If you follow me on Instagram, you know we love checking major cities off our bucket list, but we also have a passion for finding off the beaten path towns and villages that embody the true spirit of whichever country we’re visiting.
Since we’ve recently celebrated our 1-year anniversary of European life and travel, I’m recapping some of our favorite hidden gems!
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
A little under 2 hours away from our current home abroad, Rothenburg ob der Tauber is the quintessential German town. This medieval walled city features some of the most adorable timber frame buildings in the town square and has a little something to offer all its visitors young and old, from its captivating history (from the Renaissance to World War II), charming Christmas Market, and some of my favorite antique shops in the region. The town’s renowned Christmas Market generally runs from the first weekend in December until the last weekend before Christmas, and is the perfect place to stock up on authentic German souvenirs!
Though a very family friendly city, I would highly recommend baby wearing as the cobblestone streets and narrow doorways and shops can be a bit tricky for strollers.
When visiting Rothenburg, parking is very accessible just a short walk outside of the city walls, and with many small hotels scattered throughout, many will offer private parking close by. If you’re visiting Bavaria, this adorable town must be on your list!
Lake Bled, Slovenia + Krvavec
With very little prior knowledge of Slovenia, we had a blank canvas for our Christmas holiday to the Eastern European country. On the 6.5 hour drive from Stuttgart, we passed by hilltop castles and rolling landscapes, before popping into the town of Bled for an afternoon excursion. Just under 30-minutes by car from the Ljubljana Airport (with non-stop flights to/from most major EU airports), Lake Bled is the perfect location for a relaxing weekend spent strolling the paths around the Lake, enjoying the towns charming cafes (and fabulous local wines!), and perhaps even renting a small boat to enjoy an afternoon on the Lake.
A short drive East from Lake Bled (and only minutes past the Ljubljana Airport) you’ll find Krvavec Ski Resort in Cerklje na Gorenjskem, Slovenia, the perfect mountain for active families! With two ski-in/ski-out hotels right on the mountain, and a meeting point at the bottom of the chairlifts, this was the perfect ski spot for our little family of 3 to enjoy a ski trip sans childcare. A perfect meeting point based mid-mountain (and right at the base of Hotel Krvavec), we were able to trade off baby duty, and enjoy the mountain independently. I must also mention, that of all the ski resorts we’ve been able to visit during our time abroad, Krvavec had the best skiing conditions, with fresh powder and clear slopes, and almost no lines for the lifts. Lift tickets, lodging, and meals were also incredibly affordable, making this one of our new favorite ski spots!
The perfect ski destination for our little family!
As part of this year’s Thanksgiving vacation road-trip, we visited Poland to enjoy some authentic pierogi, collect a few pieces of world famous Polish Pottery, and tour the grounds of Auschwitz and Birkenau. For many reasons, this weekend trip was one of our most memorable, and one of our must-sees if you’re in the region*.
*Although I’m not including a recap of our trip to Auschwitz in this post, I will be posting this in the coming months.
What to Do // Christmas Market
We just so happened to schedule our visit the day after the annual Christmas Market opened in the town center, and I am so glad we did, as this has become one of our top Christmas markets in Europe! If planning a visit during the holidays, make sure to dedicate one night to the market, and enjoy the local vendors for dinner, in place of restaurant reservations. (Grilled oscypek with cranberries…SO delicious!) The market is generally open from the end of November until the week of Christmas.
The colorful buildings in the town center, and cute shops throughout the city cannot be missed. As a University town, there is a very young spirit in Wroclaw with such charm!
What to Do // Side Trip to Bolesławiec
Another major bonus of a trip to Wroclaw, is that you’re 1.5 hours from Bolesławiec (aka Polish Pottery Heaven!). Bolesławiec is on the way back to Stuttgart from Wroclaw, and *Praise Jesus* there are some pretty fabulous pottery outlets that are still open on Sundays, so we were able to grab some great pieces at amazing prices! Side note, pottery shopping here is exactly like walking into Ikea. You walk in with an idea of what you want, and immediately blackout once you see all the GORGEOUS pieces! Plan to stay a while…
Where to Stay // Sofitel Wroclaw Old Town
We absolutely loved the Sofitel for our stay in Wroclaw. The location is fantastic, just around the corner from the Christmas market, but tucked away just enough to be quiet. And the breakfast, ya’ll. Oh. Em. Gee. This breakfast was bar-none, the best hotel breakfast I’ve ever had. I’m not even a huge breakfast person, but this spread was tops! Made to order egg-anything-you-want, delicious coffee, and a bookshelf of chocolate (delicious chocolate!). Each staff member we interacted with was the kindest and most helpful, from the bellhop assisting with parking, to the staff at check-in arranging for a packed breakfast when we had to leave extra early for our day-trip. We opted for a Junior Suite for the extra living space and had plenty of room for the hotel provided baby bed. This is the hotel to stay at when visiting Wroclaw!
This adorable Swiss village has the cultural influence of Italy and the feel of the French Riviera. We spent Tyler’s 30th Birthday/Memorial Day Weekend/Babymoon here at the end of May, and it was an absolute dream! A short drive or boat to the more populated Locarno, Ascona is known for its charming old town and lakefront promenade, filled with cafes, hotels, and gelato and cigar shops. The Mediterranean climate made for beautifully pleasant nights walking the cobblestone streets and enjoying the amazing local cuisine.
What to Do // Boat on Lake Maggiore
Rent a small motor boat for the afternoon, and cruise Lake Maggiore with a picnic lunch. For two adults and one fur-child (yes, we did bring Piper on our boat trip) we paid about 120 Euro.
What to Do // Day Trip to Ponte dei Salti in Lavertezzo
The natural crystal clear pools and smooth rocks perfect for sunning are ideal for a relaxing day trip to Valle Verzasca. Just over a 30 minute drive from Ascona, you won’t want to miss this virtually untouched natural wonder. Even with the mild temps outside, the pools are very chilly, so be prepared!
Where to Stay // Art Hotel Riposo
This gorgeous boutique hotel was exactly what we were looking for! The pops of color, and modern, yet cozy decor, are only part of what makes this unique hotel our top pick.
Photo Courtesy of Art Hotel Riposo
Another amazing breakfast, we enjoyed fresh squeezed orange juice daily, along with delicious meats, cheeses, and other local fare in the hotel’s cozy courtyard, with made to order coffee drinks to start our day.
On Saturday nights, enjoy live jazz with Olivia and the Funcats, or a cold beverage by the pool on the rooftop terrace. Art Hotel Riposo is stunningly unique, and the perfect place to enjoy a long weekend.
What hidden gems have you found off the beaten path in Europe?