Mondo’s picks: 8 colorful cities

Incredibly blue Chefchaouen in Morocco. Striped houses on Costa Nova in Portugal. Mondo’s editors created a list of locations with colors that will enchant you, even on the couch at home.

Salvador de Bahia, Brazil
The buildings of Salvador de Bahia, the first capital of Brazil, charm with their colourful facades.

1. Salvador da Bahia, Brazil

There are many who dream of a trip to Rio de Janeiro, or include a stop in Sao Paulo in their trip to Brazil. But for travelers in the great country, the most memorable city is neither of the above, but the third largest center, Salvador, the capital of the state of Bahia.

It captivates many senses with its colonial Portuguese building style, Afro-Brazilian food and exotic genres of music playing in the streets. The most picturesque area for a stroll is Pelourinho, with its cobbled streets and old pastel-colored houses.

Chefchaouen, Morocco
The Moroccan town of Chefchaouen in Morocco is known for its sky blue houses.

2. Chefchaouen, Morocco

Why are many houses in the center of a small town in the northern part of Morocco painted a dazzling blue? No one knows the original reason for sure. Some say that way back in time, Jewish refugees, who settled in the town, began to paint buildings in blue, as the color is reminiscent of heaven. It has also been speculated that the blue color would banish mosquitoes, keep the houses cool, or resemble the color of the sea.

In this day and age, the real reason is tourism: colorfulness attracts visitors. Regardless of the tourist crowds, Chefchaouen is a nice place to stop for a couple of days, and use as a base for outings in the Rif Mountains.

Sighișoara, Romania
Sighișoara was founded by the Transylvanian Saxons in the 12th century.

3. Sighișoara, Romania

Transylvania in Romania is one of the last magnificent adventure regions in Europe, where the ancient rural way of life is still preserved. For tourists, one of the best destinations in the area is Sighișoara, which is said to be the birthplace of Vlad Țepeș, the inspiration behind Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The medieval city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, owing to the colorful buildings and atmospheric alleys of the old town.

At times, it seems that each house is painted in a different color. The buildings reflect the city’s history as a center for trade: this is how the rich of the past showed their wealth. Many visitors come to Sighișoara for a brief visit from nearby Brașov, because the center of the small town is quickly seen. But the place deserves a stay of one or even two days – to give you time to see the atmospheric cemetery and hike in the vicinity.

The buildings reflect the city’s history as a center for trade: this is how the rich of the past showed their wealth.

Jaipur, India
The Maharaja of Jaipur had the entire city painted pink to impress Prince Albert who toured India in 1876.

4. Jaipur, India

Last year, Jaipur was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, and some may wonder: why this late? The center of Rajasthan region is a major city in India. It was founded in the 18th century on a plateau, unlike some other towns in the region that have a fortress on a hill.

For Jaipur, a grid pattern was created in line with Veda architecture. The ornate buildings inside the city walls were painted pink, and that is why Jaipur is known as the “pink city”. However, many houses have been repainted and the result is not really pink, but rather a reddish brown color.

Valparaíso, Chile
Located on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, Valparaíso’s buildings are clad not only in bright colours but also impressive murals.

5. Valparaíso, Chile

The port city of Valparaíso is one of the true bright spots of South America. It has genuine roughness, perhaps eternal, that even the charming, magnificently colorful buildings cannot shed. The houses in the old town have once been painted in various colors largely because people from many European countries, and from all over South America, have settled here.

Valparaíso does not have very many actual sights, except Pablo Neruda’s former home, La Sebastian, a joy for culture lovers. But you can easily spend a couple of days here just strolling around. In addition to the buildings, street paintings and multicolored staircases add color. It is part of Valparaíso's rough charm that particularly in the quarters close to the port, you must beware of thieves. But to balance that, there are nice restaurants and the atmosphere is authentic.

Striped houses in Costa Nova, Portugal
If you’re into stripes, why not feast your eyes on the fishermen’s old houses in Costa Nova, also known as palheiros.

6. Costa Nova, Portugal

This seaside town, known for houses decorated with vertical and horizontal stripes, is located an hour’s drive from Porto. Costa Nova is a traditional fishing village, and in the past, fishermen kept their tools in the special houses. Later on, the buildings were converted into summer residences and after that, to accommodate tourists. You can spend the night for example at Belle View Apartment or Costa Nova Hotel. Airbnb is another option for finding accommodation.

In addition to colorful houses, Costa Nova has a seafront promenade with cafés and restaurants, as well as a sandy beach. In the Mercado de Peixe, a market hall specializing in fish and seafood, you can admire the bounty of the sea.

Guanajuato, Mexico
Guanajuano’s Gallejó del Beso, the kiss alley, is lined with bright orange buildings.

Although sometimes called the most beautiful city in the country, Guanajuato is not flooded by tourists.

7. Guanajuato, Mexico

Some of the cities in Mexico are wonderfully colorful. And then there is Guanajuato. Although sometimes called the most beautiful city in the country, it is not flooded by tourists. The pretty San Miguel de Allende, close by, attracts more visitors, but Guanajuato, a former mining town, and its colonial quarters, have much stronger colors and a true Mexican feel.

The narrow alleys are another charming feature. One of them is so narrow that it is named Callejón del Beso, the kiss alley, as the houses are so close to one another that you could easily give your neighbor a kiss.

Čičmany, Slovakia
The log houses in Čičmany are adorned with traditional ornamental patterns.

8. Čičmany, Slovakia

Log houses decorated with white ornamental patterns have made the village of Čičmany famous. The small village, with only 200 inhabitants, is located at an altitude of 655 meters in the mountains of northern Slovakia. Evidence of the ornamental houses has survived since the 18th century, but the village only got its current form in the last century. After a catastrophic fire that raged in 1921, the village was rebuilt and redecorated.

Although Čičmany is now a tourist attraction, the original purpose of the ornamentation reportedly was to protect the houses from the scorching sun. Inspiration was drawn from the patterns sewn by the locals on clothes and home textiles. Ornamental Čičmany patterns have also been seen adorning the costumes of Slovak athletes at the London and Sochi Olympics. You can stay overnight in the village if you like, as there are a couple of modest places to stay in the log houses.

See also:

Accidentally Wes Anderson by Orion Publishing >

Text: Pekka Hiltunen and Valtteri Väkevä Photos: Katju Aro, Petri Lyytikäinen, Getty Images, All Over Press

This story was first published in Mondo’s issue 2/20.

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