Think you know Europe inside and out? Think again. The continent is better than most at keeping hidden secrets – but you can discover them on these off-the-beaten-track adventures...
Explore the Macedonian, Roman and Byzantine eras of lesser-visited Greece as Ramblers Worldwide Holidays’ 7-night Olympiada tour winds back the clock. Visit the ancient city of Stagira, birthplace of philosopher Aristotle, before hiking parts of his namesake trail along with the Marmari peninsula, Ammouliani Island and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mount Athos.
Simonos Petras Monastery, Mount Athos (Shutterstock)
Slovenia may be modest in size but it’s big on dramatic natural scenery. Explore one of Europe’s greenest countries with Imaginative Adventures’ 7-night Slovenia Revealed tour. Gasp at lakes Bohinj and Bled, dip into the vast UNESCO-listed Skocjan Caves, visit medieval Predjama Castle and wander the cities of Ljubljana, Maribor and Ptuj – the country’s oldest.
Bohinj Lake (Shutterstock)
Written Andalucía off because you think it’s full of busy resorts? Step away from the hotspots to find wildlife of a different kind. Visiting the Doñana National Park and the rugged Andujar Natural Park, The Travelling Naturalist’s 7-night Spanish Lynx Quest tour offers the chance to spot one of the world’s rarest cats, the Iberian lynx, as you trek through wildlife-laden Mediterranean forest.
Lynx in Spain (Shutterstock)
Seek out the quieter spots of the Alps with KE Adventure’s 8-day Alpine Trails and Summits of the Queyras hiking trip. You’ll be climbing 1,000m a day but the rewards are magnificent. Topple the snowcapped peaks of Rocca Bianca, Pain de Sucre, Grand Glaiza in the alpine region of Queyras, enjoy your mountainside lunches in the company of marmots, chamois and golden eagles before resting those weary legs in a cosy wooden chalet.
Queyras region of the Southern French Alps (Shutterstock)
Cast your net away from the nearby bustling coastal cities of Gijón and Santander and instead visit traditional rural Spain with Pura Aventura’s 7-night Picos Inn to Inn trek. Wind through the Liebana Valley in the Picos de Europa mountains – you could be lucky enough to spot brown bears. Enjoy a mountain meadow meal of wood-baked bread, local cheeses and chorizo and listen to the sound of cowbells as you descend into the medieval town of Potes.
Spring meadow in Liebana Valley (Pura Aventura)
This little-visited trio on Explore’s 13-night Undiscovered Balkans tour are all rich in history and varied in scenery. Highlights include Macedonia’s Lake Ohrid, Albania’s Valbona Valley and Kosovo’s 14th century UNESCO-protected Decani Monastery. Toast them all in Rahovec, known as the wine cellar of Kosovo.
Lake Ohrid, Macedonia (Shutterstock)
Sink your teeth into Walks Worldwide’s 8-day Land of Dracula tour in myth-shrouded Romania, a country untouched by mass tourism. Hike amid the forests, peaks and ancient history of Transylvania’s rugged Carpathian Mountains en route to Castle Dracula – the home of the legendary vampire.
Carpathians, Romania (Shutterstock)
For something a little different try this history-rich country combi. All three are littered with centuries-old architecture: Azerbaijan boasts palaces and 6,000 rock engravings at Qobustan National Park, in Armenia magnificent monasteries abound and Georgia offers colonial cathedrals and its 12th century cave town of Vardzia. Peregrine Adventures’ 17-day Azerbaijan, Georgia & Armenia tour will show you all the highlights.
10,000-year-old engravings in Qobustan National Park (Shutterstock)
Divert east of more popular Croatia to immerse yourself in ancient woodland, hidden waterfalls and glacial lakes on Exodus’ 8-night Walking in Bosnia & Herzegovina trip. Explore the primeval trees of Sutjeska and the beech forests of Perucica; climb Bosnia’s highest peak (2,386m Maglic Mountain) and visit Lukomir, its highest village.
Maglic Mountain (Shutterstock)
Explore the volcanic region of Mount Etna before hopping on the train to the lava stone town of Randazzo, with Voyages Jules Verne’s 7-night Secret Sicily tour. To marvel at mosaics, visit the Roman villa of Tellaro, while chocaholics can sample Modica’s Aztec chocolate before rounding with a double hit of cathedrals: Ragusa Superiore and Ragusa Ibla.
View of Tellaro (Shutterstock)
Discover a Scandinavia you never knew existed with rock art dotted throughout the landscapes of Sweden and Norway. Andante Travels’ 8-day Rock Art of Scandinavia tour takes you through the Neolithic paintings at the Solberg Tower interpretation centre in the Østfold region and the Vitlycke museum to the Bronze and Iron Age works in Tanum. The Alta Rock Art Museum in northern Norway also depicts carvings dating back to 5,200BC.
Rock art in Alta Museum (Shutterstock)
Witness the Long-Eared Owls of Serbia on Travel the Unknown’s 4-night tour, with the gathering of the 750 birds the largest in the world – regarded so important that Kikinda’s town square, where they gather, is classified as a nature reserve. Visit Bačko Gradište and Slano Kopovo Nature Reserve to spot hen harriers, great grey shrikes, hordes of waterfowl and even more owls.
Museum in Kikinda (Shutterstock)
Hidden lakes, peaks and lush greenery await you as you tackle the 4 Countries and 3 Lakes tour from Freedom Treks. Beginning at Lake Constance, Germany’s largest lake, the 8-night 206-mile circular route visits the Rhein Falls – Europe’s largest waterfall – before a stop in Zurich. Pedalling on, zoom past flower-filled meadows and the icy peaks of the Alps, taking in the deep waters of Lake Walensee and the rocky tips of the Churfirsten Mountains.
Rhine Falls (Shutterstock)
Main image: Rhine Falls (Shutterstock)
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