Undiscovered gems of Europe
While we love Spain's sultry cities, Portugal's golden Algarve and the gorgeous Greek islands, there are some lesser-visited European destinations that we think should make your holiday wishlist. Here are just a few of our favourite hidden gems...
Explore coastal cities & national parks in Montenegro
Europe’s newest sovereign state, Montenegro, or Crna Gora (Black Mountain), as the locals call it, was formed in 2006, after it broke away from Serbia. With a strikingly beautiful coastline on the southern Adriatic and a thickly forested, mountainous interior, this small country certainly rewards exploration. The medieval coastal cities of Kotor and Budva are among the most picturesque in the whole Mediterranean. Their tumultuous history includes periods of Byzantine, Venetian, Turkish, French and Austrian occupation, and their charming old towns are a photographer’s dream. Nearby are soft, golden beaches, while away from the coast, Montenegro’s spectacular national parks offer dramatic scenery and numerous opportunities for hiking and wildlife watching.
Beat the crowds to Albania & North Macedonia
The dramatic landscapes and culture-rich communities of Albania and North Macedonia are still relatively undiscovered by UK visitors - and, as next-door neighbours, they make a great pairing.
What is there to see here? Well, spectacular national parks, World Heritage Sites and centuries-old mosques, churches and monasteries, for starters.
Albania's capital, Tirana, is a must-visit, with its café culture and rainbow-bright buildings. The riverside city of Berat boasts a mish-mash of architecture from the Ancient Greeks, Byzantines, Romans and Ottomans. The churches hidden inside the castle walls are fascinating to tour.
In North Macedonia, Skopje is a real up-and-comer on the city break scene, and boasts a raft of galleries and museums. The forest-edged shores of Lake Ohrid are a highlight - especially the little town of Ohrid itself, home to a jumble of frescoed churches and lake-view basilicas.
Slow the pace down in Slovenia
Snowy Alpine peaks, picture-postcard Mediterranean seaside towns, great swathes of forest, and glacial lakes, tiny Slovenia has it all. Breathtakingly beautiful Lake Bled, in the heart of the Julian Alps, is undoubtedly the country’s most photographed sight, with its island and pretty 15th century church. Slovenia’s relaxed capital city, Ljubljana, blends the best of central European and Mediterranean culture, and is adorned with stately baroque architecture, a fi ne hilltop castle, Roman remains and the extensive, 200-year-old Tivoli Park. The vast UNESCO listed Škocjan Caves, housing one of the largest underground canyons in the world, is another unmissable sight, while no visit to Slovenia is complete without enjoying the scenic delights of its short Mediterranean coast at resorts such as historic Koper.
Cruise Croatia's islands
Even though Dubrovnik is one of the most visited destinations in Europe, there are still plenty of hidden gems to discover in Croatia. Travel between some of the Dalmatian coast’s most breathtaking spots on a small ship and you'll be able to access out-of-the-way spots that larger vessels just can't get to.
Cruising between pebbled coves and waterfalls, pine-clad hills and quaint towns is a wonderful way to travel in Croatia, and ideal for experiencing the less-crowded parts of this captivating country. Discover the small fishing village of Trstenik - tucked neatly between the hills of the Pelijesac peninsula, it’s home to renowned wine producers such as Grgic, Madirazza and Korta Katarina. And spend time on Sipan, a quiet and peaceful island that's almost car-free - follow paths inland for craggy hills, vineyards, olive groves, and lush plains dotted with the occasional hamlet.
Discover history & tradition in Poland
With its rich cultural traditions, enticing cities and wild countryside, Poland is a joy to explore. The capital, Warsaw, with its faithfully restored Old Town, is filled with museums, galleries and excellent restaurants. The perfectly preserved medieval city of Krakow is easily one of Poland’s most appealing destinations. The awe-inspiring Wawel Castle, the poignant synagogues of the old Jewish Quarter and Poland’s biggest town square are just some of the attractions, while not too far away, the Auschwitz concentration camp is a sombre reminder of the country’s darkest days. Other highlights include the charming cities of Wrocław and Gdansk and the lush Białowieza National Park, populated by European bison.
Tour Puglia's unspoilt sights and cities
The ‘heel’ of the boot-shaped Italian peninsula, Puglia is one of the most remote and unspoilt regions of the country, a land with a rich culinary tradition and legendary, full-bodied wines as well as a wealth of historical and architectural treasures, most notably the distinctive trulli, the whitewashed medieval dwellings with their conical roofs, some painted with religious symbols, which fill the UNESCO World Heritage town of Alberbello.
The fascinating limestone caves at Castellana, with their curious stalagmite and stalactite formations are worth exploring, while the city of Lecce, known as the ‘Florence of the South’ due to its grand baroque architecture, is a real highlight. The Romanesque cathedral in Italy’s easternmost city, Otranto, houses a remarkable 12th century mosaic, and the town’s 15th century castle - made famous in Horace Walpole’s gothic novel - is redolent with history.
Beyond the beach in Sardinia
The largest island in the Mediterranean, Sardinia is very distinct from mainland Italy in terms of its history, culture, cuisine and language, and its uniqueness and wild, natural beauty make it an unforgettable holiday destination. The spectacular ‘Costa Smeralda’ - the Emerald Coast - in the northeast, has been popular with the rich and famous since the 1960s, but the whole island is ringed with fantastic fine, sandy beaches, such as along the ‘Costa Verde’ - the Green Coast - on the west.
History is everywhere in Sardinia, from Neolithic rock tombs and circular Bronze Age towers, known as ‘nuraghi,’ to Carthaginian ruins, Roman theatres and baths and Byzantine Churches. Sardinia’s rugged interior is no less interesting, and its varied landscapes of dense woods, mountains and lakes reward deeper exploration.
Embrace Armenia's mix of old and new
Armenia is a destination that has an ancient and complex history as well as a resilient heart. Head to Armenia and you'll experience a wealth of stunning landscapes, cultural treasures and people, who even after all they have suffered, are welcoming and down-to-earth. We'll explore Yerevan, Armenia's capital city and marvel at the mountainous backdrop and riverside setting. Here we will see wonderful monuments and take a culinary masterclass.
We'll also discover a fortress in the cloud in rural Amberd at the foothills of Mount Ararat and see the stunning forests and lakes of Dilijan. Travelling to Armenia is a rewarding and thought-provoking holiday like no other.
Have a peek at our holidays to Europe and see where we could take you next.
Nicola considers herself very lucky to have had the opportunity to visit a number of places around the world and these experiences usually involve searching for as many kinds of wildlife as possible. Recent highlights include penguins in Antarctica, bears and whales in Canada and Alaska and sea otters in California - but there are always more animals to search for.
Nicola | About the author
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