When we are conducting our initial calls with clients to ascertain their ideas and hopes for any trip we are planning, it's often just a sense of how comfortable a traveler they are, that sometimes leads us to suggest destinations that are probably not on their radar.
If Italy is a client's wish and they have not visited before, then we are not going to attempt to dissuade them, unless perhaps it is absolutely peak season. However with more seasoned explorers and those with a sense of adventure, it is always fun for us and maybe just a little bit extra inspiring to suggest and plan trips that truly head off the beaten path.
So this weeks blog is a Top 5 of European destinations that would appeal to the more adventurous or well-traveled. 5 countries, all well worth a visit, that would surprise and delight.
Top 5 - Europe, But Not As You Know It
1. Estonia (above and below)
Perched on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea, Estonia has multilayered influences that include everyone from Viking invaders and Scandinavian royalty to medieval merchants of German, Swedish, Danish, and Russian descent. While the Baltic state is packed with history, it also very much embraces a modern mindset. From tours of ancient fishing villages and fairy-tale-inspired old towns to nature-fueled adventures foraging the country’s wild terrain, here are just four experiences that promise pure Estonia.
- Island-hop through the more than 2,000 islands of the West Estonian Archipelago
- Forage for berries in Lahemaa National Park
- Get lost in Tallinn’s Old Town, then find the city’s cool creative pockets
Find your favorite slice of leib (black bread baked with rye flour and topped with Baltic herring)
2. Poland (above and below)
For a meaningful itinerary that could include Auschwitz, Krakow, Gdansk, Poznan and Warsaw, consider Poland. Let's just take Warsaw...
The Polish capital has become one of Europe’s hippest destinations. The city has shed its dark past and transformed into a fun, cultural place with much to offer global travelers. Explore the easily walkable Old Town and its surrounding museums, including the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews; take in an alfresco summer concert featuring the music of Warsaw native Frédéric Chopin at Łazienki Park; and dive into the city’s impressive dining scene. Try a traditional paçzek doughnut; the best are from the Zagoździński bakery in the Wola district.
3. Malta (above and below)
From Michelin-starred dining to far-reaching religious history, this island nation calls out to the curious. The Maltese islands have been described as a Mediterranean open-air museum, with prehistoric ruins older than Stonehenge and Egypt’s pyramids. Malta’s three UNESCO World Heritage sites include the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum – a 5,000-year-old labyrinthine network of underground chambers that’s part-burial site, part-temple – as well as seven megalithic temples and Valletta itself, known as the Fortress City.
In the capital, you can tour Saint John’s Co-Cathedral, Malta’s most-visited architectural masterpiece, with after-hours access to a private viewing of the baroque architecture and famous painting by Caravaggio, The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist.
Across the harbor from Valletta in Birgu, meet Malta’s last bona fide knight, a man named Fra Critien. He welcomes special guests to his residence in the fort that overlooks Grand Harbour, a long-standing stronghold of the Order of Saint John. To get a feel for Maltese nobility, visit a private palazzo for a glass of prosecco and traditional high tea, a holdover from the lavish, early twentieth century lifestyle.
4. Macedonia (above and below)
Macedonia is a small but historically significant country located in the Balkans of Southeastern Europe, boasting a rich cultural and natural heritage. Macedonia is renowned for its historical legacy, including the birthplace of Alexander the Great. It is steeped in ancient history, with archaeological sites like Pella and Heraclea Lyncestis offering glimpses into its past. The country is also blessed with diverse landscapes, from the pristine lakes of Ohrid and Prespa to the rugged mountains of the Dinaric Alps and the lush valleys of Pelagonia. It's a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts.
The UNESCO-listed town of Ohrid, located on the shores of Lake Ohrid, is a cultural gem. Its well-preserved Byzantine churches, fortifications, and a stunning amphitheater create an aura of timelessness. Then the capital city of Skopje is a blend of ancient and modern, with its historic Old Bazaar, grand monuments, and the controversial Skopje 2014 project, which aimed to redefine the city's identity through architecture.
Macedonian cuisine is a treat for foodies, featuring dishes like ajvar, kebapi, and tavče gravče, all reflecting the country's Ottoman and Balkan influences. And to top it all, Macedonians are known for their warmth and hospitality, making visitors feel welcome.
5. Bulgaria (above and below)
Bulgaria, also situated in Southeastern Europe, boasts a rich tapestry of natural beauty and cultural heritage. The country's highlights span from its stunning landscapes to its historical treasures.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Rila is a 10th-century monastery and a masterpiece of Bulgarian architecture nestled in the Rila Mountains. The capital city, Sofia, combines ancient history with modern vibrancy, featuring landmarks like Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and Vitosha Mountain for outdoor enthusiasts. The Bulgarian Riviera has golden sands with Sunny Beach, and Nessebar renowned seaside resorts along the Black Sea coast.
Europe's oldest continuously inhabited city, Plovdiv with its well-preserved Roman ampitheater and charming Old Town is a must-do on your itinerary and you should also savor hearty dishes like banitsa, kavarma, and shopska salad while enjoying the country's wines and rakia.
Bulgarians are known for their warm and welcoming hospitality, making visitors feel right at home in this multifaceted country.
If you're ready to begin planning your next European luxury travel experience, let us know by clicking the button below.
I love travel and I love travel planning just as much and I am proud to have built a team as passionate about exploring the world as myself. It took me a very long time to align my career with my undeniable passion for exploring, but now I and the team are here for you. Your personal travel tailors - award reservation and luxury custom itinerary experts. We provide a bespoke service, imagining and creating itineraries for independent minded families and groups.