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World’s most beautiful towns
They don't have impressive industries and they're not the most popular destinations; but these towns are as picturesque as they come
Yeh, yeh, a town is made by its people; but sometimes the buildings and landscape count for something too.
There’s a lot to be said for a town’s design. These ones do it best.
Have you visited a town that struck you for its beauty? Tell us about it in the comments
Also on CNNGo: 10 of the world's most underrated cities
1. Gordes, France
More than just a beautiful village perched on one of the most scenic hillsides of Provence, Gordes has seen serious political action.
Harnessed for its defensive vantage point by everyone from the Romans to the Normans, Gordes played a crucial role in the French Resistance during World War II, and suffered accordingly.
In peacetime it’s the beautiful central square and cobbled alleys overlooking the fields of the Vaucluse that have attracted artists including Chagall and Vasarely.
Today visitors come to enjoy the lively open market in the square dominated by a Norman castle, the surrounding lavender fields and the 12th-century Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque.
Nearest airport: Avignon, or Marseille for international arrivals; www.provenceguide.co.uk
2. Miyajima, Japan
The name means “shrine-island” and this one has an exquisite torii.
The presence of the sea is as much a part of Miyajima’s charm as the shrine itself -- the village is lined with a boardwalk which is a great favorite with grazing deer.
What you see is not necessarily all you get in Miyajima -- you need to walk behind the main street and away from the shrine to encounter an enchanting staircase leading to a Buddhist temple at the foot of scenic Mount Misen.
Nearest airport: Hiroshima; www.visitjapan.jp
3. Essaouira, Morocco
In a country awash with red earth, Saharan desert heat and dust, Essaouira is a refreshing and surprising breath of fresh coastal air.
Not a resort, but a bustling little town with a fishing industry, it’s a vision of bright blue and white, with the odd golden accent.
The Medina, or old market center, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where visitors shop for marquetry, textiles and hand-made raffia slippers known as babouches.
But an even bigger attraction is the fishing port, lined with outdoor restaurants overlooking the Scala Kasbah and a sea of blue fishing boats.
Nearest airport: Essaouira or Marrakech for international arrivals; www.visitmorocco.com
4. Savannah, Georgia, United States
This jewel of the American South nearly fell apart from sheer neglect until a plan to demolish one of its mansions to make way for a parking lot shocked the populace into restoring more than 1,000 splendid buildings.
Even though Savannah boasts the largest historic district of any American city, it was overlooked by visitors until Savannah’s more colorful 20th-century citizens found themselves playing starring roles in the best-seller “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”
Although it reads like a thriller, John Behrendt’s 1994 book is a factual history peppered with the socialites, low-lifes and eccentrics who made the city what it is today.
The fabulous Bonaventure cemetery central to the book would alone be worth a visit to Savannah. In death as in life, Savannah socialites are determined to outdo each other in extravagance, and the statuary, overhung by dripping live oaks, is outstanding.
Nearest airport: Atlanta; www.savannah.com
5. Lucca, Italy
This walled medieval town is one of the loveliest in Tuscany, with a unique elliptical piazza, the Anfiteatro.
This former colosseum was converted in the 12th century into a residential space, now awash with cafés. It’s surrounded by many other picturesque piazzas, punctuated with spectacular churches. San Michele soars to crazy heights with its tiers of blind arches supported by wildly-decorated columns.
San Frediano, with its colorful mosaic facade, is another delight.
Lucca is equally beautiful on the outside. It’s surrounded by thick 16th-century walls on top of which locals stroll or bike, gazing over the surrounding parkland.
From the hotel strip just beyond the walls, it’s easy to slip into town on foot or bike through one of the many alleys.
Nearest airport: Pisa; www.luccatourist.it
6. Safed, Israel
You only have to stand in the centre of Safed, where the mysticism of the kabbalah was disseminated by rabbis hundreds of years ago, to feel the magic.
Historic little synagogues, cobbled alleys, blue-painted arches and far-ranging views from the hilltop make this one of the most scenic little towns in Israel.
The Great Stairs cut the town in two and were used by the British to separate Arab and Jewish Quarters, while the Citadel with its Crusader and Mamluk ruins and the eclectic shopping along Gallery Street add a mix of history and current culture.
Many local characters are keen to engage visitors in this New Age center, where natural healers and modern mystics abound.
Nearest airport: Tel Aviv; www.safed.co.il
7. Plockton, Scotland
Palm trees in the Highlands? Bizarre as it sounds, the Gulf Stream has brought tropical foliage to this beautiful little village just over the water from the Isle of Skye.
Original named Am Ploc, it was a crofting hamlet until the 17th century and then a home for refugees displaced to make room for sheep during the Highland Clearances.
Today, the special feature of the high street is the gardens -- separated from their quaint little houses by the main road, they all face the sea and in spring and summer are a beautifully kept riot of brightly colored flowers and neat lawns.
Roam to the edges of town and you’ll find another attraction -- the beautiful shaggy brown
Highland cattle munching the outlying hedgerows.
Nearest airport: Inverness; www.visitscotland.com
8. Taxco, Mexico
This colonial silver-mining town 170 kilometers south of the capital is arguably the jewel in Mexico's crown. Its maze of cobbled streets and beautiful piazzas overlook the breathtaking vistas of the surrounding Guerrero countryside.
The Federal Government has designated Taxco a national historic monument, so its 16th-century architectural heritage will be preserved.
Even the flocks of tourists shopping for silver on their rest stop en route to Acapulco (Taxco is half-way between the resort and the capital) don’t spoil the colonial ambience -- and if you want to get away from the shoppers, it’s easy to dive into the covered market, a great place for an authentic lunch, or the beautiful and central church of Santa Prisca.
Nearest airport: Acapulco; www.visitmexico.com
9. Zhouzhuang, China
If Shanghai is the Paris of the Orient, then this exquisite little town punctuated with canals, just a couple of hours to the west, is China’s Venice.
The highlight is the picturesque Zhouzhuang Double Bridge, and there are even Chinese gondoliers waiting to ply visitors down the canals.
But there’s more to Zhouzhang than the water -- fabulous examples of Suzhow-style architecture lining the banks which it’s said do not exist in Suzhow anymore.
And there are gardens beautiful enough to rival Suzhow’s much more famous ones.
Nearest airport: Shanghai; www.chinatravel.net
10. Mendocino, California, United States
Once a Victorian whaling town, this gorgeous little village remains in a 19th century timewarp -- all clapperboard buildings perched on a clifftop, often shrouded in swirling mist.
Mendocino is at the heart of a new black economy -- the marijuana groves which surround it -- which may be one reason for the lazy pace of life in this tiny village of pretty inns, decent restaurants and highly eclectic shops.
Although it can be overrun in summer, it’s a delightful place to visit out of season and taste the local Russian River wines.
Nearest airport: San Francisco; www.visitmendocino.com