‘Not all those who wander are lost’: so said J.R.R. Tolkien in his masterpiece, The Lord of The Rings. Taking off-radar paths and ending up somewhere completely unexpected can truly capture your soul. And the beauty of Europe is the ease at which you can travel to these smaller or less-touristy areas. Whether you’re jumping on trains, taking the bus, driving, or hopping aboard an ever-expanding list of flights, here are some of the most spectacular hidden gems to add to your wanderlist in 2019.
1. The Deep Mani: Greece
Rural coastlines punctuated with coves, impossibly turquoise waters and quaint villages oozing home-baked cuisine and happy locals. Outer Mani’s green gorges and olive-speckled countryside may be dramatic (and that’s why they’re popular), but the Deep Mani is seriously otherworldly. From the mystical Diros Caves to ghost villages and hotels that look like castles and fortresses, you’ll feel a sweeping sense of time disorientation here.
Where to stay: The Guardian describe it as ‘a gorgeous place that pays full attention to local history and tradition, both in its buildings and food’. Renovated warehouse Kyrimai – with its glorious period features and deluxe amenities – certainly has the accolades to verify such a statement, winning the Historic Hotel Gourmet Award last year, as well as our ‘Best Historic Hotel by the Water’ award in 2013.
2. Kutna Hora, Czech Republic
Kutna Hora is still relatively off-radar to tourists, especially compared to nearby Prague. Wander its cobbled walkways, craning your neck at timewarp architecture (including the dazzling cathedral) and stopping for a refreshing Pilsner as you go. Most fascinating (and eerily macabre) of all sights here is the Sedlec Ossuary, otherwise known as the ‘Bone Church’. When a 13th-century burial site ran out of room, the local woodcarver created this breathtaking artistic shrine. Between 40,000 to 70,000 human skeletons have been used to create bone chandeliers, chalices, candelabras, pyramids, family crests and even what appears to be bone bunting.
Where to stay: In less than an hour and a half, you can be wrapped in the luxurious arms of Chateau Liblice. This 17th-century destination stay is worth travelling for… you’ll be sleeping in a castle, for a start. Rooms are a perfect blend of old-world charm and modern luxe, beautiful Bohemian cuisine is served in the award-winning restaurant and the spa facilities will swaddle you in ultimate relaxation.
3. The Loire Valley, France
Fresh air, fresh beds and festivals galore: take a dip into a French wonderland, without getting caught up in Paris-pacing crowds. Home to the loveliest chateaux in the country (and some of the crispest, ripest wines), the Loire is preternaturally radiant. This year you can join the valley in celebrating 500 years since its Renaissance, with all kinds of events celebrating the region’s thinkers, artists and discoveries.
Where to stay: You can’t move for chateaux in the Loire, but Chateau de l‘Epinay truly has the edge. A fine example of 13th-century architecture and garden design, it’s been modernly revamped with a luxurious spa and fresh, romantically styled bedrooms.
4. Bergen, Norway
FYI, Bergen’s landscape inspired the creators of Disney’s Frozen. But with a mere slice of the tourists you’ll find in any Disneyland, this colourful city on Norway’s west coast is perfect for a revivingly quiet break. Often eschewed for popular Oslo, this lesser-travelled destination is truly unique. It’s the city of seven mountains, which are easily reachable via funicular, and is wonderfully close to the heavenly land of the midnight sun. Eat, hike, ski, shop, cycle, camp, stroll, grin, gawp: it’s like stepping straight into the movie, but better.
Where to stay: Award-winning Solstand Hotel & Bad is just 30 km from downtown Bergen, dating back to 1896. Directly on the shore of Bjørnefjorden, there’s a silent splendour; a calm, nourishing energy, that fills the air here. It might be down to the life-giving spa experience, or it could be the sensational seasonal Nordic cuisine. Perhaps it’s the fresh fjord air gently blowing into the cosy bedrooms, or the private garden leading to a quay with boats you can take out. You’ll have to let us know.