Top Ten European Hideaways - Page 2

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Old Town Regensburg, Bavaria, Germany
Old Town Regensburg, Bavaria, Germany  (STOCK4B-RF/Getty)

5. Dingle, Ireland
The westernmost point in Europe, this town has 1,800 people and 50 pubs. Around the 18th century, local businessmen could get a liquor license for a couple of shillings and ran two businesses at the same time. Thus, you'll find yourself drinking a pint of Guinness at Murphy's Pub & Bed & Breakfast. It has developed some commercialism. You can see its Oceanworld aquarium, but at its heart, Dingle carries the soul of Irish more ways than one. After a few pints of Guinness, don't be surprised if a local puts his arm around you and makes you join in for a round of Irish folksongs, topped with the Irish national anthem. To work off the beer, cycle around some of the 100-mile road tracing the Dingle Peninsula, where green hills abut hard against gold, sandy beaches. And nothing tops a bike ride better than a plate of apple crisp in cream in an Irish country diner.

4. Grimaud, France
Getting off the beaten path in Provence is like finding a cheap steak in Japan. But even Peter Mayle hasn't been to Grimaud, a town so cute it belongs on a cat calendar. Located an hour north of the maddening mobs on the French Riviera, it consists of three narrow roads, two of which are barely big enough for one car at a time. The roads are lined with little boutiques selling straw hats and pottery and fresh Provencal dishes. Locals drink wine in the tiny sidewalk cafes and play petanque, France's version of lawn bowling. Hike up the steep alleys adorned with hanging vines and purple and pink flowers until you reach the top of the village. Stare down at the Roman castle, the red-tile roofs, and the green forest stretching to the distant Mediterranean. And enjoy the cool breeze from the 1,000-foot elevation. The next morning, go to the public market and gather fresh tangerines, almond biscuits, flaky baguettes, and a fugasna, a large croissant filled with anything from spinach to ham and cheese.

3. Urbino, Italy
If you want to meet an accountant from L.A., visit Florence. If you want to meet an artist from Italy, visit Urbino. It's in Le Marche, the poor man's Tuscany. Urbino may be the most beautiful hill town in Italy and much nicer than Cortona, the town Frances Mayes's book Under the Tuscan Sun turned into a Tuscan people zoo in the '90s. Urbino is a walled city centered around the ridiculously romantic Piazza della Repubblica, where you sit surrounded by cafes and gelaterrias a stone's throw from the home of Renaissance artist Raphael. The windy, steep cobblestone roads are nearly void of cars and lead to such treasures as the Palazzo Ducale, a sprawling Renaissance palace built in the 15th century for Urbino's ruling dynasty. Urbino has pizza with a view: a volcano pizza (spicy salami, gorgonzola, onion, mozzarella, tomato) at Tre Piante, a cliff-side pizzeria overlooking the red-tiled roofs and rolling green farmland of the Marche countryside below.

2. Kvarner Islands, Croatia
These islands hang off Croatia's northwest corner like leaves falling peacefully from a tree. They were once part of the Roman Empire and haven't changed much since. Walk the narrow, windy alleyways that snake off medieval harbors where locals sip coffee and watch fishermen darn their nets. On the isle of Losinj, hike the mile-long, tree-lined walkway along the Adriatic seaboard from Mali Losinj to Veli Losinj, a stretch where the Adriatic is as turquoise as the South Pacific. The isle of Krk produces its own olive oil, and the reasonably priced restaurants serve grilled meats and fresh fish from centuries-old recipes. The Kvarner (pronounced var-NAIR) Islands are only a four-hour bus ride from the capital of Zagreb, and bus tickets around the islands usually include the short ferry crossings. In July and August you can swim in one of the cleanest bodies of water in Europe.

1. Lipsi, Greece
If you've been to Greece, visit Lipsi to see what the country was like in the 1950s before Jackie Onassis made it trendy. Lipsi is a tiny speck of rolling farmland lined with isolated beaches peppered by the snow-white buildings and turquoise roofs of the 45 Greek Orthodox churches. It has 650 people, twice as many goats, and no airport. The leading mode of transportation is the donkey. Days consist of walking to a local bakery for some fresh tiropita and deciding on which of the 12 near-empty beaches you'll soak up the sun. A cobblestone path leads to a tiny town square surrounded by open-air restaurants serving cheap, traditional Greek dishes. Located 40 miles from Turkey in the Dodecanese island chain, Lipsi is reachable by boat from Samos via Patmos.

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