Undiscovered gems of Europe
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.
With its long and tumultuous history and varied cultures, the Balkans is one of Europe’s most complex and intriquing region. Croatia’s bustling capital city, Zagreb is often overlooked by travellers heading to the alluring islands off the Dalmatian coast, but it’s a worthy destination in itself, home to captivating art galleries and museums and pleasant open spaces and parks. Zagreb also makes a good base for exploring the region, including sights such as the Plitvice Lakes National Park to the south, with its spectacular lakes and waterfalls. Also worth seeking out is the ancient city of Split, once the stronghold of the 3rd century Roman Emperor Diocletian, whose vast palace still stands here. Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo, surprises visitors with its many museums and historic Ottoman-era mosques, and the beautiful churches, palaces, gardens and galleries of Belgrade, the stately capital of Serbia, are among the real highlights of the Balkan Peninsula.
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.
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 after visiting one of central Europe’s most picturesque regions. We'll explore the lovely Makarska Riviera, and take a boat along the Cetina River. After a day in pretty Mostar, we travel to Split to board MV Seagull. We then enjoy seven wonderful nights cruising between pebbled coves, waterfalls, pine-clad hills and quaint towns, before witnessing the magnificent Roman Diocletian’s Palace in Split. From the vehicle-free charming island of Zlarin to the old fishing village of Primošten, we travel to some undiscovered delights.
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.
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 fi ll 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.
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.
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.
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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.
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