Hidden Gems of Europe: 7 Destinations Worth Exploring

Lake Maggiore is a highlight of the Ticino region
Lake Maggiore is a highlight of the Ticino region

Hidden Gems of Europe: 7 Destinations Worth Exploring

 
Parts of Europe may be heaving with tourists in the summer months, however, there are still places where you can avoid the crowds if you are looking for a peaceful active break.

We've uncovered seven trips to some of the lesser known – yet just as beautiful – parts of Europe. From Spain to Romania, you'll find top destinations for a walking or cycling tour that's like unearthing a hidden travel gem.
 

Zagoria Villages, Greece 

Trekking in Zagoria
 
There is more to Greece than its world famous islands: little known by international visitors, the traditional complex of the Zagoria Villages, in the northwestern corner of the country, covers an unspoilt, remote region of the Pindos mountains. Treasures of vernacular architecture, many of these historic, late 18th century stone-built villages are within what is today a designated conservation area. Immerse yourself in nature in a landscape that brims with dramatic wilderness of striking peaks, deep chasms and extensive natural forests. The trip includes a traverse of the virtually virgin Vikos Gorge, which has been listed by the Guinness Book of Records as the deepest canyon in the world (in proportion to its width).

•    Zagoria: The Secret Villages self-guided walking tour
 

Cilento, Italy

Agropoli |  <i>John Millen</i>
 
Concentrating on Cilento, Italy’s largest National Park, this short walking break is designed to appeal to anyone who wants to experience ‘the other side of Amalfi’:  the less known Cilentan Coast is the natural extension of the Amalfi Coast, on the Gulf of Salerno’s southern shore. A place which in many ways exists in its own time warp, little visited Cilento remains largely ‘undisturbed’ by the 21st century, with rocky ridges, richly scented pinewoods and centuries-old olive trees interspersed with quaint fishing villages, mediaeval farm houses and traditional water mills. Staying in an ancient convent, you will enjoy quiet and remote walking in a stunning, yet less known, pocket of Italy, which in Roman Times was known as Campania Felix – or ‘happy land’! 

•    Cilento Coast and Mountain self-guided walking tour
•    Cilento and Amalfi Highlights self-guided walking tour
 

Ticino, Switzerland

Cycling alone one of the many beautiful lakes in Ticino
 
Experience the Italian side of Switzerland on a centre-based trip that is suitable even for novice cyclists! Ticino, the country’s southernmost canton, is the only canton where Italian is the sole official language and represents the bulk of the Italian-speaking area of Switzerland. The beautiful palm tree lined lakes lakes of Maggiore and Lugano are within easy reach from the comfort of your spa hotel, while the mix of daily excursions will see you being surrounded by snowy peaks and glaciers, admiring the spectacular Swiss mountainscapes. The medieval city of Bellinzona, the region’s capital, is known for its three UNESCO-protected castles, while the peaceful Botanical Gardens on the easily accessible island of Brissago are home to over 1,600 plant species.

•    Ticino Lakes Cycle tour

 

Sierra de Tramontana, Spain

Walkers heading round the coast to Cala Codolar |  <i>John Millen</i>
 
Spain welcomed 82 million visitors, a record figure which made it the second most-visited country in the world – but there are still places where you can beat the crowds: away from Majorca’s burgeoning coastal resorts, the majestic Sierra de Tramontana is a massif of limestone peaks tumbling to the turquoise waters. Following parts of the restored Pilgrims’ Way, venture forth on a series of hikes through shady forests, olive groves and ancient farmsteads, visiting tiny sun-drenched beaches along the way. The first three nights are spent at Santuari de Lluc monastery, the island’s most important pilgrimage site. You can attend the choral singing in its church, which takes place on most evenings, while from your bedroom window you will listen to the sound of nightingales.

•    Majorca: Sierras and Monasteries self-guided walking tour
 

Rila Mountains, Bulgaria

 
Rila monastery
 
Calling all keen walkers seeking an alternative mountain experience, in a country that simply teems with history and beautiful natural landscapes. The Balkans may be often overlooked as a holiday destination but, if you are looking for an active holiday off the tourist radar, Bulgaria is a welcoming place that combines natural beauty and rich culture with warm hospitality and friendly locals. Head to the southwestern part of the country and you will find yourself surrounded by rugged peaks and deep valleys. The chain of Seven Rila glacial lakes (each is named according to its shape!) is the jewel of the Rila Mountains. Starting at 2,100m, the lakes are found at differing altitudes and appear like large footprints leading up the mountain. 

•    Bulgaria on foot guided walking tour
 

Transylvania, Romania 

Walkers enjoying the view in the mountains of Romania
 
Take the roads less travelled this summer and pedal back in time in one of Europe’s most underrated countries: Romania. Following quiet country roads to remote areas, over nine days this trip gets you off the beaten track to meet shepherds watching over their sheep herds, visit the country’s oldest flour mill powered by water (and with a fascinating history from the communism era!) and explore the ruins of the Cistercian monastery, where visitors often have the chance to meet the pastor and listen to his beautiful stories. The Saxons arrived here in the 11th century to guard the strategic passes and littered through the region are relics of a rich history, with medieval citadels, fortresses and fortified churches. 

•    Romania Cycle Explorer bike tour
 

Istria, Croatia

 
The beautiful town of Pula on the Istrian Peninsula, Croatia
 
Despite Croatia’s rising popularity, the lesser known Istria peninsula remains one of Europe’s best kept secrets. Discover beautiful hilltop medieval towns and lush green valleys as you immerse yourself in the history and culture of a region that has been inhabited since the 11th century BC.  The trip follows parts of the Parenzana Trail, walking through pristine forests and meadows, rolling vineyards and fragrant olive groves. Stops include Groznjan (the so-called ‘town of artists’), Hum (officially the smallest town in the world), as well as the cobblestone town of Motovun. The trip culminates with a hike to the summit of Mount Vojak, Istria’s highest peak, for sweeping views over the Bay of Trieste, the Julian Alps and the Adriatic islands.
 
 

 
Have you already found these hidden gems? What did you think? Or do you have your own secret destination that we should add to this list? Let us know in the comment section below.
 
  
 
 
Greece, Croatia, Spain, Bulgaria, Romania, Switzerland, Italy, Walking tours, Cycling tours, Hidden Gems of Europe, Secret Travel Destinations in Europe

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