It’s the time of year when people start planning summer trips to the great cities of Europe, places like Paris, Vienna and Prague. But Europe has other delights that are often just as fascinating — hidden travel gems that a lot of North Americans overlook.
These places may lack the famous names, but they can offer just as much history, culture and natural beauty as the places most travellers are drawn to. And as a bonus, they may not be as crowed with tourists as the big-name attractions.
It can take a little research to find these hidden travel gems. But luckily, the folks at Grand European Travel have just published a handy graphic that points up 10 of Europe’s best undiscovered wonders. They’re scattered all the way from the British Isles in the west to Croatia in the east, so wherever you’re headed, you’ll probably be within shouting distance of one. https://www.getours.com/destinations/europe
There are 10 travel gems in Grand European Travel’s list, but just to whet your appetite, I thought I’d supply a little background on five of them, including three that I’ve visited myself. So here are my five hidden travel gems, and the graphic revealing the full list of 10.
Snæfellsjökull National Park, Iceland
With a name right out of Lord of the Rings, Iceland’s Snæfellsjökull National Park should be a magical place. And it is, if you like amazing landscapes. The 170-square-kilometre (65-square-mile) park is named after the Snæfell Glacier, which lies on top of a still-active volcano. The park has more wonders, too, including the Saxhóll volcano crater; two massive lava formations; Sönghellir, the singing cave; and Rauðfeldargjá, the hidden waterfall.
It’s no wonder Jules Verne used Snæfellsjökull as the gateway to the underworld in his book, Journey to the Center of the Earth. This is an otherworldly place. And the good news is that it’s only 120 kilometres (74 miles) from Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik. So if you’re tired of the crowds at the Blue Lagoon, this is the place to go.
Mont St.-Michel, France
You’ve seen the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, maybe even visited the chateaux of the Loire Valley. But for something really different, try Mont Saint Michel. Located in France’s Normandy district, 320 kilometres (200 miles) east of Paris, this well-preserved medieval town has an unforgettable setting. It stands on a granite outcrop in the estuary of the river Couesnon, an area with Europe’s highest tides. When the tide is in, the town is surrounded by water; when it goes out, it’s landlocked.
From a distance, Mont Saint Michel seems to rise up from the water like a fairy tale castle. And the impression isn’t completely wrong. This one of the few places in France with its medieval walls and defences still intact. And its great gothic abbey, a renowned centre of learning as far back as the 12th century, is still populated by monks today. Mont Saint Michel is a favourite destination for French tourists, but its significance hasn’t escaped the rest of the world: the town was one of the first places to be designated a UNESCO world heritage site, back in 1979.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
If you like historic cities, Rothenburg ob der Tauber is another hidden treasure. Located in the Franconia region of Bavaria, this is another medieval masterpiece that has survived pretty much intact. Once a thriving commercial centre, Rothenburg fell on hard times. That’s good news for tourists, because the old city still looks much as it did in the 17th century. It’s a kind of living time capsule, with winding streets that are custom-made for wandering.
Rothenburg has a town hall with a 200-foot tower that you can climb, and a church that claims to preserve a drop of Christ’s blood – a big attraction for pilgrims through the ages. For a little realism, there’s even a medieval torture museum. But its most striking feature is the original town wall, which encircles the entire city. You can walk its covered passageway, peer through the arrow slots and see the places where they poured hot oil on attackers, like in the movies. It’s a living piece of history.
Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
Ever wanted to step into a Robin Hood movie? Here’s your chance. Cesky Krumlov, a charming town in southern Czech Republic, has a castle that can take you back to the days of Robin and Maid Marian. The sprawling castle, built in the 1200s, sits on a rocky bluff overlooking the town – as a castle should. And it’s a fascinating place to visit, with gardens, bridges, classic-looking courtyards, and a revolving theatre that’s still used today. Don’t miss seeing the moat, still occupied by live bears.
After you’ve toured the castle, you descend to the old town of Cesky Krumlov. And it’s just as fascinating, with its narrow streets where shops still display the coats of arms of the burgers who lived there. Visit St. Vitus’ Church, built in the early 1400s. Then sit in a café in the ancient town square (seen at the top of this post) and watch the passing scene while enjoying a traditional Czech pastry. A memorable visit.
The Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
Most people who visit Croatia gravitate to Dubrovnik, where Game of Thrones is filmed, or to the seaside cafes of Split. But Croatia has one of Europe’s most amazing natural wonders, and one that’s worth the two-hour trip from Zagreb, the country’s capital. Plitvice Lakes National Park is a wonderland where turquoise water flows down through 16 small lakes, joined by picturesque waterfalls.
The park is a hiker’s dream. Trails wind through dense forests of beech, fir and spruce, and past wetlands where small streams form limpid pools and splashing fountains. You can board an electric-powered boat launch for a trip across Lake Kojzak, or see the park from a little train that runs through the woods. It’s possible to see the whole park in a day, but there are hotels, so why not linger a little? If you’re lucky, you might even see a brown bear, one of many native species that still live in the park.
That’s a little background on the hidden travel gems of Europe. Here’s the full list, courtesy of Grand European Travel.
Presented by Grand European Travel – See more at: https://www.getours.com/expert-travel-advice/planning-your-vacation/hidden-travel-gems-across-europe#sthash.hCT6aQpF.dpuf
Photo of Mont Saint-Michel By b3rny [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/
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