The UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has recently unveiled its list of best villages to visit around the world, based not only on their quaintness and charm, but also social and environmental sustainability. Interestingly, 3 small towns in Spain are among those listed, recognized for their sheer beauty, medieval History and inestimable cultural value.
This year, demand for travel to Spain soared to new heights, especially after it reopened for international travel, restriction-free. For the first time, however, it’s the lesser-known destinations that are gaining the most traction as millions of sun-seeking Americans journey across the pond in search of their idyllic Mediterranean getaway.
If the buzzing crowds and energetic atmosphere of cities like Barcelona and Madrid are not for you, this is where you should be heading instead:
Rupit is a gorgeous rustic gem in the heart of Catalonia, one of the autonomous provinces of Spain with a regional identity so strong it could be its own nation. The stone-built Old Town, which dates back to the 12th century and has been left virtually unspoiled amid the country’s rapid 20th century urbanization, is easily the main point of interest.
Having grown out of the fortified gates of a hilltop castle, the village blends naturally with the mountainous scenery and craggy surroundings. It’s almost as if the ancient houses, dating back at least 500 years, and the winding cobblestone streets that lead to secret passageways and tiny plazoletas rise naturally out of the rock formations.
Rupit is definitely not on everyone’s radar, or plagued by overdevelopment, and being a short two-hour drive north of Barcelona, it makes for a perfect day trip idea, especially for those looking to escape the Instagram hordes cramming into every possible Game of Thrones filming location in Girona, or the overpriced beach towns lining Costa Brava.
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If you consider yourself an outdoorsy person, you should definitely make Alquezar a priority on your next travel itinerary. Located in a bucolic setting at the foot of the Pyrenees, it acts as a gateway to an area of truly outstanding natural beauty. Hiking spots, nature trails, a meandering stream and sweeping mountain views: it truly has it all.
The most popular pastime among visitors to Alquezar is tracing the path beginning in the Monchiriguel Fountain, in the center of town, and ending in the La Fuente canyon. Along the walk, they will find crystal clear mountain springs, old waterwheels and historical bridges arching over the turquoise-colored River Vero.
On top of that, visitors are free to stroll picturesque streets lined with medieval monuments and traditional family-owned Aragonese shops, deeply embedded in tradition, explore Alquezar Castle, originally built by the Arab conquerors of the Iberian Peninsula, and admire the architectural splendor of the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria la Mayor.
Guadalupe is a 1,822-people strong community nestled in the hinterlands of the Extremadura region, straddling the Spanish border with Portugal. A remarkable little town famous for its traditional architecture, it is the proud home of the imposing 14th century Monastery of Saint Mary of Guadalupe, one of Spain’s finest and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
For History aficionados, the monastery is a must-see landmark: is the exact spot where Christopher Columbus made his first pilgrimage after ‘discovering’ the Americas in 1492, thanking the heavens for the achievement. His love for Guadaloupe is well-documented: he went as far as naming a Caribbean island in its honor.
Besides being a culturally and religiously important site, Guadeloupe is often used as a base for travelers exploring the wider province of Caceres. Other regional attractions include the Monfrague National Park, a sought-after hotspot in the birdwatching community, and Trujillo, a heavily fortified town packed with medieval and Renaissance buildings.
Spain Has The Most Entries Out Of Any Country On The List
The director of the Spanish Tourist Office in London was quoted saying they were ‘delighted’ the three Spanish villages were acknowledged as distinguished tourism hubs, especially now that the nation is expanding its promotional efforts to under-visited towns: ‘we aim to promote community-led tourism across Spain and are thrilled at the international recognition‘.
A total of 136 villages were submitted for consideration, with each UN member state allowed to nominate up to three candidates. This means all three of Spain’s submissions – Rupit, Alquezar and Guadalupe – made it to the final list, more than any other country. The full list of 32 destinations feature other beautiful villages in Switzerland, Italy, China and Vietnam.
The UNWTO’s best tourism villages for 2022 are the following:
- Zell am See, Austria
- Wagrain, Austria
- Puqueldón, Chile
- Dazhai, China
- Jingzhu, China
- Choachí, Colombia
- Aguarico, Ecuador
- Angochagua, Ecuador
- Mulu Ecovillage, Ethiopia
- Mestia, Georgia
- Kfar Kama, Israel
- Sauris-Zahre, Italy
- Isola del Giglio, Italy
- Umm Qais, Jordan
- Creel, Mexico
- El Fuerte, Mexico
- Ksar Elkhorbat, Morocco
- Moulay Bouzerktoune, Morocco
- Lamas, Peru
- Raqchi, Peru
- Castelo Novo, Portugal
- Pyeongsa-ri, South Korea
- Rasinari, Romania
- Al’Ula Old Town, Saudi Arabia
- Bohinj, Slovenia
- Rupit, Spain
- Alquézar, Spain
- Guadalupe, Spain
- Murten, Switzerland
- Andermatt, Switzerland
- Birgi, Türkiye
- Thái Hải, Vietnam
The UNWTO Secretary-General, Zurab Pololikashvili, stated toruism can be a ‘true gamechanger’ for rural communities, creating more jobs, supporting hard-hit businesses in the wake of the Covid crisis, and ‘keeping traditions alive‘. For Pololikashvili, the list showcases the ‘power’ of the sector in driving ‘economic diversification’ outside large urban centers.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com