Travel is back with a vengeance and at the top of everyone’s wish list is somewhere new and undiscovered. Think small villages you’ve never heard of, in the middle of nature (or nowhere). Food and wine, nature activities and cultural immersion.
Recently, The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) identified 32 villages in 22 countries as the best tourism villages to visit. Rural destinations welcome (and rely on) tourism to create opportunities for jobs and income. These villages also preserve and promote community-based values and locally-made products.
This list highlights those small villages where tourism preserves culture and traditions, celebrates diversity, provides opportunities and safeguards biodiversity. These villages you’ve (probably) never heard of have less thank 15k inhabitants. They are innovative and committed to sustainability or regenerative practices, which we love!
Rural tourism, typically linked to nature-based activities, agriculture, culture and lifestyle is important. Additionally, it is a critical driver of development and inclusion. It offers tourism opportunities that are unique, immersive and authentic. Best of all, it enables travelers to experience a true sense of place.
“For rural communities everywhere, tourism can be a true gamechanger in providing jobs, supporting local businesses and keeping traditions alive,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili. “The Best Tourism Villages by UNWTO showcase the power of the sector to drive economic diversification and create opportunities for all outside of big cities.”
Companies like Lokal, Intrepid and Responsible Travel are reputable companies that source rural tourism opportunities on their small group tours. Dive into the list below and begin planning your next adventure, minus the crowds!
Here’s the full list of villages announced in 2022, separated by region:
ZELL AM SEE, AUSTRIA: With roughly 10,000 inhabitants, Zell am See is located in the Austrian Alps. Not far from better known Salzburg, this town is ideal during any season. It appeals to skiers, hikers and bikers alike. An intensive sustainable energy program has resulted in a decrease in carbon dioxide emissions and the establishment of a new sustainable means of transport. Accommodation providers focus on waste reduction, increased renewable energy and local food sourcing.
WAGRAIN, AUSTRIA: At less than a third of Zell am See’s population, Wagrain is home to just 3,000 people. A hiker’s dream, it is located near Öbristkopf, one of Salzburg′s most popular summits. With a heavy focus on hiking and local agriculture, the townspeople highly value their cultural heritage. They also prioritize passing it down to next generations and tourists alike. Check out the Organic from the Valley initiative, which promotes regional products from locals and farmers.
MESTIA, GEORGIA: A magnet for digital nomads (thanks to planned co-living and co-working spaces), Mestia is a green leader. Investments in clean energy and climate-smart agriculture make it one of the cleanest villages in Georgia. Locals also play a key role in sharing cultural values by offering visitors an authentic guesthouse stay. For example, guests can observe the local lifestyle, with hosts and hostesses teaching their visitors how to make traditional dishes, Svanetian hats and ride horses, making this one of the most charming of the small villages.
SAURIS (ZAHRE), ITALY: Located in a green valley dominated by the peaks of the Dolomites, Sauris is the highest municipality in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region. Semi-isolated for centuries, it has been possible for traditions, costumes, language and architecture to remain unaltered over time. In addition to Italian, a fascinating German dialect is also spoken, adding to its international and historical allure.
ISOLA DEL GIGLIO, ITALY: A gem in the heart of the Tyrrhenian Sea, Isola del Giglio is a village on two small islands; Giglio and Giannutri. Technically in Tuscany, it is a magical island whose inhabitants go back as far as the Iron Age. Relying heavily on tourism, the village prioritizes environmental preservation. Each year, nearly 30 initiatives protect the land and ocean by locals and tourists alike. Turquoise coves and vibrantly painted buildings lining the coast are reminiscent of Cinque Terre…without the crowds.
CASTELO NOVO, PORTUGAL: The oldest mention of Castelo Novo dates back to around 1202 AD and the village integrates Roman baths and a remarkable fortified settlement from the Bronze Age. It is the first location in mainland Portugal with 100% sustainable mobility, free of carbon dioxide and noise emissions. There are even 5 electric vehicles available for free use, in addition to serving as a transfer service to the train stations!
RĂȘINARI, ROMANIA: In a mountainous region of Romania, Rasinari is situated in Southern Transylvania. Due to a rich history in sheep breeding, local cheese is a flagship product celebrated along the Cheese Route of Sibiu County. Although rural, the Questo app uses technology to revive local stories and legends that inspires tourists to visit and experience the culture for themselves.
BOHINJ, SLOVENIA: Two thirds of Bohinj lies within the Triglav National Park, Slovenia’s only national park, making this one of our favorite villages for tourism. Highlights include Lake Bohinj, Triglav, the Savica waterfall, the clustered old village surrounded by orchards, and the glacial-river landforms in the vicinity of the lake bowl and in the valley of the Sava River.
RUPIT, SPAIN: Surrounded by lush forests, caves, prehistoric tombs, waterfalls and miles of cliffs, Rupit allows you to breathe the silence and calm of nature. Just under 2 hours northeast of Barcelona, Rupit is a Catalonian jewel. Limited emissions, organic agriculture and a firm commitment to heritage preservation through responsible development helped make it one of Europe’s most charming villages for its cultural heritage.
ALQUÉZAR, SPAIN: In the hills of Huesca, the stone-filled village gets its name from the Arabic words meaning “for fort.” Known for its natural and heritage values, Alquézar has been a historic-artistic site since 1980 and stands out for being at the epicentre of the rock art shelters, which granted it status as a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
GUADALUPE, SPAIN: The fact that you can only access Guadalupe through mountainous roads adds to its charm as a historical village with cobbled streets. Highlights include Extremaduran cuisine, the Royal Monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe and a fame as a major pilgrimage center in Spain. It also marks the historical spot where Christopher Columbus was granted the ships that would take him on his journey around the world. A must visit for history buffs!
MURTEN, SWITZERLAND: Lights, farming, action. A lakeside medieval town with a 6,000 year history, Murten boasts perfectly preserved accessible city walls and a border with “Seeland,” one of the largest vegetable-growing areas in Switzerland that offers visitors the opportunity to discover the uniqueness of the expansive organic fields. An annual light festival displays light animations by regional and international artists, a sight you should see at least once.
ANDERMATT, SWITZERLAND: With eight surrounding Alpine passes, Andermatt boasts a great variety of alpine flora and wildlife, mountain lakes, brooks, springs and untouched mountainous areas. An ideal place in winter or summer, Andermatt also generates its own wind and solar energy.
PULQUELDÓN, CHILE: For an authentic cultural experience, visit Pulqueldón and sleep in the homes of locals in this village located on the greater island of Chiloé. Sixteen tourist lodgings that are family micro-enterprises enable guests to fully immerse themselves into rural and local values, from the decoration of interiors with locally made textiles, to serving traditional breakfasts using local recipes and ingredients. The village also features the Native Potato Route, where visitors can learn about the cultivation and harvesting of potatoes by peasant women. We’re guessing that might not be on your radar
CHOACHÍ, COLOMBIA: Farmer families in the region conduct discovery tours of the conservation areas, the cave art, and the urban center that combines farming and ancestral culture with modernity. The Chorrera waterfall, the highest in Colombia, is also one of the major natural attractions which helped make Choachí one of the 32 villages to put on your list.
AGUARICO, ECUADOR: Located within the Yasuní National Park and the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, Aguarico is largely inhabited by Indigenous Kichwa and Waorani cultures. They defend the jungle and prioritize to the protection of their cultural heritage, including their traditions, language, clothing and gastronomy. Of the 32 villages on the list, Aguarico provides an authentic opportunity to learn from Indigenous leaders and experience the vast biodiversity of the Amazon firsthand.
ANGOCHAGUA, ECUADOR: From the top of the hill in Angochagua, you can see valleys, fields, mountains and a lagoon brimming with turquoise water. It is a diverse territory that aims to preserve the ancestral heritage of the Caranqui people, along with its native language Quichua, its medicinal plant practices, and the traditional cuisine which uses endemic grains and cereals. Also known as the land of embroidery, six communities hand embroider handicrafts with ancestral techniques.
CREEL, MEXICO: Creel connects north-central Mexico with the Pacific and is considered one of the most scenic routes in the world. Featuring temples and works of art from the colonial era which depict the Rarámuri culture, tourists can also learn traditional cooking and weaving in the company of the local Rarámuri women.
EL FUERTE, MEXICO: A Pueblo Mágico, El Fuerte is often referred to as the main colonial town of western Mexico. The town also promotes tours to the May-Yore indigenous community of Capomos as a form of agritourism. Tours feature products produced in northern Sinaloa during the rainy season, in addition to the preparation and tasting of herbs such as acacia and cactus tisanas.
LAMAS, PERU: Known as the “Folkloric Capital of the Peruvian Amazon,” Lamas is home to the only Amazonian people of Andean origin that aim to keep their ancestral culture alive, through dances, rituals, clothing, festivals, language, architecture and gastronomy. Urban art is present throughout the village and the murals represent the traditions and ecosystem of the village.
RAQCHI, PERU: Everyone knows Machu Picchu, but Raqchi, a village located between three volcanoes is known for its ancestral ceramic making. Ancient techniques incorporate clay and volcanic sand as primary elements. With women developing and driving tourism opportunities, have incorporated the use of ceramic utensils and cloth bags for the purchase of day-to-day products, as well as for the sale of their handicrafts.
DAZHAI, CHINA: The agricultural heritage of Dazhai terraces is representative of the thousand-year farming culture of ethnic groups. Visitors can enjoy cable-car sightseeing of terraces and a variety of Red Yao ethnic cultural experience activities, such as wooden building accommodation and Red Yao embroidery dances
JINGZHU, CHINA: Alongside it’s beautiful countryside, Jingzhu has built an agriculture-based artistic complex working towards the preservation of cultural heritage, including wax printing, bamboo weaving, playing wood and leaf based musical instruments, traditional pickle making, palm fibre weaving and traditional earthenware.
PYEONGSA-RI, REPUBLIC OF KOREA: A mythical village village surrounded by the U-shaped Jirisan Mountain and the picturesque Seomjingang River, Pyeongsa-ri was replicated after the setting from the Korean novel Toji “Land.” There’s a tea museum, an eco park, a literary hall and tours that keep culture and history alive. Innovative farming methods benefit the community elders and helped villagers to develop a carbon neutral greenbelt, making this eco-friendly and self-sustained village one to watch. (main image)
BIRGI, TÜRKIYE: Drawing comparisons to an open-air museum, Birgi is characterized by the design and architecture of its buildings which showcase traditional Turkish architecture with remarkable monuments and local houses, and is often considered the heart of silk production and weaving in Türkiye.
THÁI HAI, VIETNAM: A lush green forest with over 30 traditional houses on stilts is what you’ll find in Thái Hai. Home to the ‘Tay’ community, four generations of family who preserve the traditional culture, including its language, customs, rituals, ceremonies and clothes as tourism attractions. Each household in the village develops unique specialized products, like traditional cakes and handicrafts, to create expertise and diversity, helping to improve the quality and variety of tourism products on offer.
KFAR KAMA, ISRAEL: A village established in 1878 by immigrants who came from the Caucasus Mountains after their expulsion from the Russian Empire, Kfar Kama is intent on preserving Circassian heritage. By turning the entire village into a regional multicultural centre, they hold festivals, such as the Almond Festival (as almonds are one of the biggest treasures in Israel) and provide visitors with an app for a self-guided tour of the village that takes them through the old and picturesque part of the village.
UMM QAIS, JORDAN: Part of the Al Yarmouk Nature Reserve, the last natural extension of the deciduous oak forest, the national tree of Jordan, Umm Qais is rich in culture and history. Women play a leading role in the village’s tourism and business sectors and community-led businesses include a three-star restaurant, a cafe, a cafeteria which serves popular traditional meals and 16 kiosks for the sale of traditional handicrafts.
ALULA OLD TOWN, SAUDI ARABIA: Closed to international tourism until recently, AlUla Old Town is part of a lush oasis valley with a backdrop of towering sandstone mountains. With over 900 traditional buildings made of mud brick, it features a burgeoning Arts district centred around the Old Girls’ School Madrasat Adeera, which has been renovated to become a school for teaching women pottery, jewellery making, and traditional handicrafts to be sold in the Old Town’s tourist shops.
CHOKE MOUNTAINS ECOVILLAGE, ETHIOPIA: Choke Mountain is the third highest mountain in Ethiopia, northwest of the capital, Addis Ababa. Villagers act as tour guides and operate lodges, while cultivating and producing a range of goods derived from both animal and plant sources including honey, beer, medical herbs, vegetables and coffee.
KSAR ELKHORBAT, MOROCCO: An ancient fortified village built in the 19th century, Ksar Elkhorbat is an emblem of oasis life throughout southern Morocco, representing and preserving the architectural and historical heritage dating back to the 14th century. Local farmers and craftswomen are masters at weaving and traditional embroidery, forming part of the tourism value chain that also serve as suppliers of the restaurant and the guest house network.
MOULAY BOUZERKTOUNE, MOROCCO: A small coastal village, Moulay Bouzrektoune is a part of the argan biosphere reserve, which enables locals to produce high quality organic products including argan foods, cosmetics, honey, soap, shampoo and cream. Also famous for its fishing, agriculture and handwoven chiadma rugs (made of 100% natural wool), the village is a haven for wind and kitesurfing.
MICHELLE ARELLANO MARTIN