When I first arrived in Europe – with my backpack on a working holiday visa – I wanted to visit all the highlights of Europe. Paris and Rome; all the famous sights and museums; discover the cultural treasure trove that is Europe!
And I have done all of that. But along the way – and staring at that map of Europe every evening over dinner – my knowledge of Europe has expanded exponentially. Every trip I make in Europe leads me to discover more and more wonderful places that I had never even heard of before.
So here are my top 5 highlights of Europe that were NOT on my European bucket list when I first dreamed of Europe travel:
Slovenia’s Julian Alps
I loved everything about Slovenia. From the stunning capital of Llubljana to the gorgeous old town of Piran on Slovenia’s tiny Adriatic coast. But the jewel in Slovenia’s crown is the Julian Alps – the easternmost outpost of the great European mountain chain. Get past the pin-up princess Bled and base yourself by Lake Bohinj, where crystal clear waters and gorgeous mountain peaks offer unspoilt holiday bliss and endless walking opportunities. In the villages Slovenian families are farming using methods they have for centuries.
The city of Naples in Italy
On my first trip to Italy I made a beeline for Venice, Florence and Rome. There is no doubt these northern Italian cities are amazing but surprisingly the city I have returned to again and again is Naples – in the south of Italy. There are so many fascinating and fun things to do in Naples – not to mention the outstanding food – and it just seems so much more real than the northern tourist traps. Plus it is a great jumping off point for exploring Campania and the islands of the Gulf of Naples such as Capri and Ischia.
Unspoilt southern Corsica
The island of Corsica is French territory but retains a fiercely independent character and culture. It is a landscape that contrives to be both rugged and lush at the same time. In unspoilt southern Corsica we wandered along stone-walled paths used for centuries by shepherds and travellers through the mountains. In the shoulder season the beaches were empty, the restaurants a seafood-lovers dream, and the ancient coastal towns magnificent.
Belgium, an unsung highlight of Europe
This modestly-sized central European country was definitely not on my bucket list when I first came to travel in Europe. I have since discovered my error and consider it one of the highlights of Europe.
Long the heartland of Europe, and rich with history, Belgium has so much to offer, from the cosmopolitan capital of Brussels; to the picturesque towns of Bruges and Ghent; to the idyllic Ardennes where medieval towns (see photo at top) and rolling hills shelter Trappiste monasteries that have been brewing divine beer for centuries.
Croatia’s Dalmatian Islands
In the autumn we made our first visit to Croatia and I now have no doubt it will be the first of many. Culture, history, wonderful food and stunning coastal landscapes have me sold! The incredible old town of Split was built inside the ruined palace of a Roman Emperor, and is also a jumping off point for the gorgeous Dalmatian Islands. Glamorous Hvar, ancient Stari Grad – there is so much to enjoy and explore.
Of course Europe has many more fabulous highlights still to be discovered by this World Wandering Kiwi. Have a go at the Geoguesser Competition game and expand your knowledge of European geography!
To find out more about my travel history read my ABCs of Travel post.
By Natasha von Geldern