The magic of the medieval city is undeniable: from crumbling walls that tell of ancient battles to cobbled streets that lead through a mysterious era, the castles and stone villages of Europe entice travelers of all sorts. If you’re in the mood to immerse yourself in medieval life, step back in time with a visit to one of these pristinely preserved cities that are a bit off the beaten track.

1. Carcassonne, France

A site of great strategic importance to the Romans and then the Visigoths, Carcassonne has been an important trading post for many centuries, and saw its massive fortifications built up more and more by successive rulers. The imposing castle and long solid walls have graced many postcards, and while it’s a fairly prominent tourist attraction in Southern France, this medieval city is still majestic and humbling.Carcassonne, France

2. Pérouges, France

If Carcassonne is the model of a medieval fortress, Pérouges is the perfect representation of a medieval village. Sitting on a small hilltop just off the highway to Lyon, this small village stands today as it has since the 12th century, when it was an important craft and textile center: enclosed by stone walls, the commune consists of a small network of narrow streets and ancient buildings adorned with filigreed signs and gargoyles. If you visit outside of tourist season, the silence and stillness will convince you that you’ve stepped back into a forgotten corner of medieval France.Pérouges, France