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Alternative Destinations By Valentina Valentini

About Awesome Travel Stuff

Instead of go-to bucket-list destinations, try these alternative locales for a more relaxed and more sustainable vacation in Europe.

Europe, in general, is top of many travellers’ lists for good reason. It offers such a varying degree of vacation options from sea and sand to mountains and skiing, from foodie havens and cutting-edge brewing technology to Old World wineries and classic distilleries. But there is so much more to the continent than Barcelona and Venice, Paris, and Amsterdam. Every country offers a vast array of alternative destinations to the more well-travelled hotspots.

Ever since HBO’s Game of Thrones popularized the ancient and other-worldly beauty of Croatia’s coastal cities, Zadar and Split, people have flocked there; but, the country’s northwestern peninsula of Istria is just as rich in culture and offerings with both rural landscapes and crystal clear-watered shorelines. Though it’s off the beaten path of the beloved Croatian adventures that travellers have grown to cherish, it has some of the world’s best olive oil, wine, and, of course, truffles. Zigante Truffle Days is a festival that takes place over 10 weeks in autumn and includes events and live music, as well as goods from local producers showcasing their gastronomic products.

In Scotland, Edinburgh has become a must-see stop on many U.K. trips, and though it is a small country, the Highlands are often overlooked, which is a shame because in Cairngorms National Park, there is one of the darkest skies in Europe. The Belmond Royal Scotsman – a luxury sleeper train – offers bespoke excursions that take guests into the wilds of Scotland. Explore the dense forest and the Dark Skies Park with a certified astrologer, complete with a late-night picnic.

Though Amsterdam is notorious for its lax laws and indulgent opportunities for tourists, right next door is Haarlem. Once significant in the medieval North Sea trading routes, its character lives on today with cobblestone streets and gabled houses. Canals and cafés abound, like in Amsterdam, but it’s a bit sleepier overall – but not when it comes to flower-bulb-growing districts and its outlying tulip fields, chock-full of colourful flowers.

Venice will always be in the hearts and minds of travellers, whether you’ve been there or not yet. Due to various factors, including rising seas, it’s a difficult place to visit as of late; but Italy has so many options in its south. And if you’re not sure of where to make your stops, Globus offers the Hidden Treasures of Southern Italy tour that journeys through lesser-known, but still essential, treasures in art, architecture, and history. Starting in Naples, the tour heads to Lecce and back inland on the heel of the boot to Castellana Grotte.

In Greece, though Santorini and Mykonos are always worth the trip, there are many more islands you could visit. Tinos is a ripe option as its food and hospitality scene are beginning to see a bit of a renaissance. Tinos Food Paths has been running for the past five years in early May and picks one of the five dozen villages, and their traditional food practices, on the island to showcase. If you can’t possibly choose from the 200 islands, look for tours that will have you hopping from one to the other.