Undiscovered European summer destinations

 May 19, 2015

The Amalfi Coast? Too crowded. The French Riviera? Passé. This summer, discover a different side to Europe. From swimming in forest-fringed lakes under the midnight sun to seafood feasts on barely-populated islands, here is our pick of where to head this summer.

Undiscovered destinations Hero

Shooting the rapids in Bosnia and Herzegovina
While Croatia's coastline has become a magnet for beach lovers, the neighbouring country of Bosnia and Herzegovina remains an underrated gem. Its soaring peaks, verdant countryside and snow-fed rivers make it a great place to go hiking or rafting. From picturesque villages such as Blagaj, perched dramatically beside a cascading river, to the semi-circular Kravice Falls, there is plenty to see. Don't leave the lovely but heartbreaking city of Sarajevo off the itinerary. Exploring its rich yet tragic history, and varied architecture with Art Nouveau buildings nestled beside ancient mosques, will be a highlight of your stay.

Power and glory in Malta
With tranquil beaches, isolated coves and a balmy Mediterranean climate, Malta and its sister island, Gozo, score highly as a summer escape. What lifts them above the competition, however, is their extraordinary history. Thanks to their strategic location in the Mediterranean, these rocky outcrops have been ruled by everyone from Romans, Arabs and crusader monks to the mighty British Empire. Each occupier left a legacy behind, from prehistoric temples to underground catacombs. The elegant 17th century capital, Valletta, is packed with sights, including the baroque cathedral and some of Caravaggio's most striking canvases.

Midnight sunning in Finland
When summer finally comes to Finland, it comes with a vengeance. For weeks on end the sun barely sets, turning summer holidays into an endless party. The best place to celebrate is in the exquisite Lakeland district, a landscape studded with thousands of lakes sheltered by dense forests of birch and pine. The Finns like to keep it simple – plenty of swimming, sauna and al fresco dinners – but visitors will want to explore Lakeland's lovely cities. Ones to add to your list include Savonlinna with its opera festival, Hämeenlinna with its twin castles and post-industrial Tampere, buzzing with cafes, galleries and boutiques.

Shore things in Poland
The old merchants of Gdańsk certainly knew a thing or two about conspicuous consumption. They erected such ornate houses – painted in rich greens and purples and crimsons, riotously decorated with frescoes and carvings – that even today, thoroughfares such as Long Street have few rivals anywhere in Europe. Apparently they also liked to cool down on hot summer days, which may explain the string of beach resorts stretching from Gdańsk along the Baltic coast. Glitzy Sopot, just a 10-minute train ride away, is followed by Gdynia and, most lovely of all, the wonderfully misnamed Hel. Spend the afternoon at the beach before heading back for dinner in town, or vice versa.

Hiking and history on Crete
There is more to the Greek islands than picture-postcard Santorini and party-central Mykonos. The country's largest island, Crete, is also its most diverse. Wander the labyrinthine lanes in the ancient towns of Hania and Rethymno, where Turkish bathhouses rub shoulders with Orthodox monasteries, or travel back in time at the Palace of Knossos, a relic of the Minoans, Europe's oldest advanced civilisation. If you are feeling active, there are plenty of hikes to choose from. The most famous, traversing the 16km Samariá Gorge, takes you past forests, rivers and abandoned villages. And if somehow you do run out of things to do, you can always laze the day away on one of Crete's beautiful beaches.

Feasting on seafood on Scotland's west coast
Mist creeping over the highlands, log fires and a warming glass of whisky: that's the typical image of a Scottish holiday. However, there's a very different side to Scotland. On the lovely west coast, pond-like peninsulas and quiet islands are lapped by tranquil waters teeming with seafood. Hop on one of the frequent ferries visit the Isle of Skye, home to the lovely Armadale Castle Gardens; the island of Iona, with its sixth century abbey; or Jura, which has just one road. Every meal is another chance to feast on local oysters, scallops and fish, followed by a dram of local whisky: the Island of Islay alone has eight distilleries.

 Know before you go

Taking the road less travelled? Here are some things to bear in mind.

  • Fewer tourists generally means fewer businesses that accept credit cards. Pack a small amount of local currency to use when you arrive, remembering that not every country uses the euro: the Polish currency, for instance, is the zloty.
  • The further off the beaten track you go, the fewer people will speak English. You should be fine in hotels and restaurants, but pharmacies can be tricky, so take the basics with you.
  • Never leave home without travel insurance. Check your policy covers all activities you have planned, such as scuba diving or whitewater rafting. Remember to keep both your policy number and the emergency hotline number handy.

 

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