With new year come the travel wish lists. You’ll find them all across the internet. I have my own, which seems to get longer each year, but I’ve noticed most of my own dream destinations lean towards the more obscure, off-beat places. To date, I love travelling Europe’s more unusual and less popular destinations, so I decided to create my own list of recommendations for anyone looking to explore Europe beyond the usual city breaks and densely populated beaches. These are places I personally love, which are slightly off the beaten track in Europe (excluding the Caucasus region).
Estonia is more than just Tallinn. Did you know there are over 2000 islands in the small Baltic country? Of course, most of these are uninhabited islets that a pieces of rock, but Estonia’s largest islands Saaremaa, Hiiumaa and Muhu are worth a visit. These magical Baltic isles come with breathtaking views along the coast, with sandy beaches and rocky shorelines, to dense forests and culture. Kuressaare is famous for its historic turreted castle and spas, while Muhu has hubs of incredible gastronomy. And as a plus, in the summer months you get the white nights, where the sun barely sets over the horizon on these remote and peaceful islands.
Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Bosnia & Herzegovina is one of my favourite countries in Europe, for its dramatic mountainous landscape, for dynamic Sarajevo, a city full of life even though a war raged on its streets 20 years ago, but Mostar with it’s reconstructed 16th-century Ottoman bridge and historic buildings, it’s quiet joie de vivre on its narrow winding lanes, from copper smiths, jewellers and cafés percolating strong Bosnian coffee, has a unique charm.
Take a stroll by the river and stop to listen to the muezzins call to prayer from the minarets scattered across the valley. Climb up the steep minaret tower for views across Mostar, pay a visit to the nearby Dervish house or simply sip coffee by the riverside and take time to simply soak up the atmosphere. You can head over to the bridge to watch the famous divers plunge into the copper hued river from the arched peak of the reconstructed Stari Most (Old Bridge), which was destroyed during the Croat-Bosniak War and rebuilt in 2004.
Plovdiv is set to become the City of Culture in 2019, so visit it before it gets popular. It’s said to be one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world and the oldest in Europe, being built on the ruins of an ancient Thracian city, with Roman monuments as well as Ottoman relics. It’s a fascinating city steeped in history and legend, located just outside the mystical Rhodope Mountains. Take a stroll to the Roman theatre or through the winding streets of the traditional old Bulgarian houses.
Spain is certainly not underrated, especially not the Costas or Barcelona, but if you head up north to counties like Galicia or Asturias, then you’ll find the crowds ease away. With Santiago de Compostela being the destination of the famous pilgrimage, there are many who take to the countryside to walk westwards. However, you don’t need to be on a pilgrimage to discover the medieval streets of Santiago de Compostela, Gijón’s art nouveau buildings, Oviedo’s pre-romanesque churches or drink cider in the streets with the locals. Discover a different side of Spain on the northern coast.
Bay of Kotor, Montenegro
Montenegro is a relatively new country, and it’s home to one of the most spectacular bays in the world. The Bay of Kotor offers a scenic drama where its rocky mountains seem to just plunge into the sea. A climb up the fort in Kotor offers views across the curving bay, or if the weather is good enough take a boat over to the island church at Perast. Kotor might not be a classic beach resort, but with historic ruins and picturesque villages set against a spectacular landscape, it’s easy to fall in love with Montenegro in an instant.
Olomouc, Czech Republic
Everyone goes to Prague, but not many people explore the Moravia region of the Czech Republic. While Brno, the second city, might be quiet and has its charm, Olomouc has a beautiful grandeur about it, including a communist astronomical clock that certainly gives the one in Prague something to contend with. Simply explore the medieval streets or the park around the castle walls and amidst the beauty of this Czech town, you’ll also notice there are hardly any people around, unlike Prague.
The region of Vojvodina in northern Serbia is rather rural, with endless fields over the flat landscape to the delta where the Tisa river meets the Danube. You’ll find fields with abandoned churches and ruined castles perched up on the hills, as well as beautiful art nouveau cities like Subotica. Vojvodina is also a great area to explore for wine lovers, as you’ll find some great wineries up towards the northern border near Hungary.
Of course, there is plenty more to see in Europe I haven’t covered, like my own wish list for the year include Albania, Republic of Macedonia, Lithuania, Poland and Denmark. What are yours? Or even better, what destinations in Europe do you think are underrated?