While it’s impossible to deny the blinding beauty, rich history and vibrant energies of Europe’s most desirable hotspots such as Paris, Rome, Berlin and Amsterdam, to name but a few, the continent is also home to just as many lesser-known locations that rival the attraction of their touristy neighbours. While their unfamiliar names might not sound as shiny, we promise their offering is just as shiny — if not shiner. Here are the little-known gems that are just as bucket list-worthy as the better-known gems. It’s time to get off the beaten track.
Move over Mykonos, Paxos is our new favourite Greek island thanks to its glorious turquoise waters, white sandy beaches, centuries-old olive groves and fairy tale-like villages — that aren’t teeming with tourists. Paxos — one of the cluster of Ionian islands located approximately 20km off the west coast of Greece — measures approximately 13km from north to south and is situated 15km south of Corfu. As it's only accessible by ferry, Paxos has incredibly remained relatively unspoilt. Its three main villages — Gaios, Lakka and Laggos — are as charming as each other and are all home to idyllic seafront tavernas, cobblestoned paths, local shops and beachside bars. Our tip? Pay Paxos a visit before the rest of the world realises its untouched beauty.
Where to stay: Alati Bay Villa
Another hidden gem in Greece’s picture-perfect cluster of Ionian Islands is Lefkada. Like Paxos, Lefkada lies in the Ionian Sea of Greece’s west coast and is approximately halfway between Corfu to the north and Ithaca and Kephalonia to the south. Expect a breath-taking coastline on the exterior, and a lush, wooded interior filled with magnificent scenery, must-walk paths, mountains rising to over 1100m and a sprinkling of unspoilt villages, whose way of life remains profoundly connected to Lefkada’s ancient traditions and customs. At just 35km long and 15km wide, you could explore and experience the entire island in just a week. Whether you’re an adventure lover, culinary enthusiast or a water baby, Lefkada has something for everyone — and the whole family.
Where to stay: Geoeli House
If you’re looking for the spectacular landscapes and the impossibly blue seas of Capri sans the crowds, price tags and the glitz and glamour, Ischia is calling your name. Known for its thermal spas, pretty gardens and the medieval Aragonese Castle, the volcanic island in Italy’s Gulf of Naples is a beachside holiday-makers dream. As the less-pretentious and less-overcrowded version of Capri, Ischia is like a slice of undiscovered paradise. While it may be one of Italy's best-kept secrets now, our guess is it won’t be for long…
Where to stay: Mazzatorre Hotel and Thermal Spa
As an island in the Mediterranean Sea just 12km north of Sardinia, it may surprise you that Corsica is one of the 18 regions of France. Although Corsica has been part of France for more than 200 years, it feels vastly different from the mainland in everything from customs to cuisine. And while it has more similarities to Italy than France — from language to place names — most of the population would consider themselves neither French nor Italian, just Corsican. Corsica is a mountainous island that is dotted with historic-meets-stylish coastal towns, framed with white sandy beaches and covered with dense forest. With around 1,000km of coastline, inviting clear waters and perfect summer temperatures, it’s unsurprising that it is a popular summer holiday destination, but on the contrary, it is surprising that it hasn’t been subjected to mass tourism to date. Beach lovers, hikers and fresh seafood fans, book yourself a trip to Corsica, stat.
Where to stay: Cala d'Istria Villa
When comparing historic significance and romantic beauty in Portugal, Coimbra is second only to Lisbon and Oporto. The riverfront city in central Portugal and the country’s former capital (for over a century up until 1255), Coimbra is home to a preserved medieval old town and the historic University of Coimbra — the country’s oldest and most prestigious university built on the ground of an old palace — which brings a youthful and joyful energy to the town. Be sure to pay a visit to the array of medieval churches, the largest botanical gardens in the whole of Portugal (and one of the most beautiful in Europe) and for the foodies, get ready to taste some of the country’s best local fare.
Where to stay: Quinta das Lágrimas
Brno, Czech Republic
Fact: If you love Prague, you’ll love Brno (pronounced bur-noh). Located in Czech Republic just two-hours south-east of Prague and 1.5-hours north of Vienna, there’s no excuse not to swing through Brno on your tour of Europe’s most popular places. Location aside, Brno also has all the travel-worthy lures, too. As a university town, the cocktail bar, café and restaurant scene is next-to-none and the mind-blowing architecture — a combination of historic and modern — will have you snapping at every step. The best part? You won’t be competing with an abundance of other tourists to get “the shot” or to snag a table of the coolest hotspots in town.
Where to stay: Barceló Brno Palace Hotel