Frugal Traveler

Frugal Traveler: Belmont, N.C., other tiny towns provide relaxed pace for tired travelers

March 30, 2013 

If your vacation preferences include getting away from the bustle of city life, but you’d prefer more to do than lounge by the pool, 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 taking place. Ancient architecture, a vintage Main Street and disarming sunsets can be accessed in these three destinations. All have treasures to offer travelers in search of a relaxing getaway.

Sirmione, Italy: Near the southern end of Lake Garda is the picturesque gem of Sirmione. Once parked, you enter the town across a footbridge through the old castle wall. 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, explore the tiny church on your right just prior to the exit and spend a few minutes taking in the castle remains.

Belmont, N.C.: A short distance from Charlotte is tiny Belmont. Blessed with a retro-style historic Main Street lined with options for classic ice cream cones, atmospheric eateries and general store shopping, it’s a great place for an overnight getaway or day trip. 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, basilica and an outdoor prayer grotto reachable by a short walking trail. It’s a free activity, a peaceful way to start your day.

Another must-see attraction is the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. The $12 admission 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 day trip from Tucson, this tiny artists’ town offers lazy gallery shopping with a desert vibe. Everything from giant clay pots and hand-forged iron furniture to custom jewelry can be found for sale, as well as local cuisine. Attractions include the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park on the location of the state’s first European settlement. The park features adobe ruins and an 1885 schoolhouse. A number of other historic attractions are within 30 miles, including the Whipple Observatory, the Titan Missile Museum and Tumacacori National Historical Park.

Myscha TheriaultMcClatchy-Tribune News Service

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