Hidden Corners of Europe
Leave Paris and Vienna to the first-timers. Instead, escape to one of these five storybook retreats, where bell tolls replace alarm clocks and the big city feels far, far away.
Life moves slowly in the village of Binn—and that's by design. Years ago, the residents of this tiny Alpine town (pop. 150, two and a half hours from Bern) decided to stave off development by preserving the surrounding valley as a park. Today, Binn remains a time capsule of village life. Gravel lanes wind between neat pine chalets. Flower boxes filled with geraniums hang from every window. Up the Binna River, visitors will find even smaller hamlets and picture-perfect meadows, where they can spread out a picnic of local wine and raclette cheese and listen to the cowbells ring down from the high pastures.
Where to Stay
Built in 1883, the 35-room Hotel Ofenhorn embraces its history. Its four Nostalgic Rooms have original hardwood floors, antique furniture, and art nouveau wallpaper, all of which recall the days when a young Winston Churchill stopped through while on a painting tour of the Alps (ofenhorn.ch, from $108, includes breakfast).
About a mile from Binn, the riverside Restaurant Imfeld is a thoroughly traditional establishment with a menu that includes fresh trout and Valais air-dried beef—prepared by rubbing salt, herbs, and spices into raw beef and leaving it to dry in a wooden barn for at least six weeks (011-41/27-971-4596, entrées from $9).
While provence is justifiably famous for its rosé and rustic gîtes (holiday rental homes), that celebrity comes at a high price. Nearly a straight shot across the country, close to Bordeaux, the cluster of market towns known as Périgord Noir offers weekly cottage rentals at nearly half the cost—and the small-town experience is no less picturesque. Cut through by the sweeping arc of the Dordogne River, the area is best known for its dark oak forests, hillside vineyards, medieval châteaux, truffle-infused cuisine, and, of course, the prehistoric cave paintings at Lascaux.
Where to Stay
A 20-minute walk from the town of Trémolat (pop. 600), Les Volets Bleus is a restored 300-year-old farmhouse and converted barn with exposed-wood beams, a stone fireplace, and room enough for 12. Guests are free to explore with rental bikes (delivered to your doorstep), paddle a canoe along the Dordogne, dine on duck and crepes at the night market in nearby Cadouin, and stroll the surrounding acres of peach, fig, and walnut trees—the latter used throughout the region to make vin de noix, or walnut wine (myfrenchfarmhouse.com, from $1,596 per week).
At Les Truffières, a farm-to-table restaurant in Trémolat, Yanick Le Goff serves everything from barbecued duck and lavender-tinged aperitifs to a house-made foie gras (011-33/5-53-27-30-44, six-course family-style meal with wine $34, reservations required).