8 under-the-radar European destinations

Summer is here (sort of) and so begins the pretty predictable exodus to the popular parts of Europe, from the Spanish Costas and cypress tree-dotted hills of Tuscany to the beaches of the South of France. These places are popular for a very good reason, but for anyone seeking even a smidgeon of originality (or who left that Cote D’Azur villa booking too late), fear not – Europe is awash with quirky corners that might not yet have appeared on your radar but which work a treat for a summer sojourn.

Puglia, Italy

OK, so it’s a little bit on the radar now, but there are cute little trulli (dry stone walled – and roofed – miniature houses) and restored masseria (fortified farmhouses) opening up all the time, and if you’re happy to be a bit inland some of them are also extremely good value. Meanwhile, Puglian food might just be the best in Italy, which is saying something.


Gozo, Malta

Malta’s little sister has a nice range of accommodation, from spa resorts to 5* hotels and even private houses to rent, and while there’s an absence of sandy beaches, exploring the coastline and coves on your own boat charter is a magical way to explore the island where – legend has it – sea-nymph Calypso trapped Odysseus. On the subject of sea nymphs, Gozo is famous for having possibly the best diving in the whole Mediterranean.


Basque Country, Spain

Everyone knows about the cities of San Sebastian and Bilbao, famed for their foodie and contemporary art scenes, but the rest of the Basque Country is equally alluring thanks to lovely beaches (many with excellent surf breaks) and some of the most unspoilt and beautiful countryside anywhere in Europe. Walk from charming hotel to charming hotel through lush mountain pastures, all the while sampling the food that the region is rightly famed for.


Istria, Croatia

On the subject of food, Istria has – by far – Croatia’s finest cuisine, thanks in no small part to its geographic and cultural proximity to Italy, and coastal waters that produce some of the finest seafood in the Mediterranean. There’s also a winning combination of rolling countryside that often looks identical to that in Tuscany, complete with hill towns and truffle-filled forests, and a coastline every bit as pretty as that of Dalmatia to the south.


West Coast, Sweden

A pretty coastline and sumptuous seafood are two things Istria shares in common with the beautiful archipelago stretching along the West Coast of Sweden to the north of second city Gothenburg. Add in that city’s hip and elegant resurgence and a series of quirky hotels (one floating in a secluded bay) along the coast and this is perfect road trip and family holiday territory.


Transylvania, Romania

True timewarp travel, this one, with much of Transylvania seemingly unchanged for centuries thanks to well-preserved medieval villages, the widespread use of horse and carts as the main mode of transport and stunningly beautiful forests and mountain ranges populated with bears, wolves and lynx. There are hugely charismatic places to stay (including a lodge owned by our very own Prince Charles) and history and heritage enough for the most voracious culture vulture to gnaw on.


The Lofoten Islands, Norway

Norway’s fjords are dramatic enough, but where these mighty waterways indent into Norway’s west coast, the Lofoten Islands stretch like jagged dragon’s teeth out into the Norwegian Sea. Spend a week driving along the dramatic coastal road connecting the islands via bridges and enjoy excellent seafood (again), breath-taking walking country, the chance to sea kayak  beneath vast mountain ranges and – the icing on a very quirky cake – stay in rorbuers: cleverly converted fishermen’s huts that line the quaysides in some of the pretty fishing villages no route.


The Peloponnese, Greece

The Greek Islands are a nailed on classic summer destination, but the mainland is often forgotten. In our humble opinion that’s a great shame, and one area in particular – the Peloponnese – is a perfect destination for families and couples alike. The three-pronged peninsula is home to beautiful beaches, all the cultural curiosities and awe-inspiring antiquity you’d expect from Greece, stunning and truly wild landscapes in the interior and a clutch of the finest chic boutique hotels anywhere in Europe.


Tom Barber is Co-Founder of Original Travel.

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Comments (13)


    Puglia is on my to-do list! I have friends who regularly holiday there – its their favourite place to visit. Lots of lovely vegetarian food.

  2. Richard Eldred Hawes says:

    Some of the best places to visit are those not on the main tourist routes. They are less crowded and not as commercialised

  3. Carrie Anderson says:

    Definitely recommend Basque Country – the pinxtos alone are worth a trip to San Sebastian and Bilbao

  4. Maya Russell says:

    Some fabulous destinations. I’d love to go to Croatia and Romania – places not really on the tourist trail.

  5. amy fidler says:

    some of these destinations look like their begging to be dscovered,ive found a few places like this on my travels around portugal x

  6. Maria says:

    You have smartly gathered all the great destinations to travel in summers. Me thinks Sweden and Norway are a must see countries to enjoy cool weather in summers.

  7. Mark says:

    Puglia is kind of funny as it can be spelled two different way and both seem to be considered correct as you can look it up by spelling it Apuglia as well. However it is a great place to visit for a relaxing place in Italy. It doesn’t seem to be crowded yet and doesn’t have the major sightseeing sites that many other regions have to draw in people. Lots of interesting little cove beaches along the coast.

  8. Craig says:

    The Rodopi, Pirin & Rila Mountains in Bulgaria are well worth checking out.

    Try Kavarma (assuming ok with religious beliefs), which is a pork stew from the southern Rodoppes of Bulgaria. I had one in the small town of Devin, and it was amazing.

  9. Dave Pope says:

    Great article but I think even some of these are already being discovered. Maybe look at Serbia, Albania and perhaps Iran?

  10. Aynne Paganini Malmborg says:

    Just returned from touring Puglia–completely amazing and delicious! Great culture and no crowds. Food and prices were the best I’ve experienced in Italy. I’ll be back!

  11. Gail says:

    Hi.. just be aware that the blue window (arch) shown in the pic of Gozo does not exist anymore. It fell in. Just didn’t’want anyone to be disappointed.

  12. Great post! We are heading to Europe this summer and many of these places – Sweden, Greece, Spain – were on our short list. However we are heading to Germany so these will stay on our bucket list. Thank you for sharing all this great info. Happy travels.

  13. Sue says:

    It’s 4 years since you put together this list and I’m not so sure that all of these 8 destinations are still under the radar. Both Puglia and Istria have been trending.

    I know a number of people, myself included who have been to Gozo, but for most of us it has just been for a day-trip on the ferry from Malta. It’s definitely got its charms and I’d love to visit for longer.

    What are the under the radar destinations for 2020?

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