Big cities are the stuff that dreams are made of. Everyone wants to make it big in the big city, and everyone wants to see the countries’ biggest, baddest towns when on vacation. But too much big can sometimes get very tiresome. If you’re in the mood for a switchover, what you need is the small-town experience. Here are some of the most beautiful and charming small towns to visit this year when you’re on vacation.
Monsanto: Roll Like the Flintstones
Wouldn’t you just love to be like the Flintstones and live in a rock town? If that’s what you’re looking for, Monsanto in Portugal is the place for you. Well, minus the dinosaurs. Holding the title of “the most Portuguese village of Portugal” and also one of twelve Historical Cities of Portugal, this town is built on, under and around rocks and Boulders and natural landforms. You heard that right! As Obelix would say-”These Portuguese are crazy!” They may be crazy, but they sure know how to built attractive villages. Conquered from the Moors by King Afonse Henriques in the 12th Century, the village is situated at the base of a steep mountain(Monsanto). An important place of defense against invaders, the town uses its natural advantages to draw crowds in this day and age. The village has evolved around its boulders, and the wow factor begins from the moment you encounter two gigantic granite boulders leaning against each other on the path leading up to the village. Walk through the cobbled streets and be amazed at how closely man and nature are linked in this beautiful town. Remember to take the walking trail and to visit the castle. Examine the rock formations and come away with the local crafts. Monsanto is a good place for you to travel the countryside on horseback. Finally, eat between the boulders, literally, at Petiscos e Granitos restaurant (but don’t get conned into buying the pouch of herbs the old lady from the kitchen may try to sell to you!)
Among the Ice: Qaqortoq
With a population of 3229 in 2013, Qaqortoq is the fourth-largest town on Greenland. If you’re not salivating already, you should. This lego town nestled amongst the ice in the Arctic, is as picturesque as it is cultural. With people of the Saqqaq (who were the first to populate the place 4300 years ago), Dorset, Norse, Thule and finally the Danish Empire colonizing the land, Qaqortoq is a cultural melting pot. With buildings of bright colours sticking out amidst the pure white snow, the town has a museum, which was originally a town blacksmith’s shop, which is also the oldest standing building in Qaqortoq. The town is also home to the oldest fountain in Greenland, Mindebrønden, completed in 1932. A major tourist attraction, it depicts whales shooting water out of their blowholes. When in Qaqortoq, remember to visit the Stone&Man project, built over 1993 and ’94 by eighteen artists from various countries which converted the town into a giant open air art gallery and 40 sculptures across town make up the exhibit. With a flourishing tourist trade business, Qaqortoq offers many services. The Great Greenland furhouse is a major tourist attraction. Activities such as kayaking, guided hiking, cross-country skiing and whale watching are offered throughout the year. All in all, a delicious small-town experience for the many tourists coming into the town every year.
Of Love and Lanterns: Hoi An
This easygoing Vietnamese town is said to have more lanterns than people. With a rich cultural heritage that makes for a brilliant tourist spot and an easygoing, relaxed small-town experience, this South-East Asian town is not easily forgotten. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999, the town is an example of a South-East Asian trading port between the 15th and 19th centuries. The primary attractions of the town are the four museums dedicated to the cultural heritage and history of the area- the Museum of History and Culture, The Hoi An Folklore Museum, The Museum of Trade Ceramics and the Museum of Sa Huynh culure, which hosts over 200 articles belonging to the culture of the people who first settled there over 2000 years ago. Another major tourist attraction is the bridge called Chùa cầu, built by the Japanese, which is a unique covered structure-the only known covered bridge with a Buddhist Temple attached to one side. A Hoi An Wreck, the surviving structure of a 15th century ship discovered by South China Sea fishermen,22 miles off the coast of central Vietnam, is another object that fascinates tourists and has defied many attempts to investigate it. All in all, with its wonderful blend of colonial and local culture, its delightful people and wonderful Vietnamese cuisine, Hoi An is a place that you should go to if you need some quiet lone time discovering another culture, away from the bustle of the big cities, with all the luxuries and comforts of a tourist town. What you get is a near-spiritual experience that leaves you wanting more.