On a grey day there’s nothing better than some colourful holiday inspiration to brighten things up. Launching our colour season, we’ve picked some of the world’s most vibrant cities and towns to get your travel tastebuds tingling.
A 45 minute boat trip from Venice is the idyllic village of Burano. According to legend, the people of Burano began painting their homes bright colours so that fishermen could avoid crashing into the shore in bad weather. Burano is also famous for its needle lace and its Lace Museum is worth a visit.
In 2011, the Andalucian village of Juzcar in Southern Spain was repainted entirely from traditional white to blue. Why? To celebrate the premiere of the Smurfs movie; Sony Pictures used 4,000 litres of ‘smurf-blue’ paint to transform Juzcar. Even the church and the gravestones turned blue. The subsequent rise in tourism to the “Village of the Smurfs” had such a positive effect that locals voted to turn down Sony’s offer to restore Juzcar original look.
There’s no clear reason why residents of Reykjavik paint their houses such a multitude of shades, with guesses ranging from the influence of Lutherian religion to the scarcity of paint supplies. It could just be to disguise the corrugated iron used to clad wooden walls and roofs. After the “Bruninn mikli” (Great Fire) destroyed several houses in central Reykjavik, regulation changes demanded fireproof material for buildings. Corrugated iron proved a cheap and easy yet visually unappealing solution.
Nyhavn, Copenhagen, Denmark
Nyhavn’s rainbow harbour-side of 17th and 18th century townhouses is probably Copenhagen’s most photogenic tourist destination. Nyhavn has thrown off its seedy dockside reputation and today the area is known for its easy-going atmosphere with many bars and restaurants. If you tire of relaxing with a drink and some smorrebrod, hop on a boat tour of the city or find house no. 20 where Hans Christian Andersen wrote his fairy-tales.
Cinque Terre, Italy
Cinque Terre (translated to ‘five lands’) is a group of five fishing villages on the Italian Riviera. The land around the five has been designated a National Park and recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site for unique relationship between the villages, the sea and the land. Manarola is thought to be the oldest and is an evocative maze of colourful ‘tower houses’ which are ingeniously stacked on top of each other. A cliff-side hiking trail links Manarola with nearby Riomaggiore. It’s become known as Via dell’Amore as many of the locals used it to visit lovers in the other villages. You’ll fall in love with it too.
San Francisco, USA
The Haight district of San Francisco is a prime example of the unique American building style called ‘painted ladies‘; turn of the century houses painted several colours to enhance their architectural detail. Originally the houses used restrained colours such as white, brown and dark red with many were repainted ‘battleship grey’ during World Wars. It wasn’t until 1963 when artist Butch Kardum painted his house a mix of intense blues and greens that bright colours really caught on. Kardum and other artists in this bohemian district began to transform houses throughout the area. The ‘colourist movement‘ had changed entire neighbourhoods by the 1970s, with new residents continuing to pick wild colour schemes to this day.
St. John’s – Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
St John’s in Canada is the most easterly city in North America, as well as the oldest English-founded settlement. The houses pictured here on the coast are widely thought to have been painted a range of bright colours to help fishermen get back to port in foggy weather. The idea spread to other parts of the city and was combined with other heritage measures, such as restricting building heights, revamping what was a declining downtown in the late 1970s. Hike up Signal Hill where Marconi received the first transatlantic radio transmission for great views over the ocean, bay and city.
Built on the side of a steep v-shaped canyon in the central highlands of Mexico, colourful Guanajuato is often regarded as the most beautiful town in Mexico. The hillsides are so steep much of Guanajuato is only accessible on foot, with many of the roads underground in a network of tunnels formed from dried up rivers. Founded in 1559 to mine the rich silver and gold deposits discovered in the region, the city has several stunning colonial buildings and is known for it’s annual arts festival, earning Guanajuato UNESCO World Heritage status in 1987.
Old San Juan, San Juan, Puerto Rico
San Juan was settled early in the 16th century by the Spanish, with many of the buildings from that time still standing. By the 1940’s, Old San Juan had become dilapidated and dangerous and the historic buildings were almost demolished following calls from politicians. Anthropologist Ricardo Alegria managed to convince them to preserve the architecture of Old San Juan and work started on restoring the older part of the city back to its former glory. Named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983 the city is also notable for its vibrant nightlife and glorious sandy beaches.
La Boca, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Around 6 million immigrants arrived in Argentina between 1880 and 1930 through port areas like La Boca. Many of these were Italians from the port of Genoa and the surrounding areas. These new residents brought an old trick of using leftover paint from the shipbuilding yards to decorate their houses as ordinary house-paint was hard to find and comparatively expensive. The area pictured is known as El Caminito which translates to “little street”. Street performers, buskers and artists gather along the Caminito; don’t forget to pack your dancing shoes – there’s usually a tango dancer or two to teach you some moves.
Valparaiso sits on the Pacific coast and the trend of colourful houses started back when it was a bustling port prior to the Panama Canal opening in 1914. Boats would use Valparaiso as a stopover to repair and repaint after crossing the Pacific or rounding the cape. Like in La Boca, the locals would take leftover paint to decorate and protect their homes from the harsh salt air. Any paint would do which created the mix of colours you see in Valparaiso today. The eclectic architecture stretches over several hills reached through twisting staircases and rickety funiculars, giving “Valpa” a chaotic but charming atmosphere.
Chefchaouen in northern Morocco is the second blue place in our list but this paint job wasn’t the result of a city-wide publicity stunt. The azure walls are said to have to been introduced by Jewish refugees in 1930 who used the shade to represent the sky and heaven. Many locals also believe painting houses this colour serves to repel mosquitoes. Whatever the truth, every corner of this historic town is sure to captivate.
Bo-Kaap, Cape Town, South Africa
Bo-Kaap in Cape Town, South Africa is characterized by its brightly coloured buildings. The vibrant colour schemes of Bo-Kaap began amongst the Muslim residents, who started painting their houses in vivid shades in as part of the Eid celebrations. Soon neighbours began to work together on the colours to avoid clashes and create more pleasing street scenes.
This is part one of our colour season. Remember to catch part two Supercharge Your Insta Feed At The World’s Most Colourful Festivals and part three The World’s Most Colourful Natural Wonders That Have To Be Seen To Be Believed to get your colour fix.