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Europe’s most colourful towns

From a technicolour Venetian island to an Andalucian village painted blue for The Smurfs, we take a tour of Europe’s most colourful spots

Europe’s most colourful towns

Text by Martin Lindqvist

Juzcar used to be white. It was part of the Pueblos Blancos, a series of Andalucian villages famed worldwide for their buildings’ whitewashed walls. But then the Smurfs came to town.

When Sony Pictures wanted a real-life Smurf Village to promote The Smurfs movie in 2011, the Juzcar authorities sensed a business opportunity. Some 4,000 litres of paint later and the newly blue village was attracting Smurf devotees in their droves. Sony Pictures offered to return Juzcar to its original white, but the villagers voted overwhelmingly in favour of keeping Juzcar blue. “It’s increased our happiness, our dreams and our levels of employment,” said David Fernandez, the village mayor, or “Papa Smurf” as he’s known locally.

The boost to the local economy generated by tourism may not be the only reason the villagers are smiling. “It makes perfect sense that they would be happier living in blue houses,” says Angela Wright of Colour Affects, a London-based company that helps individuals and organisations harness the psychological effects of colour. Wright, a colour psychologist who wrote The Beginner’s Guide to Colour Psychology, says: “Blue helps you » concentrate and focus the mind while white is very harsh; it reflects everything back at you and is hard to live with. Smurf blue is close to sky blue and humans are instinctively lifted by the colour of the sky.”

When Dulux Paints ran a global survey to discover the world’s favourite colour, blue emerged as the runaway winner. It’s cool and soothing, intelligent and logical, trustworthy and efficient. A survey by the Logo Factor blog revealed that one third of the world’s top brand logos are blue, including a particularly high number of banks (Barclays, Nordea), IT companies (Dell, HP) and car manufacturers (Ford, Volvo).

Of course, for some towns, one colour just isn’t enough. A visually striking rainbow of buildings awaits visitors to Burano, an island in the Venetian lagoon that was once predominantly home to fishermen, but is today a haven for artists. It’s believed that the homes here were originally brightly painted so that fishermen returning to their properties in the winter fog could tell their place apart from their neighbour’s – and, by local government decree, no adjacent buildings are of the same colour.

Riomaggiore and Manarola, hilltop villages on Italy’s Ligurian coast, opted for a similarly multicoloured approach, although we can’t be sure of their motivation. “It might simply be an expression of personality,” says Wright. “In these Mediterranean towns, people are creatively adventurous and they have strong and bright personalities. So they are supported and uplifted by these colours, both physiologically and psychologically.”

But colourful towns are by no means limited to warm climates. Longyearbyen, the largest settlement of Svalbard, has rows of identikit wooden houses in bright colours. “Some years ago a decision was made that the houses should be colourful to help us through the dark period,” says Kjersti Ellen Norås of Svalbard Tourism. “The colours chosen are all found in Svalbard nature, among the flowers, the moss, the sun and the sky.”

“It’s important that people who live in cold, dark climates get some brightness in their lives,” adds Angela Wright. “Human beings need colour like we need air.” 

Cinque Terre, Italy

These five towns along the Ligurian coast, overlooking the Gulf of Genoa, are a UNESCO World Heritage site. Manarola is the second smallest town and possibly the oldest – its painted houses were a big draw for 19th-century painters, including Antonio Discovolo. From here take the Via dell’Amore walking trail to Riomaggiore; hiking through the area’s vineyards is particularly recommended if the route is closed.
Also famous for: The local wine, Sciacchetrà.

Riomaggiore is 70 minutes’ drive from Pisa; Norwegian flies to Pisa/Tuscany from Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm


Burano, Italy

Fishing has given way to tourism as the main income for the 2,800 residents of Burano, an archipelago of four islands in the Venetian lagoon. The one-time fishermen’s houses continue to be brightly painted, in keeping with a colour scheme controlled by the local council. The ferry from Venice takes about 40 minutes – as well as the photogenic setting, go for the food and the leaning tower of the 15th-century San Martino church.
Also famous for: Lace – Leonardo da Vinci visited in 1481 and bought cloth here for the altar of Milan’s Duomo.

Norwegian flies to Venice from Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki


Longyearbyen, Norway

Named after John Munroe Longyear, whose Arctic Coal Company set up operations here in 1906, Longyearbyen, on the Svalbard archipelago, is the world’s most northern town. Almost completely destroyed in a wartime attack on 8 August 1943, it was rebuilt after the war. Since mining moved in the 1990s, the town’s 2,700-strong population has seen a growth in tourism and research expeditions.
Also famous for: Walruses, Svalbard reindeer and polar bears, which outnumber people.

Norwegian flies from Oslo to Longyearbyen


Santorini, Greece

In recent years, Santorini has been crowned the “world’s best island” by both Travel & Leisure magazine and the BBC (UK). The island’s semicircular shape was created by a massive volcanic explosion nearly 4,000 years ago and you can still visit steam vents. The capital, Fira, and Oia boast some of the best views, while its beaches are colourful, too – head for the black ones at Kamari and Perissa, or the red beach at Akrotiri.
Also famous for: Akrotiri’s ancient Minoan town, preserved in ash like Pompeii.

Norwegian flies to Santorini from Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm


Juzcar, Spain

A town of only 221, Juzcar was one of the famous “white towns” of Andalucia, until Sony Pictures painted the place blue in a publicity stunt for The Smurfs 3D movie in the spring of 2011. In a referendum that December, 141 of the town’s inhabitants voted in favour of keeping the colour – with only 33 against. Visitor numbers had rocketed from 300 people a year, and the town now hosts Smurf moonlight fun runs, painting competitions and even Smurf-themed weddings.
Also famous for: Fungi, which flourish in nearby woodlands each autumn.

Juzcar is one hour and 40 minutes’ drive from Malaga, which is served by Norwegian from 12 destinations

Norwegian flies to Pisa, Venice, Santorini, Longyearbyen and Malaga. Book a hotel and a rental car at norwegian.com


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