Today, more so than ever before, seasoned travellers are seeking out less frequented destinations, even as more popular travel spots swell with tourists. Everybody needs a breather from the bustle of city life . . . and the charms of the great outdoors are best enjoyed at your own pace, on a laidback vacation.
Take in the zen vibes with our Absolute Gold List of 5 scenic village towns offering a soulful countryside experience this year.
Away from mass tourism, these picturesque rural hideaways offer unique, under-the-radar cultural explorations that you won’t soon forget. From towering green rice terraces in South East Asia to quaint cottages in the English countryside; from train journeys that meander through Swiss mountainscapes to coastal fishing villages perched on romantic Italian cliffs . . . these destinations are off the mainstream travel narrative, and straight out of a picture postcard.
It is tempting to lean into the nostalgia and simple delights that these locations offer. However, it is far more exciting to also acknowledge the thriving cottage industries and entrepreneurial spirit in these small towns. The last two decades have brought a certain section of the youth back to their hometowns, keen to escape the high prices of crowded city living.
It’s fascinating to observe the energy and innovation in these small businesses that seem to have an international appeal blended with a local heart. From artisanal jams and cheese stores to homegrown Coffee and wine tours; there are now small weaving towns venturing to make fashionable accessories perfect for travel gifting and keepsakes, as well as coastal villages offering several courses of fine dining. Be sure to partake in the vibrant and authentic trades you encounter during your offbeat countryside getaway.
Zermatt lies at the very foot of the iconic Matterhorn mountain in Switzerland. The enormous, gracefully curved Matterhorn presides over the village, making for perfect pictures from any angle. The region offers a magnificent landscape, ideal for hikes and biking. Zermatt has been shaped by the ancient traditions of the mountain farmers, best explored on a walk through the Old Village of Hinterdorf.
Interestingly, this vacation destination is an entirely car-free zone, and its horse-drawn carriages make strolling the streets a pleasure. Electric vehicles, trains, funicular and cable cars offer terrific public transport that support the pristine Alpine surroundings here.
In Zermatt, you can experience the serenity of rural life without compromising on luxury, through the lavish heritage hotels, fine restaurants, and wellness spas that dot the region.
Zermatt has something for every season. In the summers, a herd of photogenic Valais Blackneck goats descend on the Bahnhofstrasse; while a winter adventure includes spending the night in an igloo hotel. Try and catch the sunrise over Lake Stellisee for a breathtaking moment you’ll carry within you forever. A visit to Zermatt is an exploration of living history.
Voted the most romantic glen in the Scottish Highlands, the historic Glencoe is surrounded by dramatic mountains and rugged landscapes of glacier-carved slopes. It invites you to breathe deeply of the brisk Highlands air and travel slower; savoring the experience of live music in the country pub, and the stunning play of light in the great outdoors. Interact with the locals, and perhaps set out on a camping trip that takes you back to nature.
The local chalets, lodges, and cottages offer authentic hospitality and an extensive selection of quality cask ales. Carry your walking shoes, as Glencoe is renowned for its hiking, hillwalking, and photography. It is also an ideal base to explore the surrounding glens of Scotland. Allow us to chart your path along the North Coast 500 – which is the ultimate road trip and a jaw-droppingly scenic route through the Scottish Highlands.
A number of famous films have been shot in the glen, including Skyfall, Braveheart, Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban, Monty Python, etc. Glencoe is the perfect hideaway for solace seekers, if you’re looking for a soul-stirring yet relaxed experience.
This is a destination for the sophisticated traveler who has checked the boxes for the Italian art city of Rome, the fashion mecca of Milan, and is seeking to broaden their travel horizons.
A UNESCO Site since 1997, Alberobello, Italy is known for its delightful collection of a thousand “trulli-houses,” which are picture-perfect homes with conical roofs, found only in this region of Puglia. Explore the town for insights into a traditional, age-old way of life.
In a private trullo garden, you’ll enjoy a delicious tasting of local, seasonal produce. We’ll then make a pitstop at Trullo Sovrano – the biggest trullo of them all – which is now a museum, restored to look like a furnished house from the 18th century when it was originally built.
Visit for the unique architecture of the fairy tale Trulli homes, stay for the handcrafted textiles, hospitality, and quaint charms of the region.
As the Mekong winds its way along the length of Vietnam, life flourishes by its banks. Endless paddy fields tended to by cone-hatted farmers and vibrant floating markets give way to colourful mountain villages encircled by rice terraces and inhabited by hill tribes.
Mù Cang Chải, in the North Vietnam countryside, offers a pristine landscape of lush mountain villages punctuated by towering rice terraces. Vast green fields are precisely carved into the mountainside, creating a picturesque setting perfect for relaxed hikes, or long mountain bike rides.
These terraces are beautiful to visit all year long, with the shades of green evolving from neon-green saplings in Spring, to lush emerald green in the Summer, and seas of gold come harvest season. These emerald stairways on the rugged mountains seem to raise you closer to the heavens, and offer a glimpse into Vietnam’s serene natural landscapes.
Meet the local ethnic minorities, such as Thai, H’Mong and Red Dzao hill tribes, and savour the authentic local meals that come fresh from the farm to your table. The region boasts authentic homestays and rustic Ecolodges that offer all the creature comforts while giving you a glimpse into the agricultural lifestyle of the region. Mù Cang Chải is a diverse area and your trip can be tailored for a relaxing family trip with children, as well as for extreme adventurers, with motorbiking and a paragliding festival.
While here, be sure to explore the stunning Khau Pha Pass, Mo Waterfall, and Pu Nhu Waterfall, which will leave you mesmerized with their natural beauty.
Spread across 6 counties, the Cotswolds is a picturesque rural region in South England that offers travelers the wistfulness of a simpler time. This is a world of manor houses surrounded by spectacular gardens; honey-hued stone cottages that lead to dappled woods; antique stores and independent boutiques; historic parish churches with medieval stained-glass windows; and old English pubs serving hearty local cuisine and artisanal ale.
The rolling hills of Cotswolds are heaven for birdwatchers and botanists, with rejuvenating trekking trails that expose you to some epic views. Bring a picnic of local deli favourites, including smoked partridge, guinea fowl, homemade jellies, seasonal salads, and independent beers to enjoy with your loved ones. Speaking of delicacies, the region boasts of over 100 varieties of artisanal and farmhouse cheeses, including the typical Cotswold Cheese – made with cow’s milk and chopped chives!
We invite you to explore these idyllic settings of country lanes and village greens, soft meadows and gently gurgling rivers, rugged hiking trails and medieval castles and abbeys. Come take a leisurely walk along the fairy tale villages at the Cotswolds.