Europe's Hidden Gems
We all know Europe’s world famous landmarks, the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Sagrada Familia to name a few, and many of us have enjoyed these fabulous monuments. But to discover the real Europe, to learn about the people, their customs and culture, you need to get off the beaten track and away from the main tourist centres. Here are some of our favourite regions that you can explore at your own pace, and in your own way; where you can immerse yourself in the culture and come close to feeling like a local.
Situated in the Provence region of southern France, the Luberon is the quiet jewel of the area. The natural scenery of the area is stunning and, with numerous hiking trails through the national park and between villages, walking is one of the best ways to see the region. However, the Luberon is best known for its stunning villages that sit perched atop hills that dot the countryside. These villages are filled with rich colours, natural wonders and historical sites; some villages date back over 1000 years. Some of these villages are well known, such as Roussillon with its colourful ochre daubed houses and great restaurants and Gordes, officially one of the most beautiful villages in France; others, like Goult, are just waiting to be discovered.
Despite being Italy’s second largest region, Piedmont isn’t as well known as the glamourous Amalfi Coast or cultured Tuscany. This gastronomic gem in Italy’s North West corner is filled with rolling hills covered in oak forests, layers of vines and majestic Savoy castles that contrast with the high peaks of the Alps that border the region. This rich and fertile part of Italy produces some of the country’s best known food and wine, including robust Barolo and sweet Moscato wines, aromatic while truffles and tangy cheeses. Due to this agricultural economy, the Piedmont region has benefitted greatly from the Slow Food Movement, an international movement started in 1986 that is striving to preserve traditional food practices and regional cuisines with the goal of promoting local business and sustainable foods.
Beira is the traditional name given to the central region of Portugal and is about as far off the beaten track as you can get in Europe. This richly diverse region is one of distinct contrasts; from the glistening blue Atlantic coastline and its white sandy beaches to the forbidding mountains of the interior, home to mainland Portugal’s highest mountain range, the Serra da Estrela. The mountain villages, rivers and glacial valleys of this region are linked by an extensive series of hiking trails. The big draw for this area is the sheer amount of birdlife. An ornithologists dream, here you’ll be able to spot griffon, Egyptian and black vultures, golden eagles, hawks, golden orioles and bee eaters.
Istrian Peninsula, Croatia
With a strong Italian influence, the area being part of Italy until 1945, this heart-shaped peninsula in the north of Croatia is being hailed as the “new Tuscany” thanks to its fertile plains, rolling hills, quaint villages and rugged coastline. And it’s not just the landscape that sees the peninsula likened to Tuscany; it’s also the excellent wines that are now being produced as the conditions are perfect for growing grapes and some of the finest olive oils in the Mediterranean. The Istrian Peninsula also houses a treasure trove of antiquities, including a Roman amphitheatre in Pula and Baroque and Byzantine basilicas in Rovinj and Porec.
Lying at the crossroads of Austria, Italy and Slovenia is the relatively unknown region of Carinthia. This sunny region of southern Austria is home to cosmopolitan towns, traditional villages that have been built around onion-domes churches, turquoise clear lakes and breathtaking mountains. The main attraction of the area is the bathing lakes, which locals flock to in summer, with their warm, clear waters. The largest lake in the area, Lake Worthersee, is a must see. With 27 award-winning restaurants dotted around the lake, the local Alp-Adriatic specialities are mouth-watering. For the slightly more adventurous, there a numerous cycle routes around the lake that can be done at your own pace. There is abundant wildlife in the area too; from wild deer and hares to eagles and falcons that soar through the blue sky.
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