With more and more people flocking to popular European destinations each year, the well-trodden tourist trail is getting trampled. There’s no replacing the Eiffel Tower or the canals of Venice, so a trip to see these legendary landmarks is still a must. But, if you want to sprinkle some lesser-known, and less crowded, stops onto your itinerary, we have a few suggestions that take you down the road less travelled and offer an authentic look at local life.
1. Le Mans, France
Located a couple hours west of Paris, Le Mans is the place to go if you have a need for speed since its claim to fame is the annual Circuit des 24 Heures du Mans (“24 hour Circuit of Le Mans”). Hosted here since 1923, this gruelling competition is the oldest active endurance car race and is one of the most prestigious races in the world.
Obviously, visiting the otherwise relaxed city during the Circuit isn’t the greatest way to escape the crowds. But stop by any other time of the year, and you’ll be greeted by a quiet mid-sized city perfectly poised between the French interior and the sea. Known as the “City of Art and History”, a stroll through the cobble-stoned old town will reveal that beneath its racing fame lies a wealth of culture waiting to be discovered. Its Plantagenet Old City is completely surrounded by a 1300 metre Roman wall, fortified with 12 towers, one of the best preserved of its kind in France, and Le Mans also boasts a beautiful Gothic-style Cathedral and numerous museums.
Just outside the city centre, is the luxurious Le Chateau D-Eporcé. This elegant 17thcentury mansion is nestled in the tranquil Sarthois countryside, offering a tranquil retreat filled with the natural beauty endemic to this region of France. You can join Trafalgar on an exclusive Be My Guest experience to dine with the chateau’s owners, Remy and Lydia de Scitvaux on our Treasures of France including Normandy trip.
2. Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, Scotland
It might not be Loch Ness, but the three lochs near the town of Aberfoyle are filled with a natural mystique worthy of their own folktale. Just under an hour from Glasgow, one of the highlights of this area of Scotland is the sprawling Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, the perfect place to see the “wee bit hill and glen” of Scotland. This is the Scottish countryside at its finest, and the flora and fauna of this region will not disappoint. Within the 1,865 km2that make up the national park, you’ll find forests, woodland areas and dozens of lochs and rivers speckling the emerald landscape with hints of blue.
One of the most picturesque areas of the park is the Great Forest of Loch Ard with kilometre after kilometre of forest trails teaming with wildlife like roe deer, capercaillie and woodland birds. It’s here, at the edge of the loch, that you can visit the Wood family at their Ledard Farm as part of a Be My Guest experience on our Highland Trail trip inspired by the popular Outlander series. You’ll receive a bagpipe welcome before touring the farm and dining in the barn where famed outlaw Rob Roy came of age. Father and son duo, Fergus and Gregor, will tell you the “Story of Scotland” through a rousing mix of stories, Ceilidh songs and Robert Burns poetry, with just a splash of whisky to help you soak it all up.
3. Alentejo, Portugal
North of Algarve and south of Lisbon, the Alentejo region of Portugal is often overlooked. Its rolling hills are reminiscent of Tuscany and the white-washed houses seem plucked off a Greek Island, but Alentejo has a spirit that is 100% Portuguese. And, while most sun-worshippers flock to the shores of the Mediterranean for the ultimate summer holiday, beach-goers should be heading to the Alentejo’s Atlantic coast to experience some of the most spectacular beaches Europe has to offer.
One of the highlights of the region is the capital city of Évora. It’s known for its impressive collection of Roman ruins, but despite its ancient heritage, this university city has a lively and modern vibe that makes it the perfect base for exploring the area. One if its most interesting attractions is the eerily but aptly named Chapel of Bones. In the 16thcentury, when the 43 local cemeteries were deemed to be taking up valuable land, the remains of the deceased were moved to the chapel. However, as a visual reminder of the finite nature of the material world, the bones were set on display by the local monks tasked with the chapel’s construction.
If you want to journey even further off the grid and sample a taste of rural Portuguese life (and some delectable homemade Portuguese cuisine) join our Be My Guest hosts Tiago and Vera on their 18thcentury stud farm. The farm was originally commissioned by the royal family in 1778, and Tiago and Vera will tell you the story of an ancestor that fell in love with the Queen of Portugal in a tragic tale of unrequited love. Explore Évora and the Alentejo countryside on our Best of Portugal trip.
4. Humac, Croatia
In the past few years, Croatia has solidified its place among the top countries to visit in Europe. Pristine coastlines, remarkable architecture and a burgeoning culinary scene are just a few reasons tourists are flocking to this western Baltic republic. Unfortunately, that means that many of its most-beloved destinations are becoming overcrowded and losing their authentic charm. Nevertheless, there are still many hidden gems waiting to be discovered in this jewel of the Adriatic.
Shining as one of the brightest holiday hot spots in Croatia is the tiny island of Hvar. With an enchanting old town overlooked by a hilltop fortress and idyllic coves and beaches, travellers from around the world have fallen in love with this sun-drenched islet. But it’s when you head inland from the crowded coastline, that you discover the true charm of Hvar. The hilly green land is streaked with fields of lavender and peppered with quaint medieval hamlets. One of which is the peaceful village of Humac.
Just 7km from the beach town of Jesla, this former pastoral village dates back to the 17thcentury. It offers panoramic views of the island and is filled with small stone houses lining its narrow streets. Enjoy a few hours of peaceful village life on a Be My Guest experience during our Highlights of Austria, Slovenia and Croatia trip. You’ll delight in a farm-to-table lunch prepared in the traditional way cooked under a clay peka bell but with special technique invented by owner Jakov some 32 years ago.
5. Oviedo, Spain
A short ride inland from Spain’s Atlantic coast is the Asturian capital of Oviedo. This city is probably not on your travel radar, but it definitely should be. Elegant and enchanting, Oviedo features an impressive old town, boutiques, cafes, galleries and museums. Famed director Woody Allen visited the city several times and was instantly smitten, even using it as one of the sets for “Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona.”
“Oviedo is a delicious, exotic, beautiful, clean, pleasant, tranquil and pedestrianised city,” he once said. “It is as if it didn’t belong to this world. Oviedo is like a fairy tale.”
While wine may be synonymous with Spain in the minds of many, in this part of the country, cider is the drink of choice. So in the spirit of assimilation, we’ll take you to try traditional Asturian cider at the Castañón Cider Mill as part of our trip to Northern Spain. Founded in 1938, you’ll meet the current generation of Castañón’s running this family-owned business for a tour of the mill and cider-tasting experience. But, don’t try too many, because you’ll need a steady hand to master the traditional pouring technique.
For more trips that show you the fascinating destinations that lie beyond the boundaries of the typical tourist experience, check out our full list of European holidays.