Spring is city break season; that time of year when the streets of Paris, Barcelona, Rome and Venice flood with visitors looking to blitz away the winter gloom. Annabelle Thorpe, editor of 101 Short Breaks travels to lesser known destinations for a weekend away.

But beyond the big draws, there is a whole raft of second-tier cities that offer the same mix of culture, cocktails and culinary treats (all integral parts of a city break), with far fewer crowds and the pleasing sense of discovering somewhere much more under the radar.

The truth is that almost any major city in Europe can offer a fantastic few days away, but many of them remain overlooked. Here is my pick of some of the best Cinderella cities.

Turin - Owned By 101 Holidays

Look beyond Rome, Milan and Venice and you’ll find Italy is freckled with smaller cities that ooze the same mix of style, fabulous food and history on every corner. In the north, Turin is as famous for its gastronomy as its rich architectural heritage; the Slow Food movement started in the city, with restaurants and cafes offering dishes that make the most of local Piedmontese produce.

Or head to Bologna, Italy’s culinary capital, for cooking lessons and elegant colonnades, home to the world’s oldest university and a maze of stunning Renaissance and medieval buildings. Far down in the south, Trapani is flanked by stunning sandy beaches, and has an atmospheric old town, with a pedestrianised central street, Corso Vittorio Emmanuele, lined with cafes and restaurants.

Crete City Break - Owned By 101 Holidays

Then there are cities that combine urban and seaside; on the Greek island of Crete, Chania’s café-lined waterfront and picturesque old town make it a great base for exploring the west of the island, with a good range of villas just a short drive out of town.

Often overlooked by travellers who land at the airport and head straight out to the Algarve’s beaches, Faro has plenty to offer in its own right, with a colourful marina and fishing port and charming old town.

Le Seu Cathedral, Palma - Owned By 101 Holidays

Palma, Mallorca’s chic capital, is a seaside city with real style, fantastic art galleries, a thriving tapas culture – particularly in the hip Santa Catalina neighbourhood – and the majestically beautiful La Seu cathedral to explore.

Many smaller cities have a very similar feel to their better-known counterparts; Rovinj, in the northern province of Istria, is like a mini-Dubrovnik; a waterfront, walled town with a delightful harbour lined with fish restaurants, trattorias and gelaterias, testament to the region’s Italian heritage. Further south, Zadar is arguably the country’s hippest city, with a lively bar scene and spectacular Roman ruins.

Salzburg - Owned By 101 Holidays

In Austria, elegant Salzburg has all the charm of Vienna on a far more manageable scale (and plenty of Sound of Music heritage), while the Spanish city of Jerez has a similar feel to Seville, with flamenco performances, sherry bodegas and the 11th-Century Alcazar de Jerez, a Moorish fortress at the heart of the old quarter.

As high-speed train networks improve, many of Europe’s smaller cities are increasingly accessible by rail – making it a viable alternative to flying. The Spanish city of Girona, famous for 2000 years of architecture, offers all the tapas culture and cosy bodegas of Barcelona with none of the cruise-ship crowds.

Antwerp - Owned By 101 Holidays

Closer to home, Antwerp boasts one of the most beautiful medieval squares in Europe, the Grote Markt, and a lively bar scene, thanks to a large student population.

For something a little more Gallic, the Provençal city of Avignon has quick links from Paris with Eurostar and is steeped in history; the vast Palais du Papes dates back to the 14th Century, when the Popes fled to the city from Rome, while the Les Halles food market is one of the best in France.

Find more ideas at 101 Short Breaks.