The first time I went to Europe with my family, we stayed in a tiny town in the south of France. For three weeks, we rented a centuries-old stone house that shared a wall with the village castle. We went to farmers’ markets in nearby towns, explored the region, and on Bastille Day danced and celebrated with the locals.
The grand cities of Europe beckon with the promise of inspired architecture, nonstop activities, and cosmopolitan surroundings. But to discover the true heart of Europe—and better prices—head to the countryside. In small towns, you’re more likely to find a slower pace and friendly locals.
Finding such rural gems takes more effort than choosing which cities to visit, since there’s less written on small towns and regions. Start by asking around, reading country or region guidebooks as well as books set in Europe, and checking out VisitEurope.com, which offers overviews by region and links to more resources.
When you do decide on your countryside excursion, consider taking the train, then renting a car at the station. That way, you’ll have the flexibility to explore, and the option to rent a vacation house in the country instead of staying in town. And once you arrive, find yourself a sunny cafe table in the village square, order a glass of wine, and toast to the heart of Europe.
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