Looking to do things a little differently this decade? While you may know all about Europe’s popular cities and capitals, how much do you know about its lesser-known gems? Discover a different side of Europe with the help of our list of the top under-the-radar, but no less stunning, European town and cities. Stay away from the tourist-packed crowds with a visit to these alternative destinations. The ultimate way to immerse yourself in Europe’s local culture!
1. Sveti Stefan, Montenegro
This fortified village, located on the Adriatic shoreline, is the ultimate destination for an escape from reality. The only thing connecting this island village to the mainland is a causeway. Meanwhile, the island is off-limits to non-residents of the Aman resort. Venture to the resort for a luxury stay in the resort’s majestic villas and enjoy the secluded beaches with pink sandy shores and turquoise waters. And if you don’t want to pay the hefty resort price tag, there are plenty of ways to ogle at the village. You can venture to South beach that offers spectacular views of the island, or you can go for a booked tour to explore the village’s natural beauty and impressive villas.
2. Vipava Valley, Slovenia
Vipava Valley in Slovenia is an under-the-radar foodie paradise. Stretching southeast from Nova Gorica, the valley is home to two charming towns: Ajdovščina and Vipava. Vipava is the area’s largest town, boasting a medieval town centre with stone houses intertwined with green wine leaves. Viapava is also the centre of Vipava wines, with a plethora of local wine producers you can visit to taste exquisite local wines. The second-largest city, Ajdovščina is a historic city town built by the Romans, as is evident by the well-preserved towers of the former Roman fort. The town boasts traditional eateries, featuring gourmet delicacies and locally produced wines.
You can stay in one of the towns or travel to both, by bike or by car. The area is a great destination for adventurers as well. Take your pick from mountain biking, paragliding or hiking! You can go on the Walk of Peace to discover the rich history of the area, or go a wine trek to visit all of the area’s local wine producers!
3. Mantua, Italy
While Italy boasts many stunning cities, the city of Mantua is an overlooked gem well-worth discovering. Located just south of Lake Garda, Mantua is surrounded by two lakes. The route to the city, via a bridge that divides the two lakes, is stunning in itself. The city is known by the locals as La Bella Addormentata, the sleeping beauty. Indeed, it is a city where time has stood still. Walking through the city, expect to see ancient towers, turrets and cupolas standing erect since medieval times.
Stay in a historic mansion and spend your days exploring the old market place, where you will find fashion boutique stores during the day and vibrant bars, which come to life during the night. Lose yourself amongst the interlinked cobbled piazzas and many arcades, housing local eateries and craft shops. A perfect way to immerse yourself in the Italian lifestyle, away from the hustle and bustle of the big cities.
4. Schwangau, Germany…
While you’ve probably seen photos of the famous fairy-tale-like castle located in Schwangau, how much do you know about the picturesque village that houses it? The charming village of Schwangau lies in the region of Bavaria and is home to not one, but two, magnificent castles. Visit Schwanagau to explore its majestic castles and discover the natural beauty of the region. You will find the village at the end of the Romantic Road (that really is the name of the road!). The road runs from the River Maine to the Alps, linking up all the charming medieval villages of the area. You can stay in Schwangau and unwind at its luxurious Spa. Or, you can let your inner adventurer out by staying at one of the area’s many campsites!
5. Cuenca, Spain
The city of Cuenca is an undiscovered gem tucked away amongst the Spanish mountains. You will find the city at the heart of the Castilla-La Mancha region, only a few hours away from Madrid. Perched on the top of a cliff, you will literally see hanging houses, dangling above the stunning natural landscape. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and with the medieval walls surrounding the city, cobbled streets, and historic palaces it’s no wonder why. Spend the day there exploring sites, such as the gothic-style Cuenca cathedral or the Parador de Cuenca- a former monastery that’s now been turned into a hotel. Situated in a beautiful geographic area, the city also boasts stunning hiking paths, alongside the Júcar river. The ideal destination for a secluded getaway to a city bursting with both a rich history and natural beauty!