You can travel to the Middle Ages without making a trip back in time. A visit to any of the following medieval towns in the Old Continent will lead you to a past steeped in splendor without leaving the 21st century. Immerse yourself in history as you walk through these three magnificent and well-preserved medieval towns.
The Kingdom of Navarre was the cradle of noble souls who founded towns like Olite, a historic city anchored in the past and located just over half an hour’s drive from the famous city of Pamplona. Its ancient cobbled streets, patrician palaces, charming squares and beautiful old churches will lead you to the Royal Palace, residence of King Charles III the Noble and all the subsequent kings that ruled Navarre until the kingdom joined the Crown of Castile. It is one of the most luxurious medieval castles in Europe for its countless rooms and halls, whimsical towers, rich decorations, graceful gardens and even a zoo. Currently, it houses the Hotel-Parador de Olite, a magnificent setting where it is easy to feel absorbed in a peaceful oasis decorated with old windows, arches, and ancient stone walls. Declared National Monument in 1925, the Royal Palace occupies one-third of the medieval town of Olite.
Cortona is the fourth largest city in Tuscany. Its old town sits close to the winding mountains of the province of Arezzo, near the neighboring province of Umbria. The picturesque city is a little longer than it is wide. It is full of historical and artistic treasures such as the ancient Roman Forum, the 14th century Renaissance palaces of the Capitano del Popolo, and the residence of Cardinal Passerini, which dates from the 16th century. You should engage in a delightful stroll through the narrow streets that lead to the Church of Santa Maria Assunta, a graceful 15th-century cathedral designed by Cristofanello and Laparelli. Be sure to visit the area known as the Iannelli, where you will find perfectly preserved medieval houses. The facades—protruding onto the street—are reinforced with massive and majestic wooden beams, and you can still see the remains of the ancient Etruscan and Roman houses on these home’s foundations.
The town of Cochem, in western Germany, is known for its Reichsburg Castle. The fortified building is located at the top of a hill in the valley of the Moselle and dates from the mid-11th century. During the first half of the 14th century, Archbishop Baldwin of Trier connected the castle to the city with massive walls and installed a thick chain below the castle to create a toll barrier across the river. In the old town of Cochem, the traveler will find the ruins of the already defunct old wall, and some of the city gates. We recommend a leisurely walk through the Marktplatz, a visit to the baroque town hall, the church of San Martin and the monastery of the Capuchin Fathers, as well as the old mustard mill. If you enjoy visiting charming old town, read here about Bruges and Verona. ■