When big busy fast-moving cities, no matter how amazing, simply aren’t what you’re up for, what better than to escape for a few days and visit the most adorably perfect little towns on the way? Travel between destinations using Renfe-SNCF en Coopération’s high-speed trains, and visit the underrated, sensational treasures of France and Spain.
SITGES - BARCELONA
San Bartolomé y Santa Tecla Church - Sitges
Sitges is a beautiful little town on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, around 35 kilometers Southwest of Barcelona, taking between 30 and 40 minutes and very easy to reach. Known for its fascinating beaches and lively festivals, especially the Carnival
. It is also known to be one of the gay-friendliest places in the entire world. It’s exquisite hotels and resorts, beaches, museums, lively night life, sights and views of the Garraf’s Parc mountains make Sitges known as one of the most charming towns on the Catalan coast.
ROYAL MONASTERY OF SAN LORENZO DE EL ESCORIAL, MADRID, SPAIN
View of the Monastery - San Lorenzo de el Escorial
Built under the orders of King Phillip II of Spain, the Royal Site of San Lorenzo del Escorial is a historical royal residence. The monument was built to celebrate the victory in the Battle of S. Quentin against France, and was completed in 1584. Within its walls lie thousands of exquisite works of art, priceless manuscripts, over 7000 religious relics
and countless treausures hiding in every nook and cranny. There is more than enough to see and amongst the burial sites of several Spanish Kings, the Hall of Battles, the Basilica, and the Courtyard of Kings you are sure to find yourself falling back through the centuries.
The monestary is located in the town of San Lorenzo del Escorial, about 45 kilmeters northwest of Madrid, taking just around an hour to reach.
FONTAINEBLEAU - PARIS
View of the Castle - Fontainebleau
About 55 kilometers outside of central Paris, Fontainebleau is a spectacular town which many times is compared to Versailles
. Home to the Château de Fonteinebleau that today is a museum as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Forest of Fontainebleau, it is a place you will most certainly not want to miss out on while visiting Paris. Having been a sovereign residence for 800 years, the palace offer enough to see to get lost for days, and emerge on the other side not yet having seen it all. From the ballrooms and chambers to the sculptures and artwork, the presence of the fallen Kings and Queens who spent their days within the walls can still be felt. As for the forest, it is over 40,000 acres large with countless types or flora and fauna, with several trails and paths to walk along and enjoy the serene quiet of the wild.
SAINT GERMAIN EN LAYE - PARIS
Old Castle - Chatsam, Wikimédia Commons
Just under 20 kilometers away from central Paris, Sanit-Germain-en-Laye is technically a Parisian suburb, and yet a totally different world. Birthplace of King Louis XIV and many others and built by Louis VI back in 1122, its reputation as a royal place has been very well earned. You will have no lack of sites to see with Royal Château and many other palaces and courtyards, chapels and churches
, and simply strolling around its age-old streets. You will feel the magic that can only be felt by taking a step back into history and pulling on a robe and crown.
ÁVILA - MADRID
View of the town - Ávila
Sometimes known as the “City of Saints and Stones”, and the birthplace of Saint Teresa, Ávila was founded in the 11th century, with the purpose of aiding the Spanish in their defense against the attacks of the Moors. It was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage in 1985, and is most famous for its Romanesque architecture and town walls
, which are the most complete city walls to have survived until today in all of Spain.
Ávila sits with picture-like perfection on top a rocky hill, just over 100 km Northwest of Madrid, and can be reached in less than two hours.
CADAQUÉS - GIRONA
View of the town - Cadaqués
Cadaqués is a sensational little town on the Mediterranean about an hour or two outside of Girona. Being one of the most famous fishing villages located on the Costa Brava, it is the perfect place to spend your days lazily basking in the Catalan sun, wandering around its small picturesque streets lined with traditional houses, soaking up all it has to offer. While towns on the Costa Brava are most famous for their paradisiac beaches, Cadaqués has so much more. It is particularly well known for the special place it had in Salvador Dalí’s heart
, his House-Museum, as well as other beautiful historical, natural and cultural attractions.
How about a weekend break to visit Cadaqués?
CHARTRES - PARIS
Cathedral - Chartres
Chartres is a small medieval town about an hour away from Paris, most famous for its cathedral. The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres is known to be the best representation of Gothic architecture still standing today,
and has been flawlessly preserved down to the last detail.
The entire fairytale-like town radiates charm, and makes for the perfect escapade from the busy bustling city, spending your time walking up and down its streets, marveling at its sights and treating yourself to wonderful French pastries in its quaint cafés.
VIENNE - LYON
Auguste Temple - Troyeseffigy, Wikimédia Commons
Should you find yourself in Lyon, looking for a little detour, Vienne is the place for you! It is a small town 32 kilometers south from Lyon, on the banks of the river Rhône. Vienne is most famous for its historical and cultural beauty, with Roman as well as medieval ruins strewn around its spectacular streets
. Its strategic geographical location on the river made it a very important city in previous times, which today translates into sensational beauty. The Temple of Augustus and Livia, Roman Theatre and Gothic Cathedral, among so many others, attract curious visitors all year around. After your afternoon in Vienne, don't miss to try this 6 best dishes when you get back to Lyon !
SEGOVIA - MADRID
Alcázar - Ségovia
Yet another town on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list
, Segovia is known for its stunning old town, and in particular the two-millennia-old Roman Aqueduct. The Roman Aqueduct of Segovia is estimated to have been built c. 50 A.D., and has been delicately preserved, maintaining its beautiful detail and dramatic presence throughout the city. Other sites to see while in this quaint little town are the Alcazar of Segovia, the Segovia Cathedral and the town walls.
Segovia is around 80 kilometers Northwest from the center of Madrid, and takes approximately 1 to 2 hours to reach, depending on the type of transport.
CASSIS - MARSEILLE
View of the Town - Cassis
Located around 20 kilometers east of Marseille, Cassis is a small fishing town sitting directly on the Mediterranean Coast. The town simply seems to picture-perfect to even be true with its countless fishing boats and pastel colored houses lining the coast. Beyond that, it is best known for the natural marvels that surround it, namely the Cap Canaille, the highest sea cliff in France offering amazing views
over the Mediterranean, and the Calanque, a narrow, cliff-like inlet eroded into the stone. Spend your days hiking and exploring the raw, untouched nature of the cliffs, and evenings wining and dining in small, old-town bars and restaurants.
What else to do while in Marseille? Read here!