If your vacation preferences include getting away from the hustle and bustle of city life, but you'd prefer more to do than lounge by the pool, taking a trip to a tiny town may be just what the doctor ordered. Parking's rarely a drag and crowds don't usually develop unless there's an annual festival or fair taking place. Ancient architecture, a vintage Main Street and disarming desert sunsets can be accessed in these three destinations. All of them are tiny. All have their treasures to offer travelers in search of a relaxing getaway.
Sirmione, Italy: Near the southern end of Lake Garda is the tiny picturesque gem of Sirmione. Once parked, you enter the town across a footbridge through the old castle wall. Easily strolled in a day, the islet offers a number of galleries, cafes, gelato shops and eateries along with free waterfront walking trails where you can stop to take a dip in the lake or continue on to explore the Grotte di Catullo, an extensive set of ancient Roman ruins. As you make your way back by looping through scenic streets adorned with bougainvilleas, take time to explore the tiny church on your right just prior to the exit and also spend a few minutes taking in the castle remains.
Belmont, N.C.: A short distance from the city of Charlotte one will find the tiny town of Belmont. Blessed with a retro-style historic Main Street lined with options for classic ice cream cones, atmospheric eateries and old-school general store shopping, it's a great place for an overnight getaway or day trip. If you arrive in the morning, you can grab gourmet coffee and Wi-Fi access at Caravan Coffee on South Main across from the town park. It boasts couches for lounging and outdoor tables if you prefer your Joe al fresco. From there you can head to Belmont Abbey, which houses a Benedictine monastery, striking basilica and an outdoor prayer grotto reachable by a short walking trail. It's a free activity, and a peaceful and contemplative way to start your day.
Another must-see area attraction is the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. The $12 admission ticket will provide relaxed entertainment for the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon with access to the orchid conservatory, willow maze a number of strolling gardens and two distinct hiking loops. For an afternoon snack, be sure to hit Tastebuds, which offers more than 150 flavors of popcorn you can enjoy while taking in the rest of the town by foot.
Tubac, Ariz.: An easy daytrip from the city of Tucson, the tiny artists' town of Tubac offers lazy gallery shopping with a funky desert vibe. Everything from giant clay pots and hand-forged iron furniture to custom jewelry and unique paintings can be found for sale here, as well as local cuisine and a mean margarita if one is so inclined. Attractions include the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park which lies on the location of the state's first European settlement. The park features adobe ruins, a furnished 1885 schoolhouse and other structures. A number of other historic attractions are within 30 miles of the creative colony, including the Whipple Observatory, the Titan Missile Museum and Tumacacori National Historical Park, which is home to the remains of a Spanish mission church.
Theriault is the best-selling co-author of the book "10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget," and founder of TrekHound.com, a website for independent travelers. She also founded TheLessonMachine.com, a website for teachers.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun