As we await the launch of Motley Fool Global Gains, our new international investing service, we're taking a look back at some of our best international stock ideas. This article was originally published on June 12, 2006.

Western Europe. The Old World. Stodgy. Boring. Who wants that?

I do, actually. Rather than dismissing it as old, I contend that Western Europe offers you the best of all investing worlds: strong multinational companies, well-regulated and liquid markets, business leaders who treat shareholders as partners, and quality companies that trade at reasonable valuations. And for those seduced by growth stories, you can get those, too -- just in a "kid-friendly" form.

Safety in the stodgy
The problem with China and other high-growth regions is that they're exciting. And because they're exciting, everyone needs to invest there -- right now! But because everyone "knows" it's the next big thing, prices shoot up, and explosive growth assumptions get baked into equity prices. History has repeatedly shown that chasing such excitement is a recipe for underperformance, unless you're an adept market-timer. Everyone reading this got out of tech stocks before March 2000, right?

Investors in Western Europe get the best of both worlds. The region's world-class companies admittedly haven't seen anything like the growth in China over the past few years. Nonetheless, they've continued to lower their cost bases, drive innovation, and boost their cash flows. But you can take advantage of China's newfound prosperity, too. Capital, like water, seeks its lowest level, and for many European companies, this means headquartering in Germany, France, or Holland, but farming out the easily outsourced tasks to lower-cost countries like China. The benefits of low-cost locales flow to the first-world companies.

Western Europe : quality, world-class companies
Like consumer staples? It's hard to get much better than Nestle, with products that reach into nearly every household in the developed (and developing) worlds.

Still bullish on energy? I've always been partial to BP (NYSE:BP) myself, not only because of its oil operations, but also because of its very strong alternative-energy and environmental leanings.

How about banking? Remember, this is the continent that gave us the concept of Swiss bankers. Some of Western Europe's power players include ING Group (NYSE:ING) and Deutsche Bank (NYSE:DB) -- strong banks boringly going about the business of turning money into more money. You could even get a little crazy and buy into HSBC Holdings (NYSE:HBC), with its dual Chinese and British pedigree.

Or how about Swedish company Autoliv (NYSE:ALV)? The world leader in air bags and other automobile safety systems has consistently shown itself to be the industry pacesetter, developing nearly every auto-safety innovation of the past quarter-century. All the while, it has steadily improved margins and returned value to shareholders through rising dividends and share repurchases.

And the icing on the cake is that European companies tend to pay robust and rising dividends.

Where's the growth?
Why head to China if you like a good growth story? Coming out of little Holland is GPS navigation specialist TomTom. Trailing-12-month revenue and earnings are up 231% and 213%, respectively, and you get a 60% return on capital into the bargain. Or consider a flyer on nanotech specialist FlamelTechnologies (NASDAQ:FLML). Sure, there's no cash flow to speak of, but it's got lottery-winning "Rule Breaker" potential, like so many Chinese candidates.

The Foolish last word
If the first rule of investing is "don't lose money" and the second rule is "see Rule No. 1," then Western Europe is hard to beat. As China grows and evolves, there will be plenty of time and opportunity to invest there. But give me the Old World for now.

Flamel Technologies is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendation.

Fool sector head Joey Khattab updated this article, which was written by Jim Gillies. Joey does not own any shares of the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.