St Léger, Chambéry, France

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Place Saint Léger, Chambéry, France

From farmer’s markets to flea markets, ice cream stands to crêperies, from sunshine to rainy days, Place Saint Léger, tucked within the bright, colourful streets of Chambéry, has seen it all. Chambéry is a small but beautiful French town not far from the Italian border and comfortably snuggled in the foothills of the French Alps. In fact, on a clear day, the Alps are clearly visible; on a rainy day, you may just make out their massive silhouettes in the fog. Chambéry’s air is much cooler and crisper than the air of larger nearby cities like Lyon or Torino. It’s surprisingly colourful here, as if Poland‘s vibrant market squares have been transported to Western Europe and imposed upon a French city. Despite its small size and vaguely-remote location, Chambéry is a bustling mini-metropolis. Street after street exudes colours from their painted facades. Neighbours stop to chat, tourists wander the streets in small groups, cafes fill with patrons. Everywhere, there is an air of tranquility. This is a place where one eats heartily, walks slowly, breathes clearly, and relaxes entirely.


Pro tip: Looking for something unique? Head to Place des Éléphants to see Chambery’s strange centrepiece: the Elephant Fountain! It is exactly what it sounds like, a fountain made of 4 elephant sculptures. For hikers and outdoor lovers, Chambéry is a good base to explore the western fringes of the Alps and still enjoy the charms of a sizeable city. 


Other colourful towns in Europe:

This post originally appeared in June 2014. It has since been revised and rewritten. 

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Wrocław, Poland

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Wrocław, Poland

Wrocław (Vrat-swav) is truly one of Europe’s hidden gems. A small city that was once a part of Germany before finally being restored to its rightful home within Poland’s borders, Wrocław today is a vibrant student town practically throbbing with life. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and it is extraordinarily colourful. The town centre in particular looks like an artist’s palette, swirls of every colour imaginable decorating the facades. And of course the hidden gnomes spread throughout give it spunk and personality (a gnome treasure hunt is nearly impossible to resist!). Wrocław sports one of the prettiest market squares in Eastern Europe, and the chance to drink a coffee or beer on any one of its many terraces guarantees a moment of magic!

 

Wrocław, Poland

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Rynek of Wrocław, Poland

Glittering, colourful, elegant. Poland has been getting more and more tourism attention recently. Cities such as Warsaw, Krakow, and Gdansk have made several “Where to go in 2014” lists. Krakow’s main square was recently voted “Most beautiful market square” by Lonely Planet–a huge honour! And Wrocław was ranked third on the list, “ Top 10 beautiful places you’ve never heard of” by Places Must Seen. Perhaps Poland’s best-kept secret, Wrocław (pronounced “Vrah-tswav”) is slowly coming out of its shell. The city is a university town, and like many such towns, the vast numbers of students keep the city young and vibrant. It has a mixed history, as it was once part of Germany (called ‘Breslau’). After the war, when Poland’s borders shifted west and they lost the eastern frontier to Ukraine, the citizens of the now-Ukrainian town of L’vov were displaced all the over to the recently-vacated-by-the-Germans town of Wrocław–bringing with them tradition, cuisine, and culture from the Ukraine. It is normal to spot several “Ukrainian cuisine” restaurants here. The Rynek itself is–as the other website rated it–one of the Europe’s most beautiful cities, like a canvas splashed in ink. Bathed in early morning sunlight, the vivid colours and clear plazas become more spectacular.

Plaza Mayor, Madrid, Spain

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Plaza Mayor, Madrid, Spain

This regal plaza is one of the Spanish capital’s two main squares (the other being Plaza del Sol, literally the epicentre of Spain, as it is located in the very centre of the city/country). Plaza Mayor, however, is even more beautiful than its sister. Dating back to the 1500’s and the reigns of both Phillip II and Phillip III, the plaza was designed to augment the beauty of Madrid after the king decided to make Madrid the new capital. Over the years, Plaza Mayor has seen everything from public markets, street fairs, bullfights, demonstrations, public executions, football matches (not sure how that one worked out), and trials of the Spanish Inquisition. In the beginning, it was called Plaza del Arrabal, and was once the meeting point for tradesmen pouring in from the then-larger city of Toledo. Today, these four beautiful, 5-story walls of this amazing Spanish square marks the very heart of Madrid, and Spain itself.

Gdansk, Poland

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Green Gate, Gdansk, Poland

The Brama Zielona, as it is called in Polish, towers over the far end of the Long Market (differing from most Polish market squares which are typically square in shape, often with the city hall or some other monument in the centre). The Gate was built in 1568-71 as a residence for the Polish monarchy, and was inspired by Antwerp’s City Hall (in the linked photo, the city hall is to the far left-hand side; google it for further views). This tie to the Belgian city also explains the Flemish influence in the Poland’s Baltic gem. Now a museum of Polish history, it even includes the second president of post-Communist Poland’s office. After traversing Gdansk’s beautiful Long Market, step through the magnificent Brama Zielona to enjoy the city’s beautiful waterfront on the Motława River!