finland

Another northern winter winner delight is Helsinki, and do you know why? Because I fell in love with one particular café/restaurant called Kappeli, which is decked out in countless twinkling lights that light up the entire Esplanade in winter’s dark nights. Walking around the old harbor, visiting the covered market, the arts and crafts huts alongside the harbor, and then turning into the wide Esplanade, the historic Kappeli restaurant — one side lovely café, another side very nice restaurant — stands there like a special Christmas decoration, and it does serve rather good food, too.

And the square in front of the Helsinki Cathedral, just off the Esplanade steps from Kappeli, is another lovely sight, with a huge Christmas tree in front of the white cathedral.

Pro Tip: Finland is known as the land with 5.3 million people and 3.3 million saunas, and while the Finns love them year round, they are even better in winter. Book yourself in and get warm.

Winter at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France
Ekaterina Pokrovsky / Shutterstock.com

5. Paris, France

I have always maintained that winter was my favorite season in Paris, much to the horror of Parisians, who easily get a chill. But not only is Paris more void of people in winter but also, it is possible to walk along the beautiful architecture without the leaves of the trees being in the way of appreciating the scene. Not that I do not like the trees in Paris, it is lovely for the city to be so green, but when you walk along looking up, you often miss the details of the buildings for trees.

And should you get snow that stays on the ground, then head straight for the Eiffel Tower. That might sound like unnecessary advice but trust me. Once it snows properly, all the metros and buses go on reduced service, and no one heads out. I had the entire Champ de Mars to myself, with four other people, managing to take wonderful pictures of a snowy Eiffel Tower without people. Just imagine.  

Pro Tip: Every winter there are lots of ice rinks popping up in Paris, and whether you join in or not, try and go to the Grand Palais. The setting is wonderful, and it serves warm drinks as well as chilled champagne, and you can just watch others fall over.

A view from Calton Hill in Edinburgh, Scotland
ABO PHOTOGRAPHY / Shutterstock.com

6. Edinburgh, Scotland

The capital of Scotland is truly lovely in all seasons, and even if it rains, it still has a certain charm. But Edinburgh pulls out all the stops not just for Christmas, with the steep lanes up to the castle looking particularly lovely, but especially over the New Year. This is the time to come and watch how the Scots party and celebrate Hogmanay. Come prepared and get a torch ready for the torchlight procession down the Royal Mile, and learn the words to “Auld Lang Syne,” which everybody bursts into at midnight.  

Pro Tip: On January 2, when the party is over and the hangover has abated, head to the Botanical Gardens for the last visiting time slots for the light trail. The lights are so pretty.

Decorations on a canal in Hamburg, Germany
Scirocco340 / Shutterstock.com

7. Hamburg, Germany

Hamburg is my hometown and I love all seasons there, in summer the canals and lakes are full of boats and paddlers, and the parks full of picnickers, and it is lovely to have a break from the famous schmuddelwetter, meaning the dirty weather, i.e., the rain that dominates spring and fall. In winter, there is usually another break from the rain, when it turns to snow. And if luck has it, it gets cold enough for the two lakes that dominate the city center to freeze over. When that happens, all of Hamburg gets on the ice — walking, skating, setting up sausage and mulled wine stands, and people basically picnicking on the ice.

Then there are the Christmas concerts, best enjoyed in the modern Elbphilharmonie with its great views, or the truly iconic Hamburg setting of the St. Michaelis Church, the “Michel” as locals call it.

Add to that the great Christmas markets, especially the one in front of the historic town hall, and you will get the idea why this city is just perfect in wintertime.

Pro Tip: Head to Konditorei Lindtner in the Eppendorf neighborhood. This is a traditional old café that embodies the Germans’ famous love of cake. Try the Lübecker Marzipantorte, a cream cake with a layer of marzipan on top. Very decadent, but in winter you burn more calories, so this doesn’t count.

Wintertime in Europe also means Christmas markets:



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