As the relentless crowds flock to major tourist sites in cities like Paris and Venice, travelers need to face the truth—we’re wearing each other (and the cities we’re visiting) out. It’s a struggle common across Europe, but that doesn’t mean all of Europe has been overtaken by legions of tourists. There are plenty of exciting destinations that may not be new, but they are emerging as exciting destinations worthy of a visit. Plus, the crowds haven’t gotten to them yet.
Vipava Valley, Slovenia
Just two hours from Venice, the Vipava Valley is a haven for adventurous travelers looking for room to explore. This little corner of Slovenia was recently named by Lonely Planet as one of Europe’s best destinations, and now is the perfect time to visit the valley before the crowds catch on.
Rent a car and drive through this countryside to find plenty of adventurous things to do, from easy-going bike rides through vineyards to stand-up paddle boarding on the Vipava River. And of course, frequent stops at some of the valley’s boutique winemakers like Lepa Vida and the Burja Estate are a must. Pepper your wine tasting with gastronomical stops to try locally produced staples like honey, cherries, and olive oil. For a bit of history, you can stop by the Kostanjavica Monastery and visit the Bourbon crypt, where members of the noble French family were buried following their exile after the French Revolution. Today, the monastery is an art museum and, from the platform outside the church, visitors enjoy clear views of the Italian city of Gorizia.
Where to Stay: In the Vipava Valley, camping and farm-stays are the way to go, but if you prefer a hotel, check out the Majerija. This 300-year old guesthouse has built all its guest rooms underground so as not to disturb the idyllic countryside with new developments.
England’s Great Southwest Peninsula
To get away from the crowds of big cities like London, you can hop on a train or drive two hours south to explore a hidden corner of England—its southwest peninsula. Made up of the regions of Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Dorset, and the Isles of Scilly, the peninsula offers travelers 700 miles of coastal roads to explore and hundreds of castles and beaches to visit, plus two national parks and four world heritage sites.
There’s plenty of adventure to be had, whether you’re searching for fossils along the Jurassic Coast or hiking in Dartmoor National Park. If you like surfing or music, you can plan your trip around one of the regions famous festivals like Boardmasters, an annual surf festival in Cornwall, or the world-famous Glastonbury Music Festival.
Where to Stay: Lympstone Manor is a boutique hotel in Exmouth that’s worth planning your trip around if you like good food. Its biggest draw is the Michelin-star restaurant of the same name, where you can savor the best of modern British cuisine.
Ireland’s West Coast
Leave the crowds of Dublin behind by extending your trip to Ireland westward on the Atlantic Coast, a.k.a. the Wild Atlantic Way. A road trip down the coast will take you past charming villages and quiet bays. Stop at sights as famous as the Cliffs of Moher or drive the Ring of Kerry, all while discovering fresh landscapes like the Inishowen Peninsula in the north and the Slea Head Drive in the south. Crowd-weary travelers won’t just find solace in Ireland’s remote and lush sceneries; there’s also plenty of culture to be found in small villages like Doolin, famous as Ireland’s music capital, and Dingle, a small but thriving city that’s home to a famous concentration of traditional Irish pubs. With varied landscapes, hundreds of towns and villages, and plenty of charm, a road trip through Western Ireland is the perfect way to feel like you have it all to yourself.
Where to Stay: Set your GPS for the rural village of Cong and check out (or into) one of the best hotels in the whole country. Ashford Castle is an extravagant five-star hotel located inside a 13th-century castle, set on the shore of Lough Corrib, the second largest lake in Ireland.
Over the years, Stuttgart has become a popular Oktoberfest-alternative to beat the crowds in Bavaria, but any time of year is ideal to explore this under-visited city and the surrounding southwestern region of Germany. Stuttgart is a wealthy city, best known as the headquarters of Porsche and Mercedes-Benz, and is home to 15 Michelin-starred restaurants and a slew of art museums. Outside Stuttgart, there’s plenty to explore in the German state of Baden-Wurttemburg, from the half-timbered town of Esslingen to the bright blue Lake Constance. The region is flush with castles and is famous for quirky year-round festivals that celebrate everything from white asparagus to plums. You can also stop in Bad-Wildbad, a spa town where you can enjoy a classic Germany-style spa without the crowds of more famous spa towns like Baden-Baden.
Where to Stay: Car enthusiasts shouldn’t leave Stuttgart without visiting both the Mercedes-Benz Museum and the Porche Museum. You can even stay at the V8 Hotel, Stuttgart’s car-themed wonderland.
In Southern Spain, right on the border of Portugal, Extremadura is region is rich in history and delicious food. Here, you’ll find not just Roman and medieval ruins, but also the history of the Spanish empire. In the city of Trujillo, you can visit the palaces built from the fortunes brought back from the Americas, and taste the sweetmeats and cheese the city is known for. In Merida, not only can you visit one of the world’s best preserved Roman theatres, you can taste gazpacho and indulge in Roman-inspired tapas. Extremadura offers incredible landscapes like Garganta de los Infiernos, a stunning gorge with rock pools you can swim in; and Monfrague National Park, which is particularly well-known for its birdlife.
Where to Stay: Throughout Spain, Paradores are luxury hotels located in a historically-significant building; in Extremadura, you’ll find one of the best paradores in the City of Plasencia. The Parador of Plasencia is located in a former 15th-century convent and features authentic medieval architecture and a more modern audition of a large pool.
Immerse yourself in the sunny side of the South of France in the region of Roussillon (also known as Greater Occitania). As the largest wine-producing region in France, this vineyard-rich region perfect place for oenophiles looking to take a trip deep into the French countryside. Travelers in the Languedoc can also enjoy special tastings at olive oil factories like L’Olibo; try the sweet lamb pastries in the city of Pezenas; or taste oysters fresh from the farms on the Etang de Thau, a huge lake that connects the Mediterranean to the region’s popular cruising route: the Canal du Midi. On the lake, you’ll also find the small port city of Marseillan, where vermouth fans can visit the Noilly-Prat distillery for a tasting and tour of the modern factory.
Where to Stay: Ever dreamed of living in one of those picturesque French Villages? Then check into Village Castigno, a unique hotel concept that transforms an entire village into a quirky and colorful resort.
In Frankfurt, what’s new is old again. Since most of the old city was destroyed during World War II, Frankfurt has long been ignored by travelers in search of historical architecture. However, all that is changing with the completion of the Old Town reconstruction. This massive project included the construction of 35 new buildings and more than 30 shops restaurants, museums, and cafes to explore. Among the buildings rebuilt in their original locations you’ll discover the history of Frankfurt, from its origin as Roman settlement to the gothic styles of the Esslinger House.
Where to Stay: Just because you’re checking out Frankfurt’s new Old Town doesn’t mean you can’t embrace the city’s more modern side at Sofitel Frankfurt Opera. This elegantly-decorated hotel feels classic and metropolitan and is centrally located to near the opera house.
It’s not hard to understand why Italy is one of Europe’s most popular (and crowded) destinations. However, while Rome’s Spanish Steps and Cinque Terre’s idyllic villages suffer from overtourism, the region of Puglia remains undiscovered by most tourists. But as the heel that makes up the Italian boot, Puglia has all the flavor of Italy a traveler could want—ancient cities, incredible food, and Mediterranean views. However, it also has its own cultural landmarks that you won’t find anywhere else in Italy, like the pasta-making grandmothers of Bari and the cliffside town of Polignano a Mare with its famous Grotta Palazesse Restaurant.
Where to Stay: Trulli are unique round-shaped houses that are icons in Puglia, and at Tenuta Madia, you can spend the night in one. The hotel also has a huge pool with views overlooking the city of Ostina.
The Baltic States
From historical cities to unique national parks, the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia have plenty to offer travelers. In Estonia, discover the medieval city of Talinn, or visit the forest-covered island of Saareema for a nature retreat. Latvia is often seen as the most artistic of the Baltic trio, and when you see the colorful capital city of Riga and white sand beaches of Cape Colka, you’ll understand why. Lithuania packs in a lot of culture with its castle-packed capital of Vilnius and fascinating sites like the Orvidas Garden, which displays the sculptures of an eccentric artist who was considered a rebel during the Soviet era.
Where to Stay: When in Estonia, you can sleep right in the center of Talinn’s Old Town at The Three Sisters, a hotel built within the walls of three 700-year old merchant houses. Each room is unique and, for a five-star hotel, prices are shockingly affordable.
With its location south of Sicily, the island nation of Malta is not the easiest Mediterranean destination to reach, which makes it perfect for travelers willing to go the extra mile to beat the crowds. Last year, Malta made headlines when one of its most famous rock formations, the Azure Window, collapsed into the sea. However, there’s plenty more to discover among the rocky island of this small archipelago, as well as in the vibrant capital city of Valletta, which in 2018 was named Europe’s Capital of Culture. Tour the mysterious prehistoric temples that are scattered across the islands or find adventure on the nearby island of Gozo, one of the Mediterranean’s best destinations for diving, rock climbing, and hiking.
Where to Stay: In the city of Mdina, bask in a life of luxury at The Xara Palace Relais & Chateaux, a hotel built in a 17th-century palace.
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Jamie Ditaranto is a writer and photographer, always looking for unique ways to travel. Follow her on Instagram @jamieditaranto.