Ex­plore Europe be­yond the tried and tested with five undis­cov­ered cities that are un­touched by tourist hordes


For those plan­ning a hol­i­day in style, Europe of­fers a va­ri­ety of op­tions for wine-lovers, culi­nary en­thu­si­asts, art-lovers or any­one seek­ing to im­merse them­selves in lo­cal cul­ture. Ex­plore pic­turesque towns, ap­pre­ci­ate the splen­dour of the moun­tains, na­tional parks and nat­u­ral beauty or mar­vel at the most im­pres­sive cities on the Con­ti­nent. For 2019, travel be­yond the gate­way cities and dis­cover some of Europe’s hid­den gems. Here’s a pick of five new Euro­pean dis­cov­er­ies that will en­sure your hol­i­day is im­bued with fas­ci­nat­ing ex­pe­ri­ences.

Ti­rana, Al­ba­nia

Lo­cated along the Balkan Penin­sula, Al­ba­nia sits on top of a moun­tain­ous val­ley and of­fers a lit­tle some­thing for those who love his­tory, food, and ad­ven­ture. De­spite be­ing small in size, this for­mer com­mu­nist coun­try has a lot to of­fer. Since the fall of com­mu­nism in the early 1990s, Al­ba­nia re­tains a unique per­son­al­ity with di­verse relics that re­main from its Ot­toman, Ital­ian and com­mu­nist past.

Lo­cals proudly de­scribe its cap­i­tal city Ti­rana as a mod­ern me­trop­o­lis, where the past and mod­ern-day ar­chi­tec­ture presents an eclec­tic blend of cul­ture and his­tory. Cafes, restau­rants, lively squares and friendly peo­ple abound through­out this colour­ful city. With East­ern Europe and the Balkans ris­ing in pop­u­lar­ity, this East­ern dis­cov­ery ad­ven­ture is per­fect to ex­plore the past and savour the present.

Get a lo­cal ex­pert to take you on a walk­ing tour, ad­mire the city’s brightly painted build­ings, hear the sto­ries of its peo­ple and see some of the city’s main at­trac­tions.

Must-Try Mul­lix­hiu in Ti­rana is per­fect for tra­di­tional Al­ba­nian cui­sine. The chef pre­pares sea­son­ally in­spired small plates that are great for shar­ing, and use or­ganic Al­ba­nian prod­ucts, fresh meat and wild fish pre­pared on site ev­ery day, and paired with fab­u­lous in­gre­di­ents; Cost Eight-course Meta­mor­pho­sis Menu €15; Laz­gush Po­radeci Street, Ar­ti­fi­cial Lake, Ti­rana,

Ivalo, Fin­land

Ivalo is a vil­lage in La­p­land, a win­ter me­trop­o­lis lo­cated in the north­ern­most re­gion of Fin­land. This win­ter won­der­land is per­fect for fam­i­lies with lots of ac­tiv­i­ties—from ski­ing to dog sled­ding to tak­ing a rein­deer-pulled sleigh ride. Take in the breath­tak­ing scenery of Ivalo river and views of the North­ern Lights with the strik­ing moun­tain Kor­vatun­turi, the leg­endary home of Santa Claus. Ex­pe­ri­ence authen­tic La­p­land un­der the Au­ro­ras with a fan­tas­tic view of the North­ern Lights from the com­fort of your bed when you stay at the Aurora Vil­lage in Ivalo. Aurora Vil­lage rooms have glass ceil­ings to view the North­ern Lights and hence, tend to sell out re­ally fast. So book early in the year if you want as­sured reser­va­tions.

Cost €500 per night;­ro­rav­il­

Ko­tor, Mon­tene­gro

A gas­tro­nomic ad­ven­ture awaits you in Mon­tene­gro with cui­sine that show­cases the flavours of Italy, Tur­key, Hun­gary and Croa­tia. Tra­di­tional Mon­tene­grin dishes in­clude stews, soups and wood-fired meats, ac­com­pa­nied by fine lo­cal wines and do­mes­tic beers.

The Bay of Ko­tor is Europe’s south­ern­most fjord and the largest nat­u­ral har­bour in the east­ern Mediter­ranean. Its deep wa­ter ma­rina has a large ca­pac­ity for su­per yachts, as is the per­fect nau­ti­cal play­ground where vis­i­tors can ex­plore the beaches and bays, stylish restau­rants and in­ter­na­tional bou­tiques. The UNESCO-listed Old Town of Ko­tor is an open-air mu­seum dat­ing back 2000 years ago. Vis­i­tors will be re­warded with a trea­sure trove of me­dieval mon­u­ments and ar­chi­tec­ture.

Must Try For amaz­ing seafood and im­pres­sive views of Ko­tor town and the bay, con­sider Galion, which spe­cialises in con­tem­po­rary Mediter­ranean seafood. Lo­cated on the water­front, the restau­rant of­fers a ro­man­tic set­ting with the ma­rina view; Su­ranj bb, Ko­tor Mu­nic­i­pal­ity 85330, Mon­tene­gro.

Cost €40 (ap­prox.)

Mat­era, Italy

Des­ig­nated Euro­pean Cap­i­tal of Cul­ture for 2019 by the EU, this an­cient town, the "Sassi di Mat­era" is lo­cated in South­ern Italy; its his­tor­i­cal cen­tre is fa­mous for its cave dwellings and rock churches. Nes­tled in a small canyon, Mat­era be­longs to the prov­ince of Basil­i­cata, be­lieved to be the third-long­est con­tin­u­ously in­hab­ited hu­man set­tle­ment in the world.

The unique an­cient ar­chi­tec­ture of Mat­era has drawn film and TV crews from all around the world to use as the back­drop of bib­li­cal scenes in epic movies like The Pas­sion of the Christ and Ben-Hur.

Must Try For a unique ex­pe­ri­ence, visit Panecotto, a bistro built in­side a cave. One can find lo­cal del­i­ca­cies like its name­sake—a lo­cal spe­cialty, or Cialledda (diced bread served with fresh tomato salad); Vico Bruno Buozzi 10 75100 Mater.

Cost €18

Ober­am­mer­gau, Ger­many

A stone's throw from Mu­nich, Ober­am­mer­gau has been the home of the Pas­sion play since 1634. This charm­ing town is lo­cated in the Bavar­ian Alps that tower over its beau­ti­fully painted houses. The build­ings in Ober­am­mer­gau fea­ture amaz­ing façade paint­ings, many that de­pict Bib­li­cal scenes. An­other draw is the skills of the lo­cal wood­carvers who cre­ate amaz­ing de­signs and col­lectible pieces us­ing a block of wood.

The Pas­sion play started as a prom­ise from the vil­lagers who pledged to per­form the play if God spared the town from the bubonic plague that had claimed many lives. The tra­di­tion has since con­tin­ued over 400 years.

The 2020 per­for­mance which will last for over five hours will run from May through Oc­to­ber and will be per­formed five days a week in an open-air theatre.

Must Try For a great din­ing op­tion, try Husar, which listed in the Miche­lin Guide 2018, known for their ex­cel­lent ser­vice, sea­sonal dishes and an im­pres­sive wine list. The restau­rant’s beau­ti­fully painted fresco façade is an­other plus. Fürsten­str. 25, 82467 Garmisch-Partenkirche. Cost from €32 to €75 Note: Get­ting to some of these towns can prove chal­leng­ing as pub­lic trans­porta­tion may re­quire a com­bi­na­tion of dif­fer­ent buses and trains. Driv­ing can also be te­dious since some of the roads are steep and nar­row, and can get com­pli­cated with non-English road signs. In­stead, con­sider a well-planned itin­er­ary by tour spe­cial­ists in­stead.

DANC­ING LIGHTS Ivalo in Fin­land has spec­tac­u­lar views of the North­ern Lights

UNDIS­COV­ERED Ko­tor (right) is a gas­tro­nom­i­cal par­adise; Mat­era (right below) is fa­mous for its rock churches

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