There are all the major cities you’ve heard about, of course. The big ticket items that must be ticked off, the bucket list monsters that you’re beyond excited to visit. Berlin, Paris, Rome are well up there but I’m all about expanding your horizon and getting you off the beaten track. And damn, people, it’s time to get these to the front of your Europe list! Magic. Jaw-dropping. Peaceful. Tranquil. Homey. Inspiring. Fantasy. All adjectives, all used to describe these five destinations on our network that I’m about to get you dreaming of.
First off we have Lake Bled. Slovenia is your favourite country you’ve never heard of. Filled to the brim with alps to hike, clear waters springing from inside mountains, waterfalls to swim under and a local cream cake to try, it’ll fill any appetite. Whether you’re craving some adventure or relaxation or even just a friendly dad figure, Bled and Jazz Hostel has you sorted.
With a host like Jani at the hostel sharing his passion for the area, you won’t wait long to hike up to the castle, catch a pletna boat out to the island in the middle of the lake or swim in emerald waters with duck families for company. Whether you’re floating on your back in calm clear waters, sweating on a hike in the Julian Alps or whizzing down the mountain on a summer toboggan track, Lake Bled will quite literally take the cake!
From Lake Bled, head north for your next personal haven. You might have heard it spoken in hushed tones, or raved about for hours by passengers that have already been there. I can’t guarantee that you won’t leave Grünau with a new life philosophy or even that you won’t leave! One of our passengers last year ended up staying for the rest of the summer!
This little village tucked away in a valley of the Austrian Alps is host to The Treehouse Hostel just outside of town. With bikes for hire and a bus stop right on the front door, it’s easy to grab a slice of striking blue lakes, empty forest tracks and idyllic picnic spots. Gerhard is the owner of The Treehouse and will cook up a storm of homemade meals including a damn good lasagna. He’ll be just as sad as you to say goodbye…
Reset your compasses because now I’m suggesting a jump over to Spain. No, not Barcelona or Madrid… Donostia! Also known as San Sebastian this beach town needs to be added to your itinerary for way too many reasons to include all in one paragraph! Picture sitting down on the sand, pintxos in one hand, kalimotxo (red wine & Coke) in the other and watching the sunset over the ocean.
By day wander the alleys of the old town, head down to the surfers beach of Zurriola for a swim or take a hike on the two hills that rise on either side of La Concha beach. Evenings should be filled with bar hopping on a snack hunt for the best pintxos. Let me start you off: Beef Cheeks at Atari Gastroteka, unique Basque cheesecake at La Vina, Bom Limone at Bar Zeruko, pour your own cider at Sideria Beharri and finish with cocktails at Zibbibo!
If you’re having difficulty trying to fit all these gems into your next holiday, prepare for it to get harder. Here’s where I talk about a place that is all things Mediterranean. It’s little block houses perched on rocky cliffs, it’s pinks and yellows, greens and oranges mixed in with sunshine, vineyards and the ever fresh seaside. Do you like the idea of discovering a cove of your own to chill for the day?
Wander through the hilly lands of the Liguria region, the Italian Riviera, and the five towns that make up Cinque Terre. For pesto pasta, focaccia, fresh anchovies and delicious sweet white wine, jump off at our stop La Spezia. Sample treks, windy paths and unique swim spots! Whether you’re parking yourself in Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza or Monterosso, all of these are easy to get between by train boat or your own two feet. Views included.
I can’t be talking about views and valleys and perfection without mentioning the crown jewel of the bunch: Lauterbrunnen. With 72 waterfalls, snowcapped alps, cows with bells and cute wooden houses it’s no wonder it was an inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien’s Rivendell. Head up via cogwheel train or cable car to towns like Murren, Wengen and Grimmelwald. If you’re game for getting your feet high off the ground, head to the top of Europe, Jungfrau! There’s snow all year round at the top. To get even higher, head up in a plane and go skydiving in one of the most scenic valleys in the world.
There’s plenty of other adventures to be had paragliding, white water rafting and spending a few hours in a high ropes adventure park! Pack your jumper/sweater/hoodie if you’re exploring Glacier Canyon, the water rushes through high rock walls. A real highlight is spiderweb netting spanning across the canyon that you can walk, scramble or cling to while screaming. Whether the weather is foggy and cold or sunny and 35 degrees, Lauterbrunnen is a firm fan favourite.