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by Natalie Paris, The Daily Telegraph, February 01, 2016
Japanese travel agents believe these to be the 30 most beautiful towns in Europe, but only one UK location makes the list.
The Japanese tourist board has revealed which it thinks are the prettiest towns in Europe - and there is only one UK town among them. Conwy, in Wales, was the only UK location to make the list of 30 most beautiful European towns and villages.
The picturesque walled market town, which sits on the north coast and has a medieval castle, is now being promoted as a "must-visit" destination for Japanese tourists, after being picked as one of 30 recommended small destinations by 300 Japanese travel agents.
The agents were presented with the challenge to pick the 30 best by the Japanese Association of Travel Agents (JATA), which wants to promote travel to attractive little places in Europe.
No English or Scottish towns made the list but Kilkenny, a medieval settlement in Ireland, also with its own castle, managed to be included.
Officials and locals in Conwy were thrilled to hear that they had made the cut and have begun to prepapre for the arrival of coach parties of Japanese tourists, who they hope will sightsee, eat and drink in the town, bringing in trade for local businesses.
To celebrate acquiring a Japanese fanbase, one local restaurant - East in nearby Llandudno - has created its own Welsh version of sushi as a tribute, which it is calling "wushi". It involves seaweed rolls of the finest Welsh ingredients including lamb, leeks, Welsh cheddar, cockles, sea trout and laverbread.
As a result of the list, Conwy is being included in a new schedule for tourism promotion throughout Japan at expos and conferences, as well as in the national media, under the theme of beautiful towns.
“It was a huge honour for Conwy town and Wales to be recognised in this way and our Welsh sushi is a fun, but respectful nod back to Japan," said Sam Nayar, Chair of the Destination Conwy Steering Group. "It’s also a way to celebrate our current ‘Year of Adventure’ in Wales by encouraging visitors to be adventurous and try our iconic Welsh ingredients in a unique way."
JATA’s member companies - a mix of tourism offices for Europe, tour operators and airlines - first acted as judges by whittling down a list of towns and villages to 41, from 28 countries.
A selection committee then came up with a top 30 after looking at criteria that included assessing which places had low media exposure in Japan and no package tours available; wanting to ensure a wide variety of destinations from the whole of Europe and tourist attractions the travel companies thought would appeal to Japanese travellers.
While British tourists will know and love a handful of the destinations on the list, such as the Italianate seaside town of Rovinj in Croatia; Kotor, on a magnificent bay in Montenegro and Lefkara, famous for its lace, in Cyprus, many of the others will be completely new to them.
Here are the top 30 small places in full, including scenic hilltop communes, coastal fishing villages and more:
On the banks of the River Nore in the province of Leinster, Kilkenny is often referred to as a city though it is the size of a large town. Its heritage is on display in the form of Kilkenny Castle, St Canice’s Cathedral and its medieval walls.
Mangalem, the city of Berat’s old town, sits on the banks of the river Osum and is a Unesco World Heritage Site. In medieval times it was a frontier town of the Byzantine Empire, to which its citadel testifies.
Civita di Bagnoregio, Italy
With a permanent population of fewer than 10 – but 600,000 annual tourists – the hilltop village has become a focal point of central Italian holidays. It is, however, at risk from the steady erosion of its volcanic perch.
“Procida is enchanting, like an imaginary Italian island come true. The architecture, with houses apparently blending into each other or separated by intertwining passages in a riot of pastel colours, is like something from a film set,” explains our guide to the best Mediterranean islands .
“It has a wonderful approach, not just during the day but at night, too. It is one of the Europe’s finest medieval towns,” wrote a reader when a Telegraph guide to the best towns in Wales omitted Conwy. Its medieval walls and castle are highlights.
A fashionable Austrian ski resort whose charm is often amplified by a covering of snow, Lech is an old farming village set high in a valley that spends large parts of winter cut off from the outside world, until the Flexen Pass can be cleared.
Readers will perhaps have heard of this town in northern Netherlands thanks to the winter ice skating on the frozen Ijsselmeer inland sea nearby. The old city itself has its own language, a mixture of West Frisian, English, Danish and Norwegian.
Famed for its lace, Lefkara is a village in south Cyprus. According to legend, Leonardo da Vinci visited in 1481, and purchased a lace cloth for the main altar of the Duomo di Milano.
“The car-free old town is made up of Venetian-era pastel coloured houses built around a pretty fishing harbour and overlooked by a hilltop church,” writes our Croatia expert Jane Foster . “The food is pretty good too, with local cuisine influenced by the region’s affinity with Italy.”
Austrian painter Giovanni Segantini described Soglio as “the gateway to paradise”. High in the Swiss Alps, the village of 300 is also famous for its flowers – when not coated in snow.
On the Swedish island of Gotland, Visby is a popular summer holiday destination for Scandinavians. It also thought to be the home of one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Scandinavia, and is a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Setenil de las Bodegas, Spain
Famed for its dwellings built into the rock, Setenil de las Bodegas, 100 miles north east of Cadiz, has also gained a reputation for its chorizo sausages from pigs bred in the surrounding hills.
On the Adriatic coast, the Venetian-style town of Piran is a fishing port with exquisite piazzas, churches and labyrinthine streets and fabulous waterfront fish restaurants.
Another Unesco World Heritage Site, this small hamlet is “a remarkably intact settlement of 45 buildings with the traditional features of a central European village,” says Unesco. “It is the region’s most complete group of these kinds of traditional log houses.”
Marianske-Lazne, Czech Republic
A famous Eastern European spa town where “famous composers, exhausted intellectuals and jaded aristocrats came to enjoy the restorative treatments and social whirl,” according to Claire Gervat, who visited for the Telegraph.
British writer Simon Winder described Quedlinburg as a “daft little Harz Mountain town” and said that its sheer beauty was never far from his mind. He misses its “rambling street pattern, the beauty of the countless, red-roofed half-timbered houses and, of course, the 'pocket Schloss' perched on its hill with a beautiful Romanesque abbey.”
A “health resort” recognised by the state, Bernkastle-Kues is also, paradoxically, in the heart of a well-known wine-growing region. Its medieval marketplace is a popular draw, border by gabled timber-frame, 17th century houses.
Golyazi, an ancient Greek trading city, is on one of the few islands dotted about the waters of Lake Uluabat.
Reine is set on the coast of one of the Lofoten Islands, “called the soul of Northern Norway, a region of pretty villages, blue-watered bays, flower-covered meadows, dramatic cliffs, towering mountains and a silken Arctic light,” according to our expert Tip Jepson.
The site of a diplomatic picnic that helped end communism in Eastern Europe in 1989, Sopron is also home to more than 300 dentists.
“It was here that the struggle for independence from the ‘Turkish yoke’ kicked off in 1876, and today Bulgarians recognise its significant place in their history,” wrote Robert Nurden for the Telegraph . “This picturesque town of half-timbered buildings, guarding the Sredna Gora Mountains and divided by the meandering River Topolnitsa, hosts important music and folklore festivals.”
The second oldest town in Finland, on the coast of the Gulf of Finland, dating back to the early 14th century. Its old district is made up of a pattern of dense, medieval streets and wooden houses.
A medieval town with 13 listed historic buildings perched on a cliff 300 feet above the River Lot. Saint Cinq Lapopie, enclosed by fortified gates, sits below its fortress.
A famous part of the Alsace wine-growing region, Riquewihr is “the prettiest village in the region, its medieval defensive walls still largely intact, and many of the half-timbered houses hemming the narrow streets date back to the 16th century,” according to Nick Trend, Telegraph Travel’s deputy editor .
A small town in East Flanders, it has been home to a number of famous painters, including Gustave de Smet and Constant Permeke, probably owing to its bucolic setting.
This village in southern Poland is best-known for its cottages decorated with intricate designs. The custom was reportedly begun by the women of the village more than a century ago.
Monsanto is a mountain-top village in eastern Portugal where the homes were built to coexist with enormous boulders. Some of the rocks form walls and ceilings to various houses, which date back to the 16th century.
This Macedonian city is on the shore of a lake of the same name and is one of only 28 sites around the world that qualify for Unesco’s lists of both cultural and natural sites.
Another Unesco-listed town, Kotor is “a place full of Venetian-inspired architecture and tiny twisting streets of white stone bearing workaday names such as Milk Street and Bread Square," writes Julia Warren, who visited for the Telegraph .
Gura Humorului, Romania
In the north of Romania, Gura Humorului is a town nestled in a depression near where the Moldova and Humour Rivers meet, replete with an array of colourful buildings.
This article was written by Natalie Paris from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.