Europe has been a popular destination for as long as tourism has existed – the travel industry arguably started here! So to say many of its streets are well-trodden is an understatement. If you’ve had your fill of popular European destinations like Rome, Paris & London and you’re on the hunt for some offbeat European attractions, here’s a bucket list of lesser-known destinations you must make it a point to visit in 2015.
Poland’s roots go back to the turn of the first millennium, leaving a thousand years of twists and turns and kings and castles to explore. History buffs of the WWII vintage are well served. The former royal capital of Krakow is a living lab of architecture over the ages. Its nearly perfectly preserved Gothic core proudly wears overlays of Renaissance, Baroque and Art Nouveau, a record of tastes that evolved over the centuries. Fabulous medieval castles and evocative ruins dot hilltops elsewhere in the country, and the fantastic red-brick fortresses of the Teutonic Knights stand proudly in the north along the Vistula. At the other extreme, simple but finely crafted wooden churches hide amid the Carpathian hills, and the ample skills of the country’s highlanders are on display at the region’s many skansens (open-air ethnographic museums).
If you’re partial to good home cooking, you’ve come to the right place. Polish food is based largely on local ingredients like pork, cabbage, mushroom, beetroot and onion, combined simply and honed to perfection. Regional specialities like duck, goose, herring and even bison keep things from getting dull. As for sweets, it’s hard to imagine a more accommodating destination. Cream cakes, apple strudel, pancakes, fruit-filled dumplings and a special national mania for lody (ice cream) may have you skipping the main course and jumping straight to the main event.
Away from the big cities, much of Poland feels remote and unspoiled. While large swathes of the country are flat, the southern border is lined with a chain of low-lying but lovely mountains that invite days if not weeks of splendid solitude. Well-marked hiking paths crisscross the country, taking you through dense forest, along broad rivers and through mountain passes. Much of the northeast is covered by interlinked lakes and waterways that are ideal for kayaking and canoeing – no experience necessary. Local outfitters are happy to set you up for a couple of hours or weeks.
Slovenia offers pristine landscape in the middle of Europe, with soaring vistas of Alpine peaks, hills and valleys straight out of a 19th-century landscape painting, and sparkling lakes and rivers that appear to be underlit by emeralds. Slovenians are well-attuned to natural beauty, and the inclination is nearly always to protect and preserve it. Where man intrudes, it’s often to good effect, such as at Lake Bled, where a tiny baroque chapel atop Bled Island and a dramatic cliffside castle complete a harmonious whole. You may well return from your holiday thinking Slovenia is the prettiest country you've ever seen.
Slovenian cooking borrows a little from each of its neighbours – Italy, Austria, Hungary and the Balkans – synthesizing and reinventing dishes that emerge both familiar and unique. The ‘Slovenian’ touch, as it were, might well be a local obsession for using only fresh and (where possible) locally sourced ingredients. The result is a terrific foodie destination, where you’ll sample dishes in unusual combinations featuring items like buckwheat groats or mashed beans you may not be familiar with. Slovenian wine, both white or red, is an unheralded strength, and it pairs well with local specialities.
Slovenia is an outdoor destination. Of course, there are great museums and historic churches here too, but the locals seem to favour active holidays, and you’ll be invited – even expected – to join in. The most popular pursuits remain mountain walks and hikes, though increasingly Slovenians are discovering cycling (especially in the capital, Ljubljana). Fast rivers like the Soca are ideal for rafting and there are ample chances to try out more adventure activities like horseback riding, ballooning, caving and diving. If all this sounds a bit much, you can always escape to the coast and sunbathe on the Adriatic.
For a country that’s only been around since 1993, the Czech Republic does a fine job of showcasing an exciting history. Here the past becomes real. Castles and chateaux abound, illuminating the stories of powerful families and individuals whose influence was felt well beyond the nation’s current borders. Unravel the history of Bohemia and Moravia, the two ancient lands that now make up the modern Czech Republic and you’re unearthing the history of Europe itself. And when you’ve had your fill of the past, return to Prague, one of the world’s most beautiful, cultured and the most exciting cities with a dynamic music and arts scene.
Europe beckons everyone with its wealth of sights. One significant feature of this magnificent continent is that it doesn’t disappoint anyone. You may be a history fanatic or you may want to explore various art forms or you may be a crazy nature lover; with Europe’s thrilling history that dates back thousand years, its amazing heritage of art and the backdrop of stunning scenic beauty, every tourist gets his money’s worth. Whether it's walking along charming streets, sailing through rivers, cycling around idyllic islands or exploring royal palaces, you'll undoubtedly be left with a multitude of picturesque memories from this once in a lifetime experience of travelling to Europe. So get on with planning your offbeat European retreat for the summer of 2015.
Team Veena World