Paris and Venice are wonderful, but such popular European cities are often thronged with crowds of tourists. If you want a more authentic experience, without feeling like you’re surrounded by a horde of visitors, check out these secret European hot spots. You’ll feel like you’ve discovered a hidden gem.
Muhu Island, Estonia
The tiny island of Muhu has thatched cottages, a pagan church from the 13th century, and working windmills. With a population of just 2,000 people, it is isolated by water in the summer, but connected to the mainland by an ice road during the winter. During 1227, a Christian army crossed this ice during the Estonian Crusade. You can stay in a hotel founded by a descendant of those crusaders, and find yourself surrounded by 700 years of history.
This city lies on the Istrian Peninsula, a marvelous place where people live much as they did generations ago. The hillsides are covered with vineyards, and the historic towns are well preserved. Rovinj is best visited off-season, when you can enjoy views of the crenellated walls as you wander through the cobblestone streets.
Ikaria Island has all the beauty of the more famous Greek islands, but it’s saved from the crowds by its distance from Athens. You’ll need to take a 6-hour ferry ride to get here, but the payoff comes in the sparkling views of the Aegean and the fresh sea air. Something here must be healthy for you, as people in Ikaria are several times more likely to reach 90 years of age than Americans, in spite of a diet that includes rich food, fried fish, and plenty of wine. Put yourself on island time, go for a swim, and relax.
Ile de Noirmoutier, France
A four hour ride on the TGV train from Paris can bring you to this fabulous island, known for its wildlife. You’ll smell mimosa blossoms, and can watch all the animals that make their home along the coastline, with its beaches, dunes, marshes, and forests. You may see sailing yachts racing by, as you search for oysters and savor an idyllic picnic on the beach.
Matarranya Region, Spain
This area of Spain is reminiscent of Tuscany, with hillsides covered with olive groves and vineyards. This was where the ancient kingdoms of Aragon, Catalonia and Valencia met, and it’s easy to imagine royal hunting parties riding across the countryside. It’s a good place for bike rides, long walks over the hills, or visiting a winery to sample the latest vintages. The tiny town of Fuentespalda has a 15th century palace which has now been turned into an elegant hotel.
The ancient town of Matera was carved out of a limestone gorge, and it’s hard to find a more dramatic setting. It’s no wonder film directors have selected this location, but tourists have been slow to discover this town in the Basilicata region, along the arch of the Italian boot. It was abandoned for decades, but today visitors can see hundreds of rock churches and ancient cave dwellings.
From an historical point of view, writers and artists come to Bergen to find inspiration. The beautiful coastline is just 45 minutes away from Amsterdam. Nonetheless, Bergen boasts with superb accommodation facilities, cottages, and vacation homes. Biking and walking are main activities to enjoy while in the city; explore the incredible architecture and explore Schoorlse Duinen, a spectacular natural area with some of the widest and highest dunes in the Netherlands.
Not many people know about Ticino in Switzerland. This place is better known as the spiritual home to all the Italian people scattered around the country, and it will amaze travelers with its architectural places of interest and abundant wildlife. The array of museums, nature reserves and welcoming people will convert your trip to Ticino into a memorable experience. The Castles of Bellinzona are a must-see; SassoCorbaro, Castelgrande and Montebello form the Bellinzona fortress, and its walls were built in the Paleolithic Age. Some other attractions worth seeing in Ticino are: the Swissminiatur, the Fossil Museum, and the restored sanctuary of Madonna delSasso.
Europe is a wonderland with lots of hidden places you’ve never heard before. Its best attractions and places of interest are hidden in the most isolated and secluded cities and villages. All of them are worth exploring, so before planning a vacation to Paris or Barcelona, why not get to know more about northern lights holidays in Norway or Ticino in Switzerland?