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dfw17 Jul 21st, 2010 08:10 AM

Help me start thinking 2015 ... small, unspoiled European towns?

My family of 4 (my husband and I, plus 2 boys ages 8 and 13) recently had a great trip to Austria, Germany and Netherlands in mid-June. One thing we noticed, though, is that it is becoming harder and harder to find less spoiled (by our definition), less touristy places to go! Our favorites were Beilstein, Germany (although I would imagine many more tourists in the full summer season); Feldkirch, Austria; and Stubai Valley, Austria.

We tend to go to Europe every 5 years, and am now asking for your help to give me ideas for 2015 (when our boys will be 13 and 18). We will probabaly want to at least do a little bit in Austria (my husband's parents are from there; I was a summer exchange student there many years ago; and we both speak pretty good German), but where to go.....both in Austria and other not-too-distant countries? One of my "worldly" friends suggested Czech Republic and also Tuscany and Umbria, Italy.

I would appreciate any suggestions. We will have to travel in summer because of the kids' school schedules, but will probably be able to do mid-June. We definitely like the small towns, and not-too-hot weather.


zeppole Jul 21st, 2010 08:31 AM

There are so many fantastic, amazing, small unspoiled towns inside Italy outside the famous tourist zones of Italy that it would be impossible to list them. But you should start by eliminating Tuscany and Umbria. (I can hear the howls already.) I suggest that you focus on Le Marche, which will be cooler than the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia, but still close enough to Austria to make it reachable (it is closer than most of Tuscany and Umbria). It is rich in castles, cathedrals, bell towers, military fortifications, history, fountains, hiking, biking and great food, plus Le Marche has the added advantage of having some beautiful beaches. And it is within driving distance of such important art cities as Florence or Perugia or Assisi if you want some of that too.

This is a fabulous website for Le Marche:

Stick to your guns about wanting less spoiled and less touristy places to go. There are many well preserved towns in Italy that are very decorous in not allowing tacky vendors in. But the local culture has been thoroughly replaced by a tourist culture. You can ferret them out in Tuscany and Umbria, but in Le Marche, you have the joy of being immersed in them, everywhere you turn.

Sher Jul 21st, 2010 08:35 AM

I visited a friend in 2003 in St.Veit/Glan in Austria. It is a beautiful little town and very close to Croatia.
You can put it on your list until you find out more about the area.

Sher Jul 21st, 2010 08:43 AM

p.s. the town is pretty close to Italy too.

norrisken Jul 21st, 2010 08:49 AM

Walchsee, Austria as a home base.

elberko Jul 21st, 2010 09:16 AM

St. Veit an der Glan, mentioned above, is in Carinthia in Austria, and is a good choice. We spent a week in the area last September (we stayed in Pörtschach) and saw very few tourists, other than Austrians.


adrienne Jul 21st, 2010 09:26 AM

I just came back from the southern Czech Republic where there are tons of beautiful small towns w/o many tourists. Telc ranks high on my list of beautiful towns (possibly the most beautiful town square I've ever seen). You won't find much English spoken but many restaurants do have menus in English. There is very little traffic and on weekends I noticed that many people were riding bikes on the small country roads. June would be a great time to go as the weather will be mild - not too hot.

You can click on my name and read my trip report. It would be a great place to combine with Austria. I can't wait to go back again.

adrienne Jul 21st, 2010 09:29 AM

I forgot to add that speaking German will be a plus in the Czech Republic as it is still the second language there. Anyone who did not speak English asked me if I spoke German (although I look Teutonic I unfortunately do not speak German).

Mimar Jul 21st, 2010 10:03 AM

Are you open to other destinations?

From Austria you could go to Slovenia and from there into Croatia. Both these countries are very beautiful and relatively untouristed with many unspoiled small towns. Lots of activities for active boys. Lots of islands and good beaches.

Croatia reminds me of Italy 30 or 40 years ago. In particular, Istria, the part of Croatia adjacent to Slovenia, reminds me of Umbria, Italy: hill towns, vineyards, truffles, but with a beautiful sea coast.

Google pictures of this area. Read what Rick Steves has to say: I think you'd love it.

franco Jul 21st, 2010 10:09 AM

In Austria, large parts of Styria will fit your criteria. Graz, the region's capital. The entire wine-growing region of Western Styria (Weststeiermark), where a unique wine called Schilcher is coming from. Tour the hills around St. Stefan ob Stainz with a car, and you'll be happy. (Imagine two percent of the tourist numbers of the Stubai Valley, and a cultural landscape that's about a thousand times prettier.) Admont in northern Styria is another place you will like. And Styria's most beautiful area is the very south, the South Styrian Wine Route along the Slovenian border; it's also Styria's most touristed part, but if you've been fine in the Stubai, you'll also be fine there. Don't miss Kitzeck im Sausal when touring Southern Styria (a little north of the Wine Route). That whole region between Kitzeck and the Slovenian border is called Styrian Tuscany, and justly so. (The landscape, quite frankly, is often more beautiful than in Tuscany. There are no Renaissance frescoes, though.)
Otherwise, think Lower Austria (Niederösterreich), which is mostly unspoiled, and in large parts worth visiting. The only super-touristy part of it is the section of the Danube valley that is called the Wachau, which is beautiful but really overrun. But nearby, there's an equally beautiful area that is far less visited, around Langenlois - Fels am Wagram - Hadersdorf am Kamp - Zöbing. If you go there, include Krems and Stein: on the border to the Wachau, but quite beautiful towns with many sights from the middle ages. Langenlois is baroque, and really worth seeing. The other places are wine-growing villages and just plain beautiful. North of there, the large, wild (not least climatically, with no danger of hot summers) Waldviertel begins. Some interesting sights there, as well (Rapottenstein, Zwettl, Heidenreichstein), and you're going to be the only tourists in this millennium so far.
Upper Austria (Oberösterreich) has some nice unspoiled parts, too. Vöcklabruck, Schärding, Steyr and Enns (the two latter not without tourists, but their number will be tolerable), for example. Steyr is a major sight that would stand its ground even in Italy.

Speaking of which... zeppole's advice on the Marche is excellent (and Urbino IS a major art town right there, if you want world-class art without traveling to Perugia or Assisi). Of course, there are completely unspoiled parts of Tuscany and Umbria, too, but it would make for a rather strange itinerary if you visited just those unspoiled parts, circumnavigating the touristy rest (particularly in Tuscany). Plus it's hot there in summer, really hot. But if you want unspoiled, not-too-hot Tuscany, there is a possibility: the mountains to the north of the region: the Garfagnana and Lunigiana, Carrara, or the Mugello hill country. If you want unspoiled, not-too-hot Umbria, head east (the Piano Grande - easy to combine with le Marche). Not too hot in summer, in Italy, what else? (Unspoiled is not the major problem; in fact, more than 90 percent of Italy are completely unspoiled, you just never get to read about them since everybody is visiting the same five places.) Friuli-Venezia Giulia perhaps, which is nowhere touristy except for the beach resorts (which is a pity since two of its most important sights, Grado and Aquileia, are afflicted); anywhere in the Alps, if you can do without many cultural sights and love mountains in front of you, in your back and in fact all around you. So Italy doesn't seem very impressive on this thread, but I'm sure you know this is not the fault of Italian sights, but just of HOT Italian summers.

As for the Czech Republic, your friends are certainly right that the country is unspoiled, but the two major sights are not: Prague and Český Krumlov, which are both worse re tourist crowds than you can imagine. Prague, above all, is quite certainly Europe's most tourism-spoiled city; Venice and Florence are EMPTY in comparison. It's really sad to state, since Prague is so beautiful, but the historical center has degenerated to a true tourist disneyland where the only Czechs are the waiters (who can't wait to leave after work for the outlying districts where they live) - actually, the locals have totally abandoned their city center to tourists, and don't seem to go there or to use it anymore. But Telč is a great suggestion, that's a very special place indeed.

norrisken Jul 21st, 2010 10:10 AM

The thought occurs to me that what may be a small out of the way location may not be in 5 years. Maybe post this question again in 2014?

dfw17 Jul 21st, 2010 12:37 PM

Wow, such great responses.....I'm keeping a list for future reference/research. And Norrisken, you are so right.....a place that is not touristy now could well change by 2015. In fact, that's what we've already experienced with some of our old favorites in Austria. I will indeed pose this question again in 2014, but at least now you all have my brain working subconsciously on options.

By the way, I should mention, too, that in addition to the small town/non-touristy criteria (and the not-too-hot), we also look for vacation destinations with
great food and wine, good hikes/walks (to tire out the boys and help me not gain weight with all the great food!), interesting architecture ("charming" towns make me smile), and nice people. I know I'm not an exchange student (this time!), but we really do try to connect with the locals. (Highlight for my boys during our trip a few weeks ago was watching World Cup Soccer games

dfw17 Jul 21st, 2010 12:38 PM

Oops.....I hit the wrong button and posted the above before I finished.

Well, thanks for all the input everyone.


zeppole Jul 21st, 2010 01:03 PM

If good hikes are part of the mix, then I also endorse Franco's suggestion of the Garfagnana, and Lunigiana, Carrara (with its marble quarries). I think there, as well as Le Marche, you have a pretty good guarantee of everything you are looking for, even into 2015. To me the advantage of Le Marche is the wide variety of impressive hilltowns (plenty of steep climbing there too and very impressive architecture, some of the finest in Italy) --- but they are two areas f Italy to consider, depending on which route you take into Italy. You can't do both the Garfagnana and le Marche, but if you target one or the other, you'll get what you want.

Lexma90 Jul 21st, 2010 04:13 PM

I'm not as knowledgeable as franco and zeppole, but we did visit Le Marche last fall, with our 10yo daughter, and agree that the region fits a lot of what you mention that you're looking for. Even though Urbino is a bigger town, it was interesting and fun; it's a university town, so there were lots of young people. We traveled in late September/early October, and heard few English voices. One matter to keep in mind is that getting from one place to the other in Le Marche is a little more convoluted, due in large part, IMO, to there being no major north-south road in the central part (there is a highway on the coast). That's one reason there are fewer tourists there, but it will effect your travel time.

If you're including good food and wine in your list of what you're looking for, then the Czech Republic may not be the place to go. We visited there, both Prague and several smaller towns (including Telc) (a different trip than when we visited Le Marche). Prague and the smaller towns, especially Telc, were beautiful; we also enjoyed our time in another university town, Olomouc. And there are dozens of very interesting castles throughout the countryside, near Telc and elsewhere. But the food leaves something to be desired.

franco Jul 21st, 2010 04:37 PM

Oh yes indeed... as far as food, Italy is clearly the winner. Austria is somewhat better than the Czech Republic, but not because of its traditional cuisine, just because people have more money, which accounts for a certain number of more ambitious restaurants. More precisely, there are some pretty good places in southern Styria and the Schilcher region, and one in Graz... that's it, more or less. As far as wine, however, Austria (and Lower Austria in particular) is a serious competition for Italy; reds are better, of course, in Italy, but Austrian whites are far preferable to most of their Italian competitors - just le Marche have one excellent variety, Verdicchio (which is on the same level as many Austrian whites). And then, there is Schilcher, a rosé which is among the most unusual (and IMO: among the most outstanding) wines on this planet.

adrienne Jul 21st, 2010 05:34 PM

I loved the food in the Czech Republic! Pork in cream sauce, pork in calvados, pork milanese, roast pork, pork with red cabbage, pork with green beans!!! Pork Heaven!

And the wine was surprisingly good although most people were drinking beer.

logos999 Jul 21st, 2010 06:04 PM

franco, your was one of the best posts I've read on Fodors in a long time! Kudos!

franco Jul 22nd, 2010 05:15 AM

Thank you, I feel honoured by your compliment.

akrobat Jul 22nd, 2010 08:00 AM

If you do head into Slovenia as a few others mentioned, there are some nice places. We stayed in Kobarid for a few days back in 2007. They have some beautiful hiking trails through old WWI bunkers and fortifications. The mountains were simply amazing.

Getting out of the area is pretty easy with the car train that runs from Most na Soci to Bohinj. You literally drive your car onto a flat-bed train car and the train takes you the whole journey (there are some low rails on train cars that are raised for the journey). It cuts travel time between the regions basically in half and allows you to see some more rural parts during the "drive" - as the driver on the trip, I particularly enjoyed being able to soak in the scenery.

Since you also mentioned wine, the Maribor region has a nice wine history (in fact, the oldest living grape vine is located in Marabor). As for Maribor itself, although it is Slovenia's second largest city, we did not come into much contact with other tourists; certainly no other primarily English speaking ones - although we were there in May, so I cannot speak to the later summer months. Regardless, I am sure you can find a nice small, unspoilt and quaint town in the nearby area.

With regard to St. Veit - I would have to agree it is a very beautiful town.

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