Europe's hidden gems: How to plan unusual holidays?
Traveling to Europe no longer means you have to follow in the same footsteps as everyone else. In fact, the continent is full of unusual holiday destinations where there's a surprise around every corner. Instead of taking all the same photos as your friends, you can discover hidden gems and soak up authentic places while enjoying enchanting natural scenery.
Think outside of the box and plan your next trip to Montenegro, Albania or Slovenia and discover the road less traveled in Europe. While not as touristy as other destinations, they have so much to offer to those willing to get off the beaten path.
Why should we visit unusual holiday destinations?
The benefits of uncovering hidden gems during your time abroad are myriad. For a start, you'll find the peace and tranquility of spending time in nature away from hoards of people, the perfect antidote to modern life. There's nothing more satisfying than discovering your own corner of a place and feeling like the first person that's ever set foot on that mountain or beach, or inside that cave.
While iconic landmarks make it clear that you're in a well-known destination, on more unusual holidays, undiscovered treasures allow you to get to the real heart of a place. It's in the jagged rocks of a national park, the birds that soar above you and the crumbling walls of an old church that the truth of a destination really comes alive.
Tips when visiting Europe's hidden gems
So, how can you make the most of your off the beaten track holidays and the chance to travel in nature?
- Avoid overplanning, as the best experiences come from spontaneous encounters.
- Talk to locals and try not to act too much like a typical tourist, as undiscovered locations often mean people aren't used to having their pictures taken.
- Don't travel in large groups, as the joy of getting away from the crowds will be lost.
- Look at the details as well as the big picture, because beauty is often found in the little things .
- Travel slowly , as this is when the magic happens.
6 of Europe's most enchanting hidden gems
Gorges du Verdon, France
Gorges du Verdon is the perfect destination for getting off the beaten track, because this river canyon is a true marvel of nature. Hiking the Gorges du Verdon will allow you to catch a glimpse of vultures, eagles and other birds of prey that have made this part of France their home.
The Sentier Vidal is a trail cut directly into the rock of the gorge, allowing experienced walkers to enjoy nature in its rawest form. Meanwhile, the lavender fields surrounding the village of Aiguines beautifully contrast with the blue water of the Lake of Sainte Croix, which sits behind. If you are thinking of visiting Gorges du Verdon in France, the best way to arrive is taking a flight to Nice.
Montenegro often gets overlooked in the planning stages of European holidays, but despite being an unusual destination, it has a lot to offer. Just off the picture-perfect village of Perast in the Bay of Kotor are two islands, the smallest of which is Sveti Djordje, with its Benedictine monastery shaded in cypress trees.
Alternatively, The Tara River cuts through one of the deepest gorges in the world at Durmitor National Park, where glacial lakes and jagged mountains offer a wide range of outdoor activities. For a truly different experience, seek out the submarine caves that were cut into the rock on the shores of the Adriatic during World War II. These were used by the Yugoslavian Navy to hide its submarines, and they make a fascinating and unusual attraction to visit on your holiday. The closest airport to go to Kotor is Tivat in Montenegro.
Consider the Albanian town of Saranda as a base for your vacations and you'll be rewarded with a number of potential hidden gems nearby. These include the foundations of St Nicholas Monastery in Mesopotam, which predate Christianity in Albania and are set in beautiful countryside.
Keep your eyes peeled in the mountains and coniferous forests of the Llogora National Park, as they're home to European wildcats, golden eagles and red squirrels. Another option is that you could enlist the services of a local fisherman to take you across the water to Ali Pasha Castle, as an alternative to the nearby UNESCO World Heritage Site of Butrint. Wondering how to get there? Take a flight to Tirana in Albania.
The Algarve isn't the first place destination you might think of in Portugal, but it's more than worth checking out. Discover the rocky interior of Benagil Cave under your own steam by kayak, where the stunning golden rock contrasts beautifully with the aquamarine sea.
Climb to the highest point in the Algarve - the peak of Foia in the Serra de Monchique - for views all the way to Cabo de Sao Vicente. While you've got your walking boots on, you could follow the route through the Asseca Valley to discover three idyllic waterfalls including Pego do Inferno, where you can go wild swimming.
If you don't know anything about Slovenia, then Bled is a great place to start. It's home to the highest mountain in the country, which can be found in Triglav National Park, along with hundreds of other peaks over 2,000 metres, making it a natural climbers’ paradise.
During the winter months, the frozen waterfalls in Mlacca Gorge look like incredible ice sculptures and scaling them represents the ultimate challenge. While many people get to take in the views of Lake Bled, fewer dive below its surface to discover the 18 species of fish that live alongside crayfish and shellfish. Land at Ljubljana's airport to visit Bled.
While much of Spain is well explored, Segovia remains largely untouched. The 12-sided Vera Cruz Church was built in a Romanesque style to house a relic of the True Cross. Its tower offers the best views of Segovia.
See an endangered species of wild goat called the Gredos ibex scale the soaring mountains of La Pedriza National Park. Continue the adventure by hiking through the Penalara National Park to explore the unique landscape that inspired Ernest Hemingway to write For Whom the Bell Tolls. Want to explore Segovia? Arrive at Madrid's airport and take a bus or train.