The touristic tendency post-coronavirus, according to European Best Destinations, is toward traveling far from cities, away from crowds and stress.
“People long for freedom, nature, wide open spaces,” explains the organization, which is part of the European Commission’s EDEN Network (“European Destinations of Excellence”) working to promote sustainable tourism on the continent.
To respond to the needs of travelers looking for unique experiences in places free from mass tourism and to reconnect with nature, EBD just published its list of “Best Hidden Gems in Europe.”
“Be soothed by the wind caressing the pines, discover farms and artisanal products or go for a sporting holiday by bike, kayak, or hiking in the most beautiful National Park of Slovenia or escape to the Azores, one of the last sanctuaries in Europe where you can watch whales and discover a flora and fauna unique in the world and protected by the regional authorities,” EBD suggests.
This is the list of the 18 first Secret Destinations. To see more hidden treasures you can go here.
This year’s #1 Hidden Gem in Europe designation was awarded to Bohinj in Slovenia, a destination synonymous with nature, sustainable development and unique experiences in the heart of one of the most beautiful national parks in Europe.
Nestled in the Julian Alps’s Triglav National Park, “Bohinj is a destination regularly rewarded for its commitment to the development of tourism that respects both nature and people,” says EBD.
The European Commission awarded Bohinj the EDEN prize for best sustainable tourism destination in Europe.
Bohinj was also selected as one of the best sustainable destinations for hiking in Europe, one of the most beautiful sustainable landscapes in Europe and one of the safest destinations to visit in Europe in regards to Covid-19.
“The Alpine background of the Triglav mountain constantly changes and offers new timeless views,” writes EBD. “A final argument? There are 7,000 animal species and 1,600 plant species present in the UNESCO biosphere reserve of the Triglav National Park. Here, man and nature cohabit happily and tourist infrastructure follows the trends of sustainable mobility with minimum impact on the natural environment.
The Bohinj ski resort is one of the best in Europe, listed among the best value ski resorts in Europe.
The Azores Island, one of the two autonomous regions of Portugal (along with Madeira), is an archipelago composed of nine islands in the North Atlantic Ocean, about 1,360 kilometers west of continental Portugal.
“A perfect destination to reconnect with nature,” says EBD, “if you like hiking, flora and fauna, dolphins & whales watching, tasting local products.”
The island of Flores is located in the northernmost part of the archipelago and for that reason “is less visited by tourists and is a real paradise on earth for nature lovers and hikers. With its many rivers and waterfalls Flores is a perfect destination for diving enthusiasts, cetacean watching or canyoning.
Enjoy the natural pools of Santa Cruz, the beaches of Lajes das Flores and Faja Grande or swim at the foot of the Poco de Bacalhau and Ribeira Grande waterfalls,” recommends EBD.
This post-card village in the Spanish province of Huesca, Aragon, is surrounded by gigantic, 200-meter-high rock formations and is the third best hidden gem in Europe.
The mountains of “Los Mallos” are appreciated by climbers but also by photographers and instagrammers looking for unique places in the world.
“Be sure to visit the 12th century Santiago church and marvel at its magnificent stained glass windows,” recommends EBD. “In mid-August, Aguero celebrates the town’s festival with street entertainment, theatre, music, good food and good wine.”
Located on the northern coast of Sicily, about 70 kilometers from Palermo, the historic village of Cefalu lies in the shadow of a monumental rock that rises up to 270 meters in height that was already known to the Phoenicians as the “promontory of Hercules” and where the Temple of Diana stands.
“A perfect destination for travelers looking for authenticity,” writes EBD. “Come discover its medieval fishing port, its old town, its cathedral and the beach, which is certainly one of the most beautiful beaches in Sicily.
Located near the Penada Geres National Park, 90 minutes by car from Porto, Sistelo is among the best hidden gems in Europe. This village of 300 inhabitants, considered one of the seven wonders of Portugal is also called “The little Portuguese Tibet.”
As in the Douro Valley, the green terraces of Sistelo have been shaped by human hands: the plateaus are used for farming. The harvested grains, mostly corn, are stored in “Espigueiros” granaries, raised from the ground so that rodents can’t eat the food. The corn is then ground into flour in the mills that run along the river.
“If you like hiking in nature, Sistelo is the destination for you,” says EBD. “During your stay don’t miss the “Cha da Armada” viewpoint which offers the best views of Sistelo and walk up the M1289 to Padrao and Porta Cova to enjoy exceptional views of the village.”
“Brandas de Sistelo” is an 11-kilometer trail starting in the village and passing through some of the most beautiful natural spots of the region.
Sistelo Castle is an example of the cultural heritage of the region that, along with the exceptional landscapes, are now protected because Sistelo has been classified as one of Portugal’s national monuments and cultural landscapes.
A fortress town from the 13th century with narrow alleys and spa waters, Sirmione is located on a peninsula on Lake Garda in the Lombardy region (90-minute drive from Milan), and one of EBD’s Best Hidden Gems in Italy.
Built for strategic purposes, the Rocca Scaligera in Sirmione is one of Italy’s best-preserved castles, with its own quayside that marks it as a rare example of fortification for port use.
Adishis is an authentic, small mountain village in the region of Samegrelo and Upper Swaneti, in the middle of the mountains of the Greater Caucasus in Georgia.
With its 1,000-year-old churches, medieval stone houses, fortified towers and ancient frescoes, Adishi offers authenticity and real ski experiences in the heart of nature.
“Adishi is the perfect place for beaten tracks opponents (there are no ski lifts or marking outs),” according to EBD.
Torquay is compared with Cannes or Nice on the French Riviera and acknowledged as “one of the most beautiful destinations of the English Riviera,” with its pleasant micro-climate, healthy air and warm winds favorable to the development of tropical plants.
Surrounded by beautiful beaches and stunning countryside, it offers year-round holidays and is a UNESCO-recognised Global Geopark.
TripAdvisor named Torquay as the U.K.’s top seaside resort.
Crovie is a small village in northern Scotland’s Aberdeenshire region. There’s only one road and 50 houses facing the sea. The road is so narrow that residents must park their cars outside the village.
Why are they all gathered on this narrow strip of land facing the sea?
The reason is hard to imagine: Long ago, a wealthy landowner of Crovie decided to drive all the inhabitants off his property because he loved to see his sheep graze on his meadows. The residents were forced to take refuge on this small strip of land facing the sea. Some still live there, although a certain number of houses are now holiday homes.
Facing the bigger island of Sao Miguel, the main island of the Azores Archipelago, the Islet of Vila Franca do Campo is a small paradise, a single kilometer from the coast.
Situated opposite the town of Vila Franca do Campo, the islet is the crater of an ancient submerged volcano and one of São Miguel’s main tourist attractions that has been classified as a Nature Reserve. The walls of its crater are lined by endemic vegetation, while inside there is an almost perfectly circular natural lake linked to the sea by a narrow channel.
Crystal clear waters and a small beach await you in this unique little corner of paradise.
The smallest island of the Bay of Naples, Procida is known as an ideal setting for several movie masterpieces.
Of volcanic origin, the island is connected to the Island of Vivara by a narrow bridge. Its narrow, century-old streets, architecture and churches such as the the Abbey of San Michele Arcangelo, match the tranquility of the beaches.
Procida is, according to EBD, one of the most beautiful islands in Europe, famous for its colorful houses, painted by fishermen in the same tones as their fishing boats.
Sami is located on the northeast coast of Kefalonia, just 24 kilometer from Argostoli and the Melissani Cave is one of the best hidden gems of Kefalonia Island.
“This magical cave with its well of light piercing the vault and opening onto a wild forest is unforgettable,” writes EBD. “The tour is quite short, 15-20 minutes, but it’s breathtaking and certainly one of the most beautiful places in Greece.”
A number of the restaurants display photographs of Nicolas Cage, who starred in the film, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, which has a number of scenes filmed around Sami, with many of the locals as extras in the film.
Portoferraio, located in the province of Livorno on the edge of the harbor of the island of Elba in Tuscany, is a well-hidden European gem.
The biggest city on the island, it has remnants of the island’s rich history that includes Napoleon Bonaparte’s first exile.
The port of Portoferraio is designed to protect the city from the wind, although the climate is good all year long.
A tiny, magical island located in Carantec,in Brittany’s Morlaix Bay.
It has a lighthouse that dates back to 1857 and where it’s possible to stay overnight. “The place is often fully booked,” says EBD. “We advise you to keep that in mind and book in advance.”
Portovenere is a small fishing village and one of the most beautiful of the “Cinque Terre” region in Liguria, Italy.
A notable maritime center since the Roman Age, Portovenere and the surrounding area have been included on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
An elegant vacation and resort destination, it features a picturesque port, colorful houses, steep staircases and tiny alleys. The pretty Church of San Pietro, peeking out over the Promontory near the Bocche Sea, was built in the Paleo-Christian period.
This beautiful city of 10,000 inhabitants, located at the foot of the Pyrenees in southwestern France’s Occitane region, lies south of Toulouse, close to the borders with Spain and Andorra.
With its medieval castle, Foix is another wonder of the region along with Carcassonne, ranked as one the most beautiful fortified cities in Europe
Come breathe the fresh sea air and the scent of pines in Skiáthos, the most cosmopolitan island in the Northern Sporades.
With lush pine forests and crystal-clear azure waters, the island counts more than 60 beaches, the most famous, Koukounariés, declared the third most beautiful beach in the Mediterranean.
The southwestern part of the island is very wooded, perfect for walks.
18. Sorano, Tuscany, Italy
One of EBD’s Hidden Gems in Italy, Sorano is a centuries-old village that flourished during the Etruscan era, perched on a cliff and dug into the rock (like the nearby Pitigliano).
Sorano is also known as the Matera of Tuscany with its rocky villages and charming pathways through quarries, where taking a stroll is like a journey through time.
“Come discover the culinary specialties of Sorano, taste its wines and discover its local crafts,” invites EBD. “A perfect alternative for curious travelers looking for something different from big cities like Florence, Rome and Milan.”