The fastest-grow­ing va­ca­tion des­ti­na­tions in Europe

Tired of France and Italy? Ger­many and Spain too crowded? Here’s a list of off-the-beaten-path spots

Winnipeg Sun - - ENT-SHOWBIZ -

France, Spain, Italy, and the United King­dom may be among the world’s most fre­quented va­ca­tion hubs — with France tak­ing the global crown with a stag­ger­ing 86.9 mil­lion in­ter­na­tional tourist ar­rivals an­nu­ally — but these al­ready pop­u­lar places can only stand to grow so much year over year.

This leaves such lesser known des­ti­na­tions as the Repub­lic of Moldova to jump far­ther faster. Ac­cord­ing to new data from the UN World Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion, in 2017, for in­stance, French tourism grew by 5.1%; its land­locked com­peti­tor — nes­tled be­tween Ukraine and Ro­ma­nia — saw a visi­ta­tion spike of 19.6% when it wel­comed 145,000 vis­i­tors last year.

“When you’re talk­ing about these fast-grow­ing des­ti­na­tions in Europe, there’s of­ten a lack of name recog­ni­tion, com­pared to more pop­u­lar coun­tries,” says War­ren Chang, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer for be­spoke travel out­fit­ter Cox & Kings’ Amer­i­cas di­vi­sion. “But so many of these places have ro­bust his­to­ries and a re­ally un­der­stated ro­man­tic feel — plus di­ver­sity of cul­ture and beau­ti­ful na­ture.”

An­other ben­e­fit, he says, is ac­ces­si­bil­ity.

“Off-the-beaten-path travel is more com­fort­able in Europe, where English is more com­monly spo­ken, and while it might take time for a place like Moldova to de­velop as a stand­alone des­ti­na­tion, it’s easy for peo­ple to tack short ex­plo­rations of these coun­tries onto their ex­ist­ing itin­er­ar­ies,” Chang says.

For the well-trav­elled Europhile — and those whose def­i­ni­tions of Europe stretch be­yond Western Europe to in­clude, as UNWTO does, coun­tries in Cen­tral Asia and the Mid­dle East — these are the top 10 places to go next.

10.

Ar­me­nia (18.65% year-on-year growth) Among the des­ti­na­tions Chang ex­pects to surge in 2019 is Ar­me­nia. Among the out­fit­ters al­ready serv­ing the des­ti­na­tion are Aber­crom­bie & Kent, Ker & Downey, and TCS World Travel, who col­lec­tively tout his­tor­i­cal riches such as Mt. Ararat (where Noah’s Ark is said to have made land­fall), the charm­ing cap­i­tal of Yere­van, and — yes — its most fa­mous cul­tural de­scen­dants, the Kar­dashi­ans. On trips with Aber­crom­bie & Kent, guests also get in deep with lo­cal tra­di­tions: Vis­it­ing brandy dis­til­leries, meet­ing car­pet mak­ers, hear­ing spir­i­tual chants in an­cient monas­ter­ies, and learn­ing to make lavash (a type of lo­cal flat­bread) with an Ar­me­nian fam­ily.

9.

Bos­nia and Herze­gov­ina (18.66%)

As Croa­tia deals with ex­treme over-tourism (it notched a record 15 mil­lion ar­rivals last year), the re­main­ing Balkan lo­cales are emerg­ing as a fas­ci­nat­ing, crowd­free al­ter­na­tive. Bos­nia and Herze­gov­ina is lead­ing the pack, with its 16th cen­tury mosques, Ot­toman ar­chi­tec­ture, and vi­brant street art scene. Many trav­ellers take

day or week­end trips to scenic Mostar — a quick way to scratch the sur­face — but it’s also pos­si­ble to ded­i­cate a whole va­ca­tion to this his­tor­i­cally rich coun­try, in­clud­ing the di­verse cap­i­tal of Sara­jevo, the tow­er­ing wa­ter­falls at Krav­ica, and the moun­tain vil­lage of Lukomir, said to be the coun­try’s most iso­lated en­clave.

8.

The Repub­lic of Moldova (19.6%)

The sharp per­cent­age growth in tourism to Moldova re­flects what is, in re­al­ity, an in­cred­i­bly nascent tourism scene: This lit­tle repub­lic (pop­u­la­tion 2.5 mil­lion) has in re­cent years held the ti­tle of least-vis­ited des­ti­na­tion in Europe. But that’s chang­ing. Lux­ury group tour op­er­a­tor In­trepid Travel cites a cul­tural resur­gence — marked by a bur­geon­ing wine scene and un­spoiled nat­u­ral beauty — as the rea­son and has in­tro­duced new itin­er­ar­ies and more than dou­bled its book­ings to the coun­try this year, com­pared to last year.

7.

Azer­bai­jan (20%)

Yes, the World Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion places Azer­bai­jan in Cen­tral/east­ern Europe in its re­port. Now that that’s out of the way, here’s an­other sur­pris­ing fact: Book­ings with In­trepid Travel to visit Azer­bai­jan have in­creased by a full 322%. The Caspian Sea-fac­ing cap­i­tal, Baku, is a fas­ci­nat­ing hodge­podge of old and new. Its cob­bled Old Town streets are lined with mar­ket stalls and well-pre­served build­ings, while the Flame Tow­ers down­town are a mod­ern ar­chi­tec­tural marvel in the vein of the Burj Khal­ifa. Com­bine a visit to the cap­i­tal with some of Azer­bai­jan’s more re­mote de­lights, such as see­ing cop­per ar­ti­sans in Lahic or pet­ro­glyphs in Qo­bus­tan Na­tional Park.

6.

Mace­do­nia (23.5%)

Rid­ing the Balkan heat wave is Mace­do­nia, whose long­time claim to fame stems from home­town hero Alexan­der the Great. Like Moldova, its visi­ta­tion num­bers are ex­ceed­ingly small — it claimed just 631,000 ar­rivals in 2017 — mak­ing it one of the least-dis­cov­ered des­ti­na­tions in Europe. Few lux­ury out­fit­ters plan trips here, though Cox & Kings is an ex­cep­tion; on an itin­er­ary that com­bines Mace­do­nia with sev­eral of its neigh­bours, such as Croa­tia and Montenegro, the op­er­a­tor in­cludes places that in­clude the 10th cen­tury Byzan­tine church, Sveti Naum, set high on a cliff near Lake Ohrid.

5.

Ice­land (24.11%)

Haven’t been to Ice­land yet? What are you wait­ing for? The coun­try has been sky­rock­et­ing to the top of bucket lists for years and has mul­ti­plied its ar­rivals by 450% since 2010. That kind of red­hot growth shows no signs of slow­ing down as the coun­try ramps up its lux­ury in­fra­struc­ture with posh ho­tels and ex­clu­sive ex­pe­ri­ences. That’s mak­ing it a fo­cus for Black Tomato, says Tom Marchant, co-founder of the lux­ury travel out­fit. “We’re de­vel­op­ing new, once-in-al­ife­time pro­grams ev­ery­where from un­der­ground hot springs to vast high­land lakes and wa­ter­falls — think med­i­ta­tion in glacial caves, pri­vate hot spring spas, and heli-yoga atop a vol­cano.”

4.

Turkey (24.14%)

Po­lit­i­cal tur­moil, fol­lowed by fast and fu­ri­ous re­bounds, chased by eco­nomic woes have kept Turkey’s tourism in­dus­try on a roller-coaster. At the mo­ment, it’s boom­ing. “Turkey is In­trepid Travel’s fastest-grow­ing des­ti­na­tion to date in 2018,” said Jones. The com­pany is adding three new itin­er­ar­ies for 2019 to keep up with the de­mand: A win­ter-themed trip fo­cus­ing on iced lakes and snow-capped moun­tains, a culi­nary jour­ney, and a week-long “high­lights” tour for time-crunched trav­el­ers.

3.

Is­rael (24.6%)

It may be sur­pris­ing to see the World Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion cat­e­go­rize this Mid­dle East­ern coun­try as part of Europe, but any­one who’s eaten their way through Tel Aviv or Jerusalem will un­der­stand how well tiny Is­rael com­petes with its main­land con­ti­nen­tal ri­vals. The coun­try’s di­verse culi­nary tra­di­tions have be­come a big draw for In­trepid trav­ellers, but other com­pa­nies are putting the spot­light on Is­rael’s peren­nial ap­peal: Its re­li­gious and his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance. Aber­crom­bie & Kent’s lat­est small-group journeys fo­cus on the dra­matic land­scapes and an­cient towns that lit­er­ally bring the Bible to life.

2.

Ge­or­gia (27.9%)

You heard it here first: Ge­or­gia is next on the lips of se­ri­ous glo­be­trot­ters. To many in­dus­try in­sid­ers, in­clud­ing Marchant, this next-big-thing seemed to come out of nowhere. “As culi­nary ad­ven­tures be­come an in­creas­ingly preva­lent cat­a­lyst for travel, Ge­or­gia’s his­toric cui­sine is of­fer­ing the per­fect ex­cuse to visit this un­touched cor­ner of Europe,” he says. Add a batch of ul­tra-cool ho­tels, bars, and restau­rants in the cap­i­tal of Tbil­isi — take Stamba, a new De­sign Ho­tel prop­erty in an old pub­lish­ing house, with a sur­pris­ingly posh, Ori­ent Ex­press-in­spired casino — and you’ll see what all the fuss is about.

1.

San Marino (31.1%)

If you can’t pin­point the tiny repub­lic of San Marino on a map, you’re prob­a­bly not alone: The medieval mi­cro-state sits in north­ern Italy, on a clus­ter of moun­tain peaks that lead down to the Adri­atic city of Ri­mini. In 2017, San Marino claimed more than two vis­i­tors for each of its 33,000 res­i­dents. It’s not a lot, but for a mi­crostate that’s just 62 square km, it’s noth­ing to sneeze at, ei­ther.

De­spite UNWTO fig­ures, no com­pany points to San Marino as a par­tic­u­larly bur­geon­ing des­ti­na­tion. Aber­crom­bie & Kent, how­ever, said it fields rare re­quests here, wrap­ping to­gether vis­its to the three cas­tles that are mar­velously sit­u­ated on Monte Ti­tano. It’s es­pe­cially pop­u­lar with stamp and coin col­lec­tors, since the lo­cal ver­sions are rare and in high de­mand. Con­sider this an in­di­ca­tor of a slow-paced trip: Here, you’ll prob­a­bly spend your days — or, let’s be real, a day — look­ing at fres­coes in the 15th cen­tury Church of San Francesco or sur­vey­ing the land­scape from San Marino’s fu­nic­u­lar. Its main des­ti­na­tion? The postal mu­seum, of course.

KOSTAS TSIRONIS/BLOOMBERG

A vis­i­tor uses her smart­phone to take a photo at the Sul­tanah­met mosque in Is­tan­bul.

ALESSAN­DRA BENEDETTI/BLOOMBERG

The Sec­ond Tower, or Cesta, stands on the high­est point of Mount Ti­tano, in the mi­crostate of San Marino. No. 1

ARNALDUR HALLDORSSON/BLOOMBERG

The sky­line in Reyk­javik, Ice­land. No. 5

CAMERON HEWITT

Mostar’s Old Bridge, a 21st-cen­tury re­con­struc­tion of the 16th­cen­tury orig­i­nal, is tra­di­tion­ally con­sid­ered the point where East meets West in Bos­nia and Herze­gov­ina. No. 9

ANDREY RUDAKOV/BLOOMBERG

Ven­dors wait for cus­tomers at a pat­terned rug and car­pet store at the Vernissage open-air mar­ket in Yere­van, Ar­me­nia. No. 10

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