Inspiration


Intriguing cities you might not have heard of…


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With a big wide world to discover, it’s hard to know where to start sometimes! While everyone is busy following the travel trends on social streams and battling with seas of selfie sticks, we’ve put together a list of some below-the-radar treasures that offer up opportunities to explore those roads that are less travelled…

Ronda, Andalucia

The El Tajo Gorge and Puente Nuevo Bridge

This magnificent mountain top city sits dramatically over the deep El Tajo Gorge. Jam-packed with historic charm, the crowning glory has to be the 18th Century Puente Nuevo Bridge that straddles the 100m chasm below. A wander through Ronda treats you to a maze of white-washed iconic houses and quaint side-streets, not to mention a behind-the-scenes peak at one of the oldest towns in Spain. Magnífico!

Jardines de Cuenca boasts some of the best views over the New and Old Bridge from different angles and heights. A series of terraces pave the way to fantastic viewpoints dotted along the Cliffside – Instagram gold for the budding photographer! The home of bullfighting, you can visit the Plaza de Toros bullring which is one of the oldest and largest in Spain. There’s a number of museums dotted around too, where you can learn all about Ronda’s fascinating history of bandits, outlaws and rebels.

Surrounded by jagged rock formations and a vast mountainous backdrop, the landscape surrounding Ronda is breathtakingly beautiful. As far as the eye can see a rich tapestry of valleys, deep ravines, cliff faces, caves and rivers flow into view. Any nature lover will swoon over the layers of limestone Mountains that roll out to the horizon. To the east and west are the natural parks of the Sierra de las Nieves (the Mountains of the Snows). Covered in marked trails, walkers are spoilt for choice! And once you’re done exploring? Enjoy an award-winning wine courtesy of one of the 21 wineries in the area.

Mdina, Malta

The walled city of Mdina, perched on top of a hill

Rich in medieval heritage, Malta packs a punch when it comes to historic claims to fame. Serving up grand palaces and baroque architecture like it’s going out of fashion, the ‘Silent City’ of Mdina is no exception. The highest point on the island, it’s a great spot for wide views from the city walls. Treat yourself to a sit down at one of the perfectly positioned tea houses and indulge in some seriously delicious chocolate cake! If you can manage to tear yourself away from the gorgeous vistas and sweet treats, meander your way through the maze of streets that make up Malta’s old capital.

Postcard-perfect, the pristine alleyways and cobbled squares are beautifully decorated. Vibrant flower arrangements hang down from balconies and brightly coloured shutters pop against the sandstone brickwork. Watch out for the famous door knockers, mini masterpieces grace front doors with elaborate designs and intricate details.

For such a small site there’s an unbelievable amount of things to do! Before you even enter, the Mdina gate gives a glimpse of the architectural artistry you’re soon to discover inside. Some of you might even recognise it? The gate was used as part of Kings Landing in the famous fantasy television programme Game of Thrones. Just after the main entrance lies the mysterious Mdina Dungeons, where you’ll find a series of secret underground passageways, chambers and cells. Be sure not to miss St. Paul’s Cathedral, Palazzo Falzon and the Natural History Museum too.

After dark the old capital city is eerily beautiful. Lamp lit at night, it feels like you’ve stepped back to another time. Add to the mix the magic and timeless atmosphere and it’s definitely one for the bucket list!

Korcula, Croatia

An aerial view of Korcula, jutting out into the peninsula

You might recognise the Venetian-style buildings with red rooftops and the old town surrounded by walls… this is Croatia’s famous ancient city in miniature form. People call Korcula ‘little Dubrovnik’ and it’s not hard to see why. Medieval squares, palaces, houses and churches all mirror its bigger brother. Pointing deep into the Peljesac Channel and perched on the rugged coastline, this intriguing city is made up of narrow marble streets that branch away from the main road like a fish bone.

St Mark’s Square is the main feature of Old Town, dominated by its cathedral of the same name. Popular with visitors and locals alike, it features museums, pavement cafés and eateries. One of the best experiences of Korcula is the traditional sword dance known as Moreska. Performed on an open-air stage, the dance depicts a conflict between kings and involves ‘battles’ with swords. All dramatised to the beat of drums and bagpipes. Talk about entertainment!

To reach the island itself, hop on one of the main coastal ferry lines from Dubrovnik. Slightly off the beaten track, you’re rewarded for your efforts with a relaxing pace of life, pristine beaches, standout family-run seafood restaurants and an island covered in woodlands and vineyards.

Valldemossa, Mallorca

Valldemossa's cobbled streets lined with terracotta plant pots overflowing with greenery

Steeped in old-world charm and surrounded by dramatic landscapes, the picture-perfect city of Valldemossa sits in a valley in the middle of the Tramuntana Mountains. Other-worldly stone houses sit against a backdrop of olive green forests, almond trees and striking blue skies. The natural beauty of the countryside makes this a great escape for nature lovers. Meander through wooded hillsides and climb your way to summits that’ll reward you with panoramic views over Mallorca and The Mediterranean. Bliss!

Doorways are decorated with colourful flower arrangements that cascade beautifully next to sandy walls. Terracotta pots line the sides of houses and side streets, overflowing with luscious greens and plant life. Cafés and eateries offer up plenty of places to tuck into local dishes. Or if you prefer to multitask, eat and explore with the help of the town’s most famous biscuits – Cocas de Patatas. Head into any bakery and they’re sure to serve this sweet treat! A real highlight of Valldemossa is the Charterhouse. Founded as a royal residence and later converted into a monastery, it’s now used to showcase antiques from ancient times and gives visitors a flavour of the incredible stories of those who once lived there.

High above Valldemossa is Puig des Teix. One of the most visited peaks in the Tramuntana mountain range, experienced hikers can tackle the 16km climb through the Son Marriog estate. The challenging journey takes four or five hours, but tag a few more on so you can spend time soaking in the jaw-dropping mountain vistas from the top.

Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic

Architecture in Zona Colonial

The largest city in the Caribbean, Santa Domingo is the beating heart of Dominican culture and deserves more attention than it gets. Here you’ll find old and new merge seamlessly with a patchwork of cultures and neighbourhoods. From business districts and glitzy shopping malls to UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Santa Domingo – or ‘La Capital’ as it’s affectionately called – always has something new to show you.

The Colonial City is one of the most visited areas, and is the oldest European settlement in the Western Hemisphere! A walkable grid of 16 streets, this pedestrian friendly maze of cobblestone lanes features one of the oldest churches and oldest surviving European fortresses. Architecture ranging from the 16th to early 20th Century, it’s almost overwhelming how the energetic city combines vibrant and hurried modern life with graceful old buildings.

The oceanfront promenade, Malecón, starts in the Colonial zone and runs along the Caribbean coast. It’s extremely popular, especially in the evenings when massive crowds turn up for live music and dancing. It’s even the setting for important events like Carnival! Surrounded by luxurious hotels and casinos, not to mention restaurants and bars that offer up a taste of local culture, it’s a hot spot for leisure and pleasure. You can walk the 14km boulevard, or opt for a carriage ride and enjoy the welcome breeze instead. Here’s a great place to stop and soak up the atmosphere, or browse the paintings and wooden handicrafts from local stands and bag yourself a bargain keepsake.

Rovinj, Istria

Colourful cobbled streets of Rovinj's interior

A star attraction of the Istrian coastline, Rovinj is seaside bliss as its best. Enchanting shiny cobbled streets web around small squares, and a church bell tower overshadows all of the Old Town. The entire place oozes charm and authentic small town quirks, as well as a wonderfully romantic atmosphere that’s perfect for couples. It’s not all about lovebirds though! Families and friends will get just as much enjoyment from watching the little bobbing boats and the sun setting into a golden horizon.

Calling all amateur photographers! Rovinj is a rare treat when it comes to brushing up on those photo-taking skills. The scenery does all the hard work for you, so prepare to take the most beautiful and romantic photos of your life. Countless passages, gateways and balconies frame the sea and subjects perfectly. There’s plenty of intricate Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque details ready and waiting for a quick snap too – because it’s all about those details! For the ultimate, all-encompassing shot, make your way to the top of the bell tower and overlook Old Town in its entirety.

As if the town itself wasn’t stunning enough, it’s surrounded by gorgeous natural wonders such as the islands of the Rovinj archipelago, the Golden Cape Park Forest and Lim Bay. The Cape Park is within walking distance of the city and is one of the most significant park areas on the Croatian side of the Adriatic coast. The park leads to some of the most beautiful beaches on the Istrian peninsula. Perfect for unwinding and kicking back after a day of adventure!

Feeling inspired? Take a look at our villas and find the perfect setting for your holiday.

Emma Mackey

Emma Mackey is a Content Executive at James Villa Holidays.

To say I have an obsession with travel would be an understatement. Adventuring with my...

See all articles by Emma Mackey

See all articles by Emma Mackey


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