Take Me Back: 14 Towns That Time Forgot
Known as "Little Italy" for the buildings that line either side of the Lauch River, Colmar's charms lie among its glorious half-timbered houses, canals and original lighting concept that bring its stunning architectural details to light each evening. Styles from the German Renaissance and Gothic period make its look truly unique.
No town brings the Swiss countryside to life quite like Gruyères. Famous for its amazing cheese, roam alongside cows while making your way to the 13th-century castle, which is now a museum dedicated to showcasing the town's architecture and culture. The centerpiece of the town square is a flower-ringed fountain; it's flanked by some of the most lauded restaurants in the region.
From the lively town square to the rustic countryside, Rothenburg is considered to be the best preserved medieval town in Germany. Among the varied sites to discover here include a secluded castle garden, vaults that chronicle the Thirty Years War and a year-round, old-fashioned Christmas marketplace.
Harrisville, New Hampshire
A quintessentially New England town, historic Harrisville is centered around an industrial mill complex surrounded by 10 lakes and ponds. It preserves the scale and setting of mill villages that were prevalent throughout New England prior to the Civil War and Industrial Revolution. Its significance as one of America's best-preserved industrial communities earned the town a National Historic Landmark designation.
This lovely European-style village looks like it was pulled directly out of a fairy tale. A town full of picturesque courtyards and secret passageways, 21 cottages designed by architect Hugh Comstock—featuring rolled eaves, rounded doors and asymmetrical stone chimneys—stand in Carmel-by-the-Sea today.
Once described by artist William Morris as "the most beautiful village in the Cotswolds," Bibury beckons with its ancient, steeply pitched cottages that line Arlington Row. These cottages so impressed Henry Ford that he tried to buy them for his Greenfield Village recreation of the Cotswolds in Dearborn, Michigan.
Cape May, New Jersey
A seaside town with one of the country's largest collections of 19th-century framed buildings, Cape May's architectural wonders earned it a spot on the list of National Historic Landmarks. This distinctive, walkable town has all the hallmarks of those situated on the sea: pristine beaches and a delightful promenade.
A peaceful village bursting with boat-filled canals, walking paths, bike trails and centuries-old thatch-roofed houses, Giethoorn prides itself on its simpler way of life. It was named after the discovery of goat horns in the marshland in the wake of a 10th-century flood.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
Go back in time at Mackinac Island, located between Michigan's upper and lower peninsulas, where, in order to preserve the pristine environment, no motorized transport is allowed—aside from emergency vehicles. Visitors take a ferry from Mackinac City to the island, and, once there, can traverse the picturesque surroundings via horse and carriage, bicycle or on foot. Note that the fancier hotels on the island adhere to a dress code in the evening.
Shirakawa-go Village, Japan
The village of Shirakawa-go was once so remote, it subsisted on the cultivation of mulberry trees and the rearing of silkworms. Thus, its landscape is extraordinarily beautiful and well-preserved. The Gassho-style houses, with their highly pitched roofs, are the only examples of their kind in Japan.
Port Townsend, Washington
Recognized as one of only three Victorian seaports on the National Register of Historic Places, Port Townsend not only boasts Victorian influences, but an impressive array of stone and brick buildings in its commercial district. It's easy to envision the town's founding fathers walking on the very same streets hundreds of years ago.
Holašovice, Czech Republic
Despite two instances in which the populations of this idyllic Czech town were wiped out (the plague and World War II), Holašovice's medieval houses and grain storage facilities stand virtually untouched; they date back to the mid-13th century. In 1998, these remarkably preserved buildings became a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site.
Austria's oldest village stands proud against the country's mountainous Salzkammergut Lake Region. Halstatt is also home to the world's oldest salt mines; the town is as well-preserved as the mummy of a prehistoric miner shrouded in salt in its subterranean lake.
Rich in allure, the village of Cong has had a long history in religion and literature; among the first artifact you come across in this vine-covered town is a cross made of limestone, and Oscar Wilde was a frequent visitor to the area (his parents had a home there). Today, Cong's vicinity to the Atlantic make it a popular spot for fishing, cruises and canoeing.
Leave the concerns of the present-day world behind and literally take a step into the past at the world's best preserved towns—dance on the cobblestone streets in Germany, take a boat ride in Holland or France, discover the fairy-tale allure of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Whether because of their remote locations, forward-thinking founders or enthusiastic upkeep, these 14 destinations rank as our favorites to recapture a moment in time.