Europe Off the Beaten Tourist Path: I have always been intrigued by travel off the beaten tourist path. Partly in jest, I always say the ideal solo travel destination is a place I can’t spell or pronounce. My most extreme example? In past years before it was “discovered” by Australians and New Zealanders, I vacationed in Rarotonga and Aitutaki. At that time, Aitutaki had only one bank, Bank of New Zealand, and no ATM. Not to worry: It was open one day in each month! If you missed it, you would have to catch it thirty days later. Not sure this was remote enough, I headed out for a day trip to an uninhabited atoll. I did have some concern when I saw the six seater plane. Worst yet? Each passenger had to be weighed before boarding so the plane could be balanced!
Why travel off the beaten path?
Besides the excitement of a new unknown destination, I had a practical reason to looking beyond the well-worn tourist path. Swapping out best-known locales for hidden gems is the best way to save. The reason? The reduced demand in less well-known spots means that prices are lower.
While much of Europe has been intensely explored, there are still places where you can save and savor your vacation. Here are a few of my favorites.
Slovenia is the northernmost country of the former Yugoslavia. While still a part of that political federation, it was a popular tourist destination of Europe. As far back as the 1890’s, nobility and crowned heads of Europe vacationed in the spa town of Bled. In the twentieth century, Tito, President of the country during the Soviet dominated Warsaw Pact years, also stayed there. After that ended in 1991, Tito’s elegant villa in Bled became a chic tourist hotel. Ironically, when I looked through my old travel photos, I found a shot of me sitting in front of a cafe named Bled! However, the cafe was actually located in Belgrade, Serbia not future Slovenia!
Here are some reasons to head to Slovenia:
It has the look of Switzerland at half the price!
There is something for everyone:
The capital Ljubljana has an Old Town with much of the charm of Saint Petersburg, Russia.
Fashionistas will be pleased to see that many local brands like high fashion shoes looked like Italian designers but again at a lower price.
In-country travel was easy. I took a public bus from the capital to Bled.
Bled was as promised. There was a well-preserved and authentic castle overlooking the town.
A quaint church sits in the middle of Lake Bled and is still one of the most photographed places in the world. The only problem? The frozen lake made it impossible to visit mid-winter.
Slovenia has budget-friendly downhill skiing in Kranjska Gora. As the site of past Olympic ski jumping competition, it also has a surrounding village with B&B’s.
Andorra is an enchanting small nation located between Spain and France in the Pyrenees. It is not a member of the European Union but culturally is very much at heart a part of Europe with French, Spanish and Catalan as the chief languages. I travelled there to ski in winter. Although less well-known that popular European ski resorts, it had a very cosmopolitan mix at a much lower price! In my Intermediate ski class, I quickly became friends with one of my Dutch classmates. After our daily class and lunch (with a little wine thrown in), we spent the afternoon on practice runs. The quality of the snow was some of the finest I have seen from the US West to New Zealand and Argentina.
In the summer, Andorra is ideal for hiking. It is easy to get there via Spain. I highly recommend combining an outdoor, active sports trip with a cultural visit to Barcelona. The region’s climate was much like southern California. In Feb., you could easily stroll through palm tree lined streets one day and be on snow-covered slopes the next day.
When I visited Montenegro, like Slovenia, it was part of Yugoslavia. At that time, it was still way off the beaten path. Most of the fellow tourists were German-speaking. Having been an exchange student in Germany, I found this was the best common language to communicate although I did have a number of funny miscommunications. The seaside settings on the Dalmatian Coast had imposing mountain peaks lining the coast. It had an easy-going, informal atmosphere. Typically, one day a stranger sped by in a power boat shouting: “You waterski? I teach you how!” Without any safety tips, signing of waivers or information on my new instructor’s training, I was on my way speeding past a small island with no idea where or when my lesson would end!
My next (mis)adventure was when I hired a small boat to drop me off for a few hours at a largely undeveloped island. While I lounged on an empty beach, I was puzzled why there was no one else around. Shortly after that, I looked behind me. To my surprise, there large sign with a skull and crossbones, the international danger symbol. Apparently, I had unknowingly picked a beach spot in a hazardous waste dump!
Moving on beyond, the former Yugoslavia:
Central and Eastern Europe still offer some of the best values and uncrowded holidays in Europe. My last trip to Europe was a return to Prague and two weeks out in the Czech countryside. Less well-known to tourists, the bordering country of Slovakia has much to be seen. History of Slovakia – slovakia.com After recovering from World War II and years of Soviet domination, in 1993, the two new nations of the Czech Republic and Slovakia emerged. Not surprisingly, both have much in common as to terrain, still standing historic monuments and Old World Castles. Here’s a quick checklist from multiple sights to see:
Active sports enthusiasts and historians will need to make a trek through Spis Castle, Central Europe’s largest castle fortress.
You can’t miss the Bojnice Castle with a zoo next door featuring more than 350 animals.
Relax at the Spa Sklené Teplice.
For foodies and wine lovers, you can savor an all day wine tasting at the Modra Wine Cellars Day.
For an adventure, you can prowl through the Dobšinská Ice Cave.