World's 16 Most Picturesque Villages
When it comes to picture-perfect views and suspended-in-time charm, it really does take a village. We went out searching for the most camera-ready communities on the planet and found 16 towns that fit the bill, from a Swiss village straight out of Heidi to an antebellum masterpiece in Georgia.
Getting There: The small Molokai Airport is linked to Oahu and Maui, but the easiest way to arrive is via the 90-minute ferry from Maui ($63.60 each way; molokaiferry.com).
Find a slice of Ye Olde England in Canada at the popular weekend-getaway town of Niagara-on-the-Lake on the shores of Lake Ontario. Originally inhabited by the Neutral Indian Tribe, the area was later settled by British Loyalists fleeing America at the onset of the American Revolution—and even later, served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Today, visitors can check out historic sites like the restored Fort George and Butler's Barracks, the Niagara Apothecary museum, and dozens of well-kept Regency and Classical Revival buildings. Stroll along Queen Street, which has an array of quaint shops, teahouses, and B&Bs. The village has become famous for its theatrical Shaw Festival (running April through October) as well as wine celebrations at the dozens of vineyards in the area.
Getting There: Niagara-on-the-Lake is about an 80-minute drive from Buffalo, New York, and 90-minutes from Toronto, Canada. Shuttle service is available from airports in both cities, and from Niagara Falls ($18 round-trip, 5-0taxi.com).
Norman Rockwell meets Gone with the Wind in Madison, Georgia. Legend has it that General Sherman refused to burn down the village during his March to the Sea because it was so pretty. (The more likely reason was that Madison was home to a pro-Union mayor, but no one who's been there questions the "too beautiful" description.) Restored antebellum homes still stand alongside fragrant gardens and plenty of independent boutiques, restaurants, and inns. The small village is also known for its museums, covering fine art, history, and African American heritage, as well as the mini-automobile.
Getting There: Madison is a 60-minute drive east of Atlanta and 40 minutes south of Athens.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, Shirakawa-go is known for its triangle-roof houses, built in a style known as gassho, that resemble hands folded in prayer. The hallmarks of the houses are roofs with 60-degree slopes (to help the snow slide off more easily) and attics used as warm spots for raising silkworms in winter. Not many of the traditional houses remain in the area, and some in Shirakawa-go (including the Wada House and Nagase House) are regularly open to the public. Once you've seen the interiors, head to the top of Ogimachi Castle for the best views of the houses as well as the surrounding Shogawa River Valley and mountains.
Getting There: Take the four-hour train ride from Tokyo to the town of Takayama (about $178, includes a transfer in Nagoya, hyperdia.com). Nohi Bus operates several buses a day to Shirakawa-go. The ride takes about 50 minutes ($54 roundtrip, nouhibus.co.jp).
St. George, Bermuda
St. George is the oldest continually occupied English town in the Americas, and little has changed since the Brits established residence here in 1612. Sure, nowadays you've got gourmet restaurants, hopping bars, and upscale shops specializing in things like hand-rolled cigars and custom-made perfumes. But it's all surrounded by beautifully preserved colonial architecture and historic sites like Fort St. Catherine, the 17th-century stone State House, and St. Peter's Church, the oldest continuously occupied Anglican church in the Western Hemisphere.