3 Nature Therapy Exercises to Help You Live in the Now

“Nature is the best medicine for serenity. Peace. Calmness. Stillness. It’s good for the heart.” ~Karen Madwell

I was looking for a way to stop obsessing over the future. I’d spent my adult life as an underground musician, and it had been wonderful for the large part. The thing is, it wasn’t good for me anymore.

I felt anxious onstage. I felt really uncomfortable with so many people looking at me. I had changed as a person, and yet I continued putting myself through performing even though I hated it.

Have you ever done that? Have you ever continued to do things that you hate because you identify so strongly with what you are doing? If I wasn’t “a musician,” which I had been all of my adult life, then what would I be? It felt as if I would be nothing at all.

Through dabbling with various new musical projects, I became increasingly aware that whatever was going to be creatively fulfilling (if anything), would inevitably lead my mind to obsess over it, sending me into a dreamworld of scenarios where I was the center of everything. Perhaps this is why I continued singing: I wanted to “be something special.”

In my imagination (which was extremely active), singing always seemed so important, and after each gig I would only remember the fun parts (of which there were many too, don’t get me wrong). Then I’d get onstage the next time and think, “What am I doing here?”

The awareness that I was letting dreams and fantasies dictate my life wasn’t profound, it was just a product of getting a little older and thinking, do I really want to live like this for the rest of my life? I looked into ways that I could enjoy the here and now a bit more; ways of appreciating life as it was actually happening, rather than several years later through filtered, distorted, and romanticized memories.

I’d never meditated or done anything that I would have previously disregarded as “hippy rubbish.” I had read something about mindful breathing somewhere.

I didn’t know anything about mindfulness, but I had an impression that it was something that middle-class people did a lot alongside their yoga. I didn’t relate to that image at all. I didn’t realize that it was simply a tool for paying attention to what is happening.

Then one day I focused on my breath while I was on a walk in the local park with my dog, Euro. Suddenly, everything was alive. The world was just beautiful.

At that moment, focusing only on what I could see and sense, my mind went right back to basics, to where I remember it being when I was a very small child. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck (and all over my body) and I couldn’t stop grinning.

Several blackbirds popped their jerky, judgmental eyes out from under some shrubs, bobbing forward for worms and eyeing me up cautiously as I walked past. I didn’t just see a bird and move on. I saw strange, beaked, winged creatures who fly about this land—singing, to boot! (If birds existed only in myth and folklore, they would make elves and unicorns seem positively dull.)

Walking around the park, I was in a calm ecstasy, grinning at everything around me, occasionally wondering if I looked to others like I was on some serious happy pills (but not much caring what other people thought).

I didn’t see trees and move on. I saw wooden beings, some of them hundreds of years older than me, growing out of the ground and displaying leaves and petals reaching up into the sky. Why we were there together, swapping gases, was a beautiful mystery.

A year or so after this experience, and others like it, I realized that what I was practicing that day was “ecotherapy” or “nature therapy,” although I didn’t know about those terms at the time. I’ve since trained to become an ecotherapist to help other people find this amazing connection to nature, and this is honestly something I would never have seen myself doing five years ago.

Somehow, when I became an adult, I had forgotten what nature meant to me as a child. I think most of us are connected to nature deeply as children, and yet we get easily distracted from it as we get older. I don’t think I am unique in that respect at all.

One day, back when I was seven or eight years of age, I was allowed to set my alarm clock for the early morning hours. I went to the local park with a notebook and pen to see what animals I could find.

I saw my first ever hedgehog, and it felt like meeting a visitor from another dimension. I just couldn’t believe that there was this unique spiky creature in front of me, living completely independently, getting on with its weird little life in shrubs and muck. I still get a feeling of awe when I recall that moment, watching it curl up in the early morning dew.

I grew up as a proper city boy in the suburbs of Liverpool, England. Somehow, when I became a teenager, I did what many of us do and I got so caught up with ‘finding out who I was’ that I neglected what was happening on the earth around me for decades! I had fun for the most part, but I spent so much of my life lost in fantasy and living in honor of some so-called ‘identity’ that I forgot how important nature was to me.

Earth is a wonderland. The diversity of life that we encounter each and every day (and often ignore) is mind-boggling. Creatures that crawl, fly, and speak are everywhere. The vivid colors present in giant plants that grow from tiny seeds is just awesome (in the traditional ‘awe-some’ sense of the word)!

It took me years to comfortably move away from a life in music to be doing the things in life that I am doing now. I think changing our callings in life always comes with a sense of grief to some degree; we attach and identify with the things we do quite naturally.

Nature has taught me to enjoy not being the center of attention, to simply enjoy feeling that I’m a part of this beautiful world, and it’s such a relief! We are tiny and yet we are miraculous at the same time. I don’t need to do things that make me anxious if I have the control to stop doing them.

More About Ecotherapy/Nature Therapy

The term “nature therapy” is used interchangeably with the term “ecotherapy,” but they are referring to the same thing. In a nutshell, ecotherapy refers to therapies and activities that deliberately aim to improve our mental health and well-being through connecting with nature. It is a broad, umbrella term.

Some ecotherapists may be qualified psychotherapists who offer “walk and talk” outdoor counseling sessions, whereas others may focus on helping people to create art or poetry inspired by nature. Some ecotherapists run gardening groups, and there are many more approaches still! Ecotherapy is totally, 100 percent something that you can do for yourself; it’s actually very simple!

For me personally, the most powerful ecotherapy exercises are based on mindfulness (it was this kind of work that changed my life, and so I’m bound to feel like that)! Here are three simple exercises to try that have been amazing for me personally, and I hope that they help you to find a deeper connection to nature.

1. Look toward the new.

Take a walk somewhere you go often and give attention to your regular habits. Notice your walking habits closely: how you often pay attention to the same things in your environment without conscious awareness. Deliberately shift your attention elsewhere every time you notice you notice your attention going to a habitual place. What new things do you notice around you?

2. Use your senses.

Find an outdoor space where you feel comfortable and safe. With your eyes closed, focus on your senses, especially tuning into sounds, smells, and the feeling of the air against your skin. Open your eyes after a few minutes and take in the color and sights all around you. How does it feel? (Please note, if you have any sensory impairments, simply adjust the task to work in the best way for you; this exercise can be effective with whatever senses you use.)

3. Notice nature reclaiming space.

Take a city/town walk where there is lots of concrete and look for the weeds and wildflowers popping up through the pavement and walls. How often can you spot nature appearing through the cracks? How does it feel to notice it?

Nature is not separate from us. We are a part of nature too, and I hope that these simple exercises help you to feel that connection. If all else fails, simply spend a little time outdoors, or even open a window if there are restrictions on you going outside. Just remember to pay attention to what’s going on out there!

How to Reap the Benefits of Meditation Without Meditating

 

The benefits of meditation are far reaching and have been well known for centuries. However, the idea of formal meditation doesn’t sit well with some of us.

The idea of sitting cross-legged for extended periods and delving inward puts many of us off before we’ve even got started. Even the word “meditation” can be a very real barrier to entry for some. What a shame, as the many benefits of meditation can be good for us all.

Those benefits can include:

  • reduction in the stress we feel
  • A deeper sense of calm and relaxation in our lives
  • Reduced feelings of anxiety
  • A better understanding of what we truly think/feel/want
  • Less feelings of anger, hurt, or disquiet
  • Being more present
  • Being more content
  • A better understanding of who we really are

This little list is just starting to scratch the surface. Meditating can be that powerful.

If meditating in a more traditional way for extended periods feels right for you, all power to you— please continue with your journey. If that isn’t you, don’t worry, I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be.

If you recoil a little when meditation is mentioned but still want to reap some of the rewards, I hope to offer several ideas that might work for you. But first, a bit of personal reflection.

I Confess I Do Not Have a Formal Meditation Practice

As someone that writes books and a blog all under the broad umbrella of simplicity and that can often be found leafing through books and words by Thich Nhat Hanh, Bruce Lee, Sun Tzu, and Lao Tzu, it may surprise you to know I do not consider myself to have a formal meditation practice.

Perhaps somewhat out of step with the trend of our time, my morning routine (if I even have one) does not have time carved out for sitting cross-legged in a quiet room, reflecting on the universe at large.

Don’t get me wrong, I admire that others do this, but it never really felt like a fit for me. I’ve tried to make it a habit, at a few points in my life, but it just hasn’t stuck.

If I’m honest, I think the word “meditation” itself intimidates many of us. We perceive it to mean we need some special point of entry, or skillset, to reap the rewards.

All this said, perhaps paradoxically, I am also totally sold on the benefits of meditation and I want them to be a part of my life. I just happen to believe you can get those benefits in other ways. Your formal practice doesn’t have to be formal, and you don’t even have to call it a “practice.”

This is where the art of meditating without meditation comes in.

Meditation without Meditating in Action: My Top 6

Here are some of my favorite ways to achieve some of meditation’s powerful benefits without actually feeling like I am meditating.

1. Walking

Walking is my ultimate reset. It blows away the mental cobwebs that can accumulate. It provides new stimulus and re-energises a tired mind. Complex problems I’ve been struggling with can suddenly feel like they fall into place on a good, long walk. A fresh perspective can somewhat magically drift into view.

I like to walk early, before the rush and before the noise of human traffic drowns out the birds singing. Depending on where I am, I like to walk as close to nature as possible (a nice park, a beach, a hike over rolling hills). This is as close as I consider I get to a formal meditative practice.

2. Being at one with the outdoors and nature

The natural world is a passion for me. Something that breathes life and color into any day, if I just make time to stop and notice what is going on around me. I find it grounding and uplifting all at once.

Nature presents us with a constant wonderland. It’s easy to take this for granted. We can fix this by spending some time just being at one with nature and reconnecting with the great outdoors, and we’ll feel so much better for it.

Be amazed by that spider’s web glistening with the morning’s dew.

Take in the sun rising and setting.

Make time to watch the clouds moving overhead, soak up the inspiration that comes from the view.

Be endlessly in awe at nature’s ability to evolve, adapt, and deal with challenges.

Enjoy the offerings of new life and renewal each and every spring, by making deliberate time to stop and notice.

3. Losing myself in music (art)

Some would say this is cheating, as you are using outside stimulus to get a response; I say call it what you will. The benefits that people claim to get from meditation, I have and feel from losing myself in music.

Music is transformative. It can lift our mood on our darkest days, it can ease anxiety when we feel on edge about something, it can shift our mindset.

We can leverage different music at different times to support our state of well-being. Music is one of life’s true pleasures for me, one of the very last things I would want to give up.

However, if music isn’t quite as powerful a force in your own life, perhaps there is something else that is. Literature can, and does, serve the same end. Or a beautiful painting or sculpture that really moves us, or even a really great movie. All of the above can be transformative, life-affirming, and even life-changing ways we can apply ourselves.

4. Seeking stillness

Seeking stillness may sound like a total contrast to the earlier suggestion to listen to music; maybe it is or isn’t, but this time is necessary for me. This is time to let my mind just drift without expecting too much of anything from it. Letting it wander where it wanders. In a results-orientated culture, we can spend too little time here.

Cut to the core, this is actually what meditation is all about. For me, all it really means is taking the time to get in touch with our own thoughts and finding a point of reflection. It’s cutting out the external world for a while and tuning into frequency us. It’s about reconnecting with the signal, amongst the noise.

This is time to turn off the phone, unplug from the internet, and make space for some calm in our day.

Disconnecting a little from the busy world around us, to reconnect with ourselves.

No special cushion necessary, unless you want one, no special seating position necessary unless it helps trigger the state. Just make a commitment to be mindful and find some stillness in your own way.

5. Creating

For me this means writing and playing guitar.

Writing, in particular, is something I spend much time on. I feel better on days and weeks that I have made time to write creatively. Ideas flow freely and come out on the page. I make sense of thoughts and words and try to communicate as effectively as I can, then I refine (edit). When I am truly in a writing flow, this creative process can definitely feel meditative.

6. Exercise (calisthenics, yoga, and breathwork)

I am a fan and practitioner of calisthenics (working with one’s bodyweight as the weight). I find this form of training both physically demanding and endlessly interesting. I enjoy the raw simplicity.

Learning new moves or practicing well-worn moves, trying to perfect them, also has a meditative effect. I’m totally in the practice, and often have to be if the move in question is getting hard or has a balancing element. Trying to create whole body tension for some moves also means I need to be aware of where my breath is (am I holding it somewhere or letting it flow?).

Yoga is relatively new to me and I have been slow to embrace it, perhaps somewhat surprisingly as my wife is a yoga practitioner and teacher and has encouraged me to give it a proper go for years.  Knucklehead that I am, I finally took note and I’ve come to really enjoy this time. I now make time for working on the mat through my week, amongst other exercise I do.

As I am new to the yoga poses themselves, and how different teachers teach, I find I have to be totally present for yoga. No time to think about what comes after or what has just happened; to keep up with the class I have to listen. This has a calming effect on body and soul on the best days.

The breathwork, and constant queues to focus on breath, have also made me aware of where I tend to keep tension (physically and mentally).

Reframing Meditation

What’s great about this list is that you can use these practices interchangeably, and they can happily co-exist at the same time.

I think the “meditation” label puts as many off as it attracts. In busy and distracted times, this is a missed opportunity for us all to feel the benefits.

When we forget the labels, all we’re doing with the practices above is resetting a little. The art of meditating without meditating if you like.

Give it a go. String these resets together on a regular basis and feel the benefits for yourself. Who knows, maybe you’ll even be open to further experiments in formal meditative practice after doing so. If not, just find your own way. Keep what works for you, discard what doesn’t, and call it what you want, or call it nothing at all.

Getting Outside Is Good for Your Mental and Physical Health, According to New Study

Those who spent two hours a week outside reported improved mental and physical health.

In case you needed even more of a reason to get into the Great Outdoors, a study published in Scientific Reports says that spending two hours in nature every week could provide a boost to your health. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this; in July 2018, Science Daily shared another report boasting the same idea. If you read no further, at least take away the moral of this story: Spending time in nature is always a good idea.

This new study took two groups — one that did not spend any time in nature and another that took advantage of residential green spaces (parks, beaches, and the woods) — and monitored them for seven days. Each participant reported back on the state of their mental and physical wellness at the end of the study. According to CNN, the researchers included feedback from more than 20,000 people in the UK. Of those who spent time outside, one in three polled reported that they felt dissatisfied and one in seven shared that they had poor health. Of the group who did not spend time outdoors, nearly half reported “low levels of life satisfaction,” and 25 percent reported they experienced poor health.

The demographics of the two groups spanned all walks of life. Mathew White, leader of the study at University of Exeter Medical School, shared some insight with CNN on the people studied: “We were worried our effect was just that healthier people visited nature but this finding suggested even people with known illnesses who did manage to get two hours a week in nature fared better.”

This isn’t knowledge that’s supposed to surprise you: It makes sense. Pull yourself out of your everyday environment and stresses and experience something bigger than yourself. In a world where forest bathing is a popular and respected activity, it’s never been easier to get out into nature.

18 Swoon-Worthy Overwater Bungalows

Who can resist the allure of an over-water bungalow? Everything about it spells romantic, off-the-grid seclusion, from the thatched roofs and wraparound terraces to outdoor showers and spellbinding views of the azure waters. We traveled to Tahiti, Fiji, Bora Bora and beyond in search of the best over-water bungalows. Here’s what we found.

Four Seasons Bora Bora

To get to the Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora, a private yacht takes you across warm South Pacific waters to your very own over-water bungalow or beachfront villa. Once there, you’ll never have to leave the privacy of your thatched-roof retreat— you can request to have meals delivered by canoe, and decks mean that you’re only ever a stepladder’s distance away from the crystalline lagoon.

Vivanta by Taj Coral Reef, Maldives

This resort represents a younger, more affordable take on textbook tropical luxury, which translates into hip accommodations, a buzzy vibe and top-notch service. The 62 beach and over-water villas come equipped with outdoor rain showers that let you go au naturel in nature. Take a dip in the reef, then climb up your private ladder onto your deck to laze under the sun.

Likuliku Lagoon Resort, Fiji

This adults-only resort is home to Fiji’s only over-water bungalows, making it a big draw for honeymooners. Splurge on a Deluxe Beachfront Bure for direct ladder access to the lagoon, a freestanding bath, lounger-strewn deck and a private plunge pool.

Six Senses Laamu, Maldives

On the tiny island of Olhuveli, the Six Senses Laamu’s 97 villas are secluded and luxurious, with indoor-outdoor spaces and private beach access. Throw in six distinctive on-site restaurants and bars, the glamorous spa and water activities, and it’s obvious why this resort is a beach vacay slam dunk.

Angsana Ihuru, Maldives

Ideal for lovers, divers and environmentalists, the Angsana Ihuru is a stylish haven on a tiny private island in the Maldives’ North Malé Atoll. Highlights include the thoroughly modern, thatch-roofed bungalows; the wildlife sightings (think: parrotfish, turtles and blacktip sharks); and the resort’s underwater coral garden initiative, which gives guests the opportunity to clean and restore the house reef.

  

Conrad Maldives Rangali Island

The resort encompasses two adjacent islands, connected by a 500-meter footbridge, and offers both standard beach villas and the coveted over-water variety. The expansive 1,600-square-foot spa accommodations have large Roman baths, vaulted ceilings, ceiling fans, teak floors, and, of course, unparalleled views of the Indian Ocean.

Constance Le Prince Maurice, Mauritius

This 60-acre resort is on a private estate at the end of a peninsula on the unspoiled East Coast of Mauritius. Thanks to the vision of Mauritian architect Jean-Marc Eynaud, the thatch-roof villas are just shy of over-the-top, with heated private pools, romantic outdoor baths and Feng Shui-inspired interiors.

Six Senses Ninh Van Bay, Vietnam

You’ll need to endure a long-haul flight and a car and boat transfer to get to this luxury boutique hotel. But once you’ve arrived at Six Senses Ninh Van Bay, it’s all about pampered relaxation. The 58 villas are set amid massive rock and boulder formations and overlook the South China Sea; those along the beachfront are extra luxurious, with paths running directly to the sand.

InterContinental Bora Bora Resort Thalasso Spa

Each spacious over-water villa at the Inter-Continental Bora Bora has oh-my views of the azure lagoon and the iconic Mount Otemanu. Designed with an environmental sensitivity, the resort uses revolutionary technology that draws seawater from the depths of the ocean to reuse it for electricity.

Sofitel Moorea la Ora Beach Resort, Tahiti

With sawtooth mountain ridges, vertiginous fern-cloaked cliffs, deep ravines and dramatic waterfalls, this wild and romantic island retreat is the ultimate far flung escape. Take in the views from the hammock on your bungalow’s deck or from your deep soak tub or rain shower.

The St. Regis Bora Bora

Starting at 1,550 square feet, the over-water accommodations at The St. Regis Bora Bora are the largest in French Polynesia. But it’s not just size that sets these lush bungalows apart. Blending minimalist Polynesian decor (think: plank wood floors, thatch-work ceilings, tribal-inspired art) and 21st century luxuries like glass floor panels, this property is a serious stunner.

Diamonds Athuruga Beach & Water Villas All Inclusive, Maldives

The villas at this all-inclusive Maldives hideaway eschew thatch-roofs and sand-colored interiors for a sleek, white-on-white aesthetic. Inside, find four-poster beds, lacquered writing desks, polished herringbone floors and open-air showers.

El Dorado Maroma by Karisma, Mexico

Move over, Maldives. Mexico’s now got its own over-water bungalow resort, and it’s out of this world. The adults-only enclave has 30 plafitos (stilt houses) on a secluded stretch of the Riviera Maya. As with most resorts there’s a glass-bottom floor, infinity plunge pool, outdoor shower, 24-hour butler and a ladder that leads into the sea. But, the design is the opposite of cookie-cutter: dark zapote wood from the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexican white granite and roofs made with thatched palm leaves.

  

 

Song Saa Private Island, Cambodia

Lush rain forest, pristine beaches, and colorful reefs are just some of the reasons we love this Cambodian getaway set on two private islands along the Gulf of Thailand. Song Saa’s 27 waterfront villas are done up with natural materials (beach driftwood and recycled timber from old fishing boats) as well as handcrafted furnishings by local artisans. Split your time between the yoga and meditation center, infinity pool, spa, and snorkeling sites.

Pangkor Laut Resort, Malaysia

Nestled on a private 300-acre isle in Malaysia, Pangkor Laut Resort is a true tropical oasis. Its 43 posh over-water suites feature massive sundecks and over-sized bathtubs that look out over the azure sea. And around the resort, there’s four restaurants, two outdoor swimming pools, and a private beach to continue the bliss

   

Cocoa Island by COMO, Maldives

Cocoa Island is the ultimate romantic escape for couples and honeymooners. Here, privacy is paramount: the dhoni boat-inspired suites are spaced 24 feet apart, a personal butler caters to your every need, and the South Indian cuisine can be delivered straight to your bungalow (meaning there’s no reason to leave). There’s also an over-water Como Shambhala spa if you want to watch the fish while you get a massage for two.

Cheval Blanc Randheli Maldives

We try not to pick favorites, but it’s pretty damn hard to top the elegant ++Cheval Blanc Randheli++. Owned by the same French firm that represents high-end brands like Louis Vuitton and Moët & Chandon, luxury is in every detail. Starchitect Jean-Michel Gathy, who designed the stunning Aman properties, dreamt up the 46 villas in a blend of clean contemporary style and traditional Maldivian craftsmanship. The airy open-plan abodes have cathedral ceilings, Vincent Beaurin artwork, plus sliding glass walls that open onto a glam sundeck and 40-foot slate infinity pool. Other posh perks: lagoon-side pontoons, a seaplane chauffeur, Guerlain spa treatments, a hammam, Leonor Greyl hair salon and beauty studio, plus three bars and five restaurants, including Le 1947’s tasting menu fare courtesy of three-Michelin-starred chef Yannick Alléno.

Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa

Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa has all the trappings of an upscale island retreat. The 50 breezy bungalows have high ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows, and minimalist decor (think: white stone, chunky black furniture and native wood). When hunger strikes, there’s the Island Grill, a toes-in-the-sand spot with a wood-burning oven. But most of your days will be spent snorkeling at the 30 dive sites nearby (a resident marine biologist can also give tours) as well as indulging in an indigenous treatment at the Vidhun Spa.

 

Call Of Nature

Fog blankets the desolate earth
With motionless, invisible arms
Concealing any imperfections
Of Nature’s poised beauty and charm

A vapor mist of moisture
Dampens foliage with care
Gentle as the sweetest kiss
On tender lips, so fair

A necessity of plantations growth
Sipping wetness of various form
Absorbing like a starving sponge
During the calm before the storm

A miracle of unspoken prayer
From crying clouds, does fall
Saturating dirt and root
Soaked, satisfied, Nature’s call 

Athens

Greece is a country in Southern Europe, situated on the Balkan Peninsula. It shares borders with Macedonia, Albania and Bulgaria. The country is washed by three seas – the Aegean Sea in the east, the Ionian Sea in the west, and the Mediterranean in the south.

Moment of Peace – Gregorian Masters of Chants

“Moment of Peace”

Moment of Peace – Lyrics

Mm Mm Mm Mm Mm
Ah Ah Ah Ah Ah

In moment of piece
Ah Ah Ah Ah Ah
Ah Ah Ah Ah Ah

Come now, come by our side
A place where you can hide
We are the sunshine
Rest your soul here
And you’ll find
We are the energy
We give the world to thee
Hold up your heart now
We will ease pain from your brow

When the world is in tatters
And destruction is near
You can come with us here

When the people are strangers
You’ll rest here with me
In a moment of peace

Light up the dark below,
See through the stars,
Reach to the earth’s flow
Drift in the joy of our hearts,
Unleash the energy,
Taste of the wine
Drink as a soul
That knows now, power divine

In a moment of peace

Canvas

Canvas 

 

Before my eyes brilliant colour, perfection
Dancing gracefully in every direction,
The world of trees, the art of nature
Are simple reasons for a painter.

The power mother nature can release
Could make a painting, a masterpiece
A gallery of natures finest hues,
Enough to stir the most reluctant muse.

Should mother nature tutor me in art
My tree would show a living beating heart,
And should I save one single living tree
My canvas would inspire the world to see.

Red, orange, yellow, green and brown
Colours of beauty my brush would put down
Bright and vibrant Maple Red and Golden Oak
Living, breathing felt with every brush stroke..

 

10 Most Beautiful Villages in Europe

Mihran Kalaydjian, CHA

Consultant, Strategist, and Writer

From the Alps to the Mediterranean, these frozen-in-time European villages will make you appreciate the beauty of taking it slow. Reaching some of these European beauties requires extra effort, yet the rewards are dazzling. Your eyes will thank you.

Hallstatt, Austria

The storybook town of Hallstatt in central Austria enjoys a gorgeous setting on the bank of the Hallstätter See, between the pristine lake and a lush mountain that rises dramatically from the water’s edge. A history of salt mining dating back thousands of years has translated into enduring prosperity for the town, which is most evident in the beautiful square ringed with ivy-covered buildings.

Manarola, Italy

Manarola is a small town, a frazione of the comune (municipality) of Riomaggiore, in the province of La Spezia, Liguria, northern Italy. It is the second smallest of the famous Cinque Terre towns frequented by tourists.

Bibury, England

The hilly Cotswold region is a designated “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty” in southwestern England, and one of its loveliest villages is Bibury, where verdant meadows abut ancient stone cottages with steep pitched roofs. The River Coln, which bisects the village, teems with trout, but the most scenic area is Arlington Row, a lane of sepia-hued cottages built in the 17th century to house weavers from the nearby Arlington Mill.

Colmar, France

French and German influences commingle in this well-preserved Alsatian village, where local bakeries sell both croissants and kugelhopf, and restaurants specialize in foie gras and sauerkraut (or choucroute). A range of architectural styles, from German Gothic to French Neo-Baroque, can be spotted in the old town, which was spared destruction during World War II—thanks in part to the historical beauty of its cobblestoned lanes, quiet canals, and half-timbered houses.

Reine, Norway

North of the Arctic Circle, Reine is a pretty fishing village in the Lofoten archipelago, an area of starkly beautiful Nordic wilderness, where sapphire bays punctuate fjords and mountains. Many of the bright red fishermen’s cabins (called rorbuer) have been converted into comfortable cottages for visitors that offer direct access to the Norwegian Sea. Settle in for a front-row view of the night sky and its mesmerizing entertainment, from summer’s midnight sun to winter’s northern lights.

Pučiśća, Croatia

The buses and cruises that stop along Croatia’s sunny Dalmatian coast unleash tourists eager to experience the charms of Dubrovnik and the ancient island village of Hvar. Fewer visitors find their way to Pučiśća on the island of Brač. The reward is a seaside village with outsize appeal: white-stone villas with terracotta roofs, narrow cobblestoned alleys, and a stone-paved square. Bask in its relative solitude and the many prime spots for swimming in the turquoise Adriatic Sea.

Telč, Czech Republic

Residents of Telč, a small town in south Moravia, were once quite competitive about the beauty of their homes, as is evident today on the elongated main square, where one building is lovelier than the next. The Baroque- and Renaissance-style façades, featuring high gables painted in pale pastels, now support small shops and cafés. A grand Renaissance-era château and large fish-filled ponds surround the square.

Cong, Ireland

Encircled by streams, the picturesque village of Cong straddles the border between County Mayo and Galway—a region of lakes and vibrantly green meadows dotted with grazing sheep. Cong counts numerous stone bridges, the ruins of a medieval abbey, the occasional thatched-roof cottage, and Ashford Castle, a grand Victorian estate that has been converted into a romantic luxury hotel.

Gruyères, Switzerland

Gruyères is famous for its namesake cheese, whose mild, nutty flavor melts so well in fondue. But few are familiar with the town itself, a medieval hamlet in the upper valley of the Saane River in western Switzerland. A wide, stone-paved street leads up to the magnificent 13th-century Gruyères Castle, with its imposing fortifications and expansive views of the surrounding Alpine foothills.

Bled, Slovenia

This small Alpine town in northwestern Slovenia rings the shore of Lake Bled, whose glacial blue waters surround a tiny island and its small Baroque church. After a two-hour stroll around the lake, hike to the medieval hilltop castle for panoramic views or recharge with a slice of the local specialty: kremšnita, a sugar-topped pastry filled with cream and custard that has been served for decades at the Hotel Park.