Five hidden European gems you never considered for holiday (but should)
Avoid the crowds and go in search of a more authentic experience at one of these lesser travelled destinations
Europe has a wealth of fabulous and exciting cities to explore. But if you have done your time jostling with the crowds in Sagrada Familia or St Peter's Basilica and are after a more intimate travel experience, these are the five places you should head to now…
1. Marseille, France
Marseille is often overlooked for the more glamorous Cannes or St. Tropez, but the city is worth a second look. A bustling port town since it was founded by the Greeks in around 600 B.C, it is a melting pot of multiculturalism. A raft of new museums, galleries and trendy restaurants are showing a bright future, however its edgier side gives the city a vibrancy not seen in some of it’s more showy neighbours. Be captivated by the pretty Vieux Port and out at sea, see the infamous Chateau d’If, a fortress and later prison from which Alexandre Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo escaped. As the gateway to Provence, you are also moments away from the captivating Arles, Avignon and Aix-en-Provence.
2. Seville, Spain
Be seduced by sultry Seville, Spain’s Southern City, with its flamenco rhythms, orange trees, Gothic architecture and Carmen theatrics. From Roman ruins, Baroque churches, to Alcázar Palace with its stunning gardens (which Game of Thrones fans will no doubt recognise), there is drama and history around every corner. Meanwhile the city’s magnificent 15th-century Cathedral is a Gothic masterpiece and the largest cathedral in the world. Stroll through the romantic Parque de María Luisa taking some time to relax on a pretty tiled bench, or get lost in the jasmine scented labyrinth of Barrio de Santa Cruz, the old Jewish quarter, and sit with the locals enjoying tapas and a caña (small beer) in a secluded bar.
Mediterranean, Greek & Italian Cruises
3. Kotor, Montenegro
Pack your bags and jump on the next cruise leaving for Kotor, before everyone else discovers just how magical this city is. Sitting at the head of Boka Bay, it’s a fairytale medieval city set against a backdrop of dramatic mountains and aquamarine Adriatic sea. The atmospheric old town is filled with 12th century churches, Venetian palaces, café lined squares and museums. Walk the ancient walls, then head just outside the gates for the daily farmers market to stock up on fresh figs before tackling the hike to the UNESCO listed fortress for staggering views. At night, the city comes alive around the old port where the streets are lined with taverns, and live music. A buzzing atmosphere engulfs the twinkling town.
4. Skagen, Denmark
Stuart Black/Robert Harding
Located at the most Northern tip of Denmark, where the Baltic and North Sea tumultuously meet, sits the remote Danish town of Skagen. Swathed by migratory sand dunes, it is wonderfully bleak in the winter yet in the summer, attracts vacationing Danes with its long white sand beaches, art history, dazzling harbourside seafood restaurants and charming streets. Drawn by the beautiful light and moody skies, poets and artists flocked to Skagen in the 19th century to try and capture the views, their presence turning it into a holiday destination for the elite. Sitting on a finger of land jutting out into the sea, the windswept beaches are rugged and beautiful. As the dunes shift and move, you can see the remains of churches and houses that have been swallowed up by nature, along with World War II concrete bunkers left scattered on the shore as a nod to the town’s occupied past.
5. Akureyri, Iceland
As the gateway town to the dramatic volcanic craters, lava lakes and waterfalls that make up the ‘land of fire and ice’, this charming little port is a dreamy antidote to the more commonly visited Reykjavik. The streets are lined with brightly painted wooden houses, and if you climb the steps of The Church of Akureyri, you’ll be rewarded with views of the fjord and mountains. Head downtown to the streets of Hafnarstræti and Skipagata for independent cafés and boutiques, or take a dip in the geothermic outdoor pools, with temperatures rising from a comfortable 27°C, up to 42°C in the ‘hot pot’. Head into Eyjafjörður by boat on a whale watching tour and see if you can spot a magnificent humpback or dolphin, and remember to look up at the sky, because the high mountains either side of the town mean the mystical aurora of the Northern Lights regularly make an appearance.