Get a cheap flight to one of these package holiday hotspots – and then run for the hills…
“Tourists go south; travellers come to the north,” observed my guide José as we stood by the lighthouse at Punta de Teno and a fierce sirocco whipped Saharan sand across the headland. All around us, midnight-black rocks crumbled into the Atlantic, while at our backs vast, Tolkienesque cliffs reared up into the clouds.
Forget the Tenerife you think you know – the disco bedlam of Playa de las Americas – and welcome to one of Europe’s most extraordinary landscapes. Cut off from the sunloungers by 3,718m Mt Teide, Tenerife’s north is effectively a different island, with a cooler climate, luxuriant foliage and unspoilt towns rich in history.
Base yourself in immaculate little Garachico, where the Santa Ana churchtower mothers a nest of whitewashed houses and leafy plazas. Instead of a beach, take a dip in the town’s lava pools and gaze out over the crucifix-topped, wave-lashed outcrop that gives the town its name.
Then look over your shoulder – and up. Behind Garachico and running to the island’s north-west tip (where José had made his pronouncement) lies the mighty Teno massif. This natural fortress is, geologically, Tenerife’s oldest corner – predating Teide by, oh, six million years – and its deep valleys harbour myriad microclimates, including tropical rainforest.
There is a handful of day walks (the bus stop at Los Silos is a good trailhead), but if you only do one, make it the descent of the Barranco de Masca ravine. Starting at the isolated hill village of Masca – only reached by road in 1985 – a footpath wends between titanic walls of rock, striated by ancient lava flows and clothed in flowering cacti and candelabra-like euphorbias. Three hours later you’ll emerge at a little cove in the aptly named Los Gigantes cliffs, a playground for dolphins and – further offshore – whales.
If that’s given you a taste for volcanic landscapes, you can delve deeper at the newly opened Cueva del Viento lava tunnel in nearby Icod de los Vinos, and of course higher at Mt Teide itself. You can get most of the way up Tenerife’s iconic peak by cablecar, but to walk up to the sulphurous summit itself you still need a (free) permit and a steady nerve. Being alone and altitude-giddy in this bleached, volatile landscape is heady stuff in every sense: a raw communion with nature that feels like another planet from the black-sand beaches far, far below.
When to go: September, for cooler temperatures and calmer seas.
Take me there: Hotel San Roque in Garachico is an elegant boutique hotel converted from an 18th-century nobleman’s home. Monarch flies to Tenerife from Birmingham, Gatwick, Luton and Manchester from £139. For more info, visit www.webtenerifeuk.co.uk
Away from the high-rise hotels and full English breakfasts of Agia Napa and Paphos, there are many tiny villages in Cyprus offering agrotourism – stays in restored traditional buildings, which come complete with insights into rural Cypriot life. Take Psematismenos (population 200), where a wild night out involves strolling through the lemon groves and challenging the old folk to a game of tiddlywinks. From your bucolic base, head out on leisurely walks in the rolling countryside, past Neolithic settlements and Byzantine churches, or make the 3km trip to the tasty tavernas of Zygi, an ancient fishing village. Plus, some of the best wreck-diving in the world is close at hand.
When to go: Summers are hot and sunny, but August is most expensive.
Take me there: Many airlines fly from regional UK airports to Larnaca. Rent a car; Psematismenos is 30km from Larnaca. Agrotourism looks after 53 rural properties in Cyprus.
Wave goodbye to the holidaymakers at Tunis airport and delve inland instead for true exoticism less than three hours from the UK. Bus it to Le Kef: a hilltop town with a spectacular kasbah and fine views, you can lose yourself in the maze-like medina, shop in the non-touristy souks or get pummelled in a steamy hammam. From Le Kef, day-trip to the Roman city of Dougga or move on to Kairouan, Tunisia’s oldest Arab city – famous for cake!
When to go: Head out in June or September to miss the peak temperatures of July and August.
Take me there: Several carriers fly to Tunis from UK airports. Le Kef is 170km from Tunis by bus.
For short-haul sun with extra bragging rights, Albania is the place. One of the least-visited countries in Europe but developing fast, Albania still has some lovely stretches of unspoiled coastline, particularly around Dhërmiu, north of Saranda – which is just a 30-minute hydrofoil ride from touristy Corfu. Once you’ve made the crossing, explore the nearby ancient city of Butrint or head north-east for the glacial lakes of Lura National Park.
When to go: Albania has a Mediterranean climate; stick to the coast for sea breezes if you visit in July/August.
Take me there: Fly to Corfu and sail to Saranda. Finikas and Albkorfuz are the main ferry operators; buy tickets from the offices near the old port. Plan to spend your last night in Corfu in case of delays. BA flies direct from Gatwick to Tirana, Albania’s capital.
Like this? Also try… Sunbathing with wild donkeys on the white sands of undeveloped Golden Beach, North Cyprus.
Northern France isn’t just about bucket-and-spade holidays: Brittany boasts nearly 2,000km of cycling trails. For greener access, go by boat – wheeling your bike aboard one of Brittany Ferries’ vessels is cheap and easy: you can stow your bike in special deck racks for just £5 extra. Plus Brittany Ferries has devised a series of five-day, 320km-long cycle routes across the region: the St Malo route takes you through charming medieval towns and along coastal roads to the ancient island of Mont St Michel; stop off for fresh oysters along the way.
When to go: Avoid August when all of France goes on holiday.
Take me there: Brittany Ferries sails from Portsmouth to St Malo and other destinations; see the website for details of special five-day fares and cycle routes.
Like this? Also try… Hopping on the ferry at Harwich for Esbjerg, Denmark, where drivers are so nice to cyclists you’ll be teary-eyed with gratitude.
Get that vast Patagonia feeling without racking up the air miles in these wild pockets of Europe
Hike, bike or ride through Bieszczady National Park, south-east Poland, the comeliest stretch of the Carpathian Mountains. Around 135km of marked mountain trails lead through this wilderness of beech forest and poloniny – lofty grass meadows. This is one of the best places in Europe for wolf-spotting: it’s possible to join week-long wolf-tracking tours, plus there’s plenty more wildlife to see, such as Polish bison, lynx and brown bears.
When to go: Spring to autumn is best; the park is most accessible in summer.
Take me there: Flights from the UK to Krakow start from £28 return with Ryanair. Buses run from Krakow to Sanok (4.5 hours); Cisna, deep in the park, is another two hours by bus. The scenic, narrow-gauge Bieszczady Forest Railway runs from ajdan to Przyslup (via Cisna) from May to September.
Like this? Also try… Looking for wolves and chamois in Romania’s Carpathians.
The Prokletije range of the former Yugoslavia – spanning Bosnia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania – is Europe’s secret jewel. It’s recommended for only the most adventurous as facilities and maps are thin on the ground, and the vestiges of war are ever close at hand. But as time passes, this area will become less of a wilderness. For now the most accessible part of the range is in Montenegro, where the walking rivals anything in Europe. Beyond the Prokletije range, Montenegro offers sensational mountain hiking; try Durmitor National Park, for Europe’s deepest canyon.
When to go: April to October; there may be snow on the mountains until June.
Take me there: Montenegro Airlines flies from London to Podgorica from £80 one way. Take the bus to Plav, gateway to the Prokletije. Buses also link Podgorica with Zabljak for Durmitor.
Rachel Crolla, author of Europe’s High Points (Cicerone)
Become better prepared for the wilderness on a three-day course in canoeing and survival on Northern Ireland’s Upper Lough Erne. Paddling areas only accessible by canoe, you’ll learn how to build a shelter, catch your own dinner and prepare it on an open fire. Then it’s back onto the water for canoeing lessons while looking out for ancient yew trees and pipistrelle bats. When to go: March-December, but summer months are best.
Take me there: Take the bus from Belfast to Derrylin, 6.5km from Share Holiday Village.
Like this? Also try… Building your own ‘Huck Finn’ raft for a Swedish river paddle (www.naturetravels.co.uk).
Only 15km inland from the coast of northern Spain, the 2,500m-plus karst crags of the Picos de Europa are riddled with hiking trails. The 12km Cares Gorge walk, complete with tunnels, steep drops and griffon vultures, is grand. Or take the cablecar from Fuente Dé to the top of the mountains for paths leading further into the wilderness.
When to go: It’s milder and quieter in June and September.
Take me there: Brittany Ferries sails from Plymouth and Portsmouth to Santander. Ryanair flies to Santander from £18 one way. Local buses run to the park.
John Wayne would feel at home here. They call it puszta – ‘the abandoned’ – a name to grace the grittiest of cowboy films. Covering half of Hungary, this sun-sapped expanse of grassland was once the refuge of hard-drinking herders, and is the classic backdrop to enduring tales of derring-do. You can see why.
The Great Plain is within easy striking distance of Budapest; its wildest areas are isolated, but most places can be reached by bus if you don’t want to hire a car. Allow yourself three or four days.
Day one: from the capital, head for an afternoon in the Baroque town of Eger, and an evening sampling Bull’s Blood in a valley of granite-walled wine cellars.
Day two: move south-east to the protected wetlands of Lake Tisza, its thick reed beds home to nesting birds and its dead river channels patrolled by giant catfish.
Day three: wham! The puszta unravels before you...
It’s a thrilling drive along the often arrow-straight Road 33. Earth and sky flow together and mirages shimmer in the heat. It’s pancake-flat, with not a bump to break the horizon; you half expect to glimpse the back of your own head. In days gone by, outlaws fled here, master horsemen whose steeds would drop on command to evade bounty hunters in the long grass. Herds of long-horned cattle graze beneath the nodding silhouettes of shadoof wells.
At the heart of the plain is the village of Hortobágy, where you can arrange for a guide to take you in search of the rare great bustard or stop at the 300-year-old Hortobágy Csárda to try specialities made from alien-looking local breeds such as mangalica – a pig covered in curly hair. This is Europe’s Wild West – a place on our doorstep that’s far, far away.
When to go: The Plains are hottest in August, when temperatures can reach 35°C-plus. If you defer until October you’ll catch one of Europe’s great natural spectacles – the arrival of 100,000 migrating common cranes.
Take me there: Several airlines fly from the UK to Budapest, taking 2.5 hours and costing from £50 return. Fox Autorent offers car hire; alternatively, the train to Eger from Budapest Keleti is cheap, and the bus from Eger to Hortobágy costs is even cheaper.
Adrian Phillips, author of the Bradt guide to Hungary
Travel classics don’t have to be far-flung – these five iconic sights and experiences are a short hop away
The bustling bazaars, the steaming tagines, the clattering castanets and good-natured harangues of the water-sellers and performers around the Djemaa el-Fna... Marrakesh is mesmerising, but it can be a bit full-on if you’ve just stepped off the plane. Better to ease yourself into travel mode gradually: let the train take the culture-shock strain.
Hop on the Eurostar at noon, then cross Paris to the Gare d’Austerlitz for the overnight Elipsos train to Madrid, complete with gourmet meal in the chic dining car. You’ll awake over the border, and breakfast chugging past the plains and medieval cities of Castilla y León.
Pulling in at Chamartín station bright and early, spend the day exploring the sprawling El Rastro flea market (Sundays) or catching some culture at the Prado or Reina Sofia museums, tapas-bar-hopping into the night before bedding down in a central hotel.
Then it’s early again to Atocha station for the train to Algeciras, arriving after lunch; the ferry to Tangier takes up to a couple of hours.
Once in Morocco, absorb Tangier’s pleasantly seedy charms for the evening before taking the day train to Marrakesh (around eight hours) via Fez, Meknes and Rabat, or jump straight on the overnight express to pitch up in the Medina around 8am. Total journey time: three days. Trains: four. Capital cities: four. Thrill of the journey: priceless.
When to go: Marrakesh and the capitals en route are most pleasant in spring (to early June) or autumn (September and October) – high summer is sweltering, though you can escape the worst of the Moroccan heat by nipping up into the nearby High Atlas.
Take me there: Rail Europe can book London-Madrid tickets; look for cheap web fares for the Madrid-Algeciras leg at www.renfe.es. Book Tangier-Marrakesh at www.oncf.ma. Check www.seat61.com for detailed info.
Like this? Also try… London to Istanbul via Paris, Munich, Vienna, Budapest and Belgrade.
See the cause of all the fuss… Discover the World runs a volcano hotline: the operator will alert you when an eruption kicks off, and whisk you over to Iceland (ash permitting) to see the explosive action. At the time of writing, now-notorious Eyjafjallajökull was still spewing its pesky particles, but when the ash has settled bear in mind that Iceland has about 130 others.
When to go: A tad unpredictable.
Take me there: Discover the World operates the volcano hotline
Like this? Also try… Hiking up Mount Etna, Sicily.
The most Gallic way to pootle about the most chic corner of the most fashionable region of the most ooh-la-la country – hop behind the wheel of France’s true travel icon: the Citroën 2CV (Deux chevaux – ‘Two horses’). The brakes are spongy, the steering heavy, the engine lackadaisical, but there’s simply no better way to explore the backroads of the area around St Tropez than in the seats of lovingly named Penelope, Marina or Coquelicot (‘Poppy’).
When to go: June – for lipstick-red poppy fields – or September for the vendage (grape harvest).
Take me there: Escapa’deuche, in Ste-Maxime, hires vintage 2CVs from £195 for 24 hours, £90 for subsequent days. Return fares for the eight-hour train journey from London to St-Raphaël, nearest station to Ste-Maxime, cost from £119 (www.raileurope.co.uk).
Combining hiking trails with vertiginous rack railways allows you to bolt together a week-long circuit around Grindelwald, Lauterbrunnen and the surrounding, Heidi-esque hamlets, giving a multitude of vistas of the notorious north face of the Eiger. And with delightful hostels and campsites, as well as the terrifyingly efficient Swiss transport system, you don’t have to haemorrhage francs to explore.
When to go: June and September are pleasantly warm and less crowded than peak summer.
Take me there: Flights from the UK to Zürich start from £50-plus with easyJet; by train Grindelwald is about 9.5 hours from London (www.raileurope.co.uk). For Swiss transport see www.swisstravelsystem.com. For good-value accommodation in Grindelwald try the NF-Hostel, with doubles from £45.
Built on the orders of the eponymous emperor between AD 122 and AD 128, this 117km-long fortification – stretching between the Solway Firth in the west and Tynemouth on the North Sea coast – defined the northernmost limits of the Roman Empire in Britain (though, let’s face it, those feisty Scots weren’t likely to be kept out by a wee wall). Today, healthy chunks remain, along with fascinating relics of that era in he form of forts and other Roman sites. You can walk the wall in a week – but the Hadrian’s Cycleway offers the opportunity to whizz along the ruins, extending your route through another unmissable icon, the Lake District, totalling nearly 280km.
When to go: Depends how much weather you can stand…
Take me there: Find details of the route, plus suggestions for accommodation and eating, at www.cycle-routes.org/hadrianscycleway. Northern Rail serves both ends of the cycleway, at Ravenglass and Newcastle.
Think a week or two isn’t long enough to do a country justice? Here are five options for ticking off entire nations in short trips
Norway is huge – 1,752km north to south – and pricey. So being able to jet from top to bottom, side to side and back again (35 destinations in all) for a fixed cost is a boon. Use a summer airpass to link the Arctic Circle’s midnight sun with the fishermen’s shacks of the Lofoten Islands, trekking near Brønnøysund and the coastal fjords.
When to go: The pass must be used between 20 June and 28 August.
Take me there: The Explore Norway ‘Whole of Norway’ 14-day unlimited flights pass costs (£428) including international flights (Aberdeen-Bergen or Stavanger; Newcastle-Stavanger; Edinburgh-Bergen.
Not a whole country, but circuiting Sicily in a fortnight is a satisfying prospect. Public transport is pretty comprehensive, but hiring a car will give you freedom to poke further. Two weeks is time for a loop – include (anticlockwise) the chaotic tangle of Palermo; medieval Erice; the 29km salt pan drive from Trapani to Marsala; Agrigento and the Valley of the Temples; Syracuse; historic Catania; bubbling Mt Etna; and the sandy beaches of Cefalù.
When to go: Avoid August, when Italians go on holiday.
Take me there: New flights to Sicily for 2010 include: easyJet (Gatwick-Palermo); Ryanair (Luton, Stansted, Liverpool-Trapani); BA (Gatwick-Catania).
Nowhere is efficiency more spectacular – Switzerland’s enviable network of timely trains, gravity-defying funiculars, Postbuses and lake ferries is extensive (allowing you to cover pretty much the whole country) and ridiculously scenic. Most are covered by the excellent-value Swiss Pass, enabling you to piece together a cross-country public transport adventure for a reasonable price. Highlights include the Romantic Route Express Postbus, which takes in the Furka and Grimsel passes and remote mountain cheesemakers, and the Voralpen Express, which glides from Lucerne to Switzerland’s eastern border, past gorgeous Unesco-listed St Gallen.
When to go: May-October.
Take me there: A Swiss Pass entitles you to unlimited travel on the country’s rail, bus and boat network; various passes are available; 15 days CHF683/£420 (www.swisstravelsystem.com). If two or more people travel together, you get a 15% reduction on the price. Includes free entry to 450 museums.
Like this? Also try… The new 15-day InterRail Global Pass (www.eurailgroup.com), valid across the continent.
Netherlands: high point – 322m; kilometres of cycle trails – 6,000. A winning combination and, given the country’s compact size, it’s easy to make a comprehensive traverse in just a few days. Route LF7 (the Oeverlandroute) links the North Sea coast with the Netherlands’ (relatively hilly) south-east border, a 350km pedal from Alkmaar to Maastricht. Start on a Friday to tick off Alkmaar’s cheesy Cheese Market before setting off alongside a series of dykes, rivers and canals (many protected by visitable forts) to finish in Maastricht, where you mustn’t miss Selexyz Dominicanen – a beautiful bookshop inside a converted church.
When to go: June-September, for mild, sunny weather; Alkmaar cheese market runs weekly until the first Friday of September.
Take me there: Ferries leave from Newcastle to Ijmuiden, 10km from Alkmaar (www.dfds.co.uk). Special fares from London to any Dutch station, combining Eurostar (via Brussels) and local trains can be booked at www.nshispeed.nl from £89 return; London-Maastricht takes less than five hours by rail.
Like this? Also try… Pick a trans-country section of Euro Velo 6, a cross-continent cycle trail stretching from France to Romania.
I was told that I’d just missed the Prince with no shoes – though it took me at least 20 minutes to realise the locals weren’t joking. Prince Hans-Adam II, the reigning prince of Liechtenstein, is rather fond of taking hikes sans boots from his castle nestled at the top of capital Vaduz. Nobody I asked knew why: “Perhaps he thinks it’s good for his health?” pondered my guide Leander.
Only 25km long and at most 12km wide, Liechtenstein is Europe’s last absolute monarchy. Nothing gets past the 25-man parliament without the Prince’s say so, though he remains hugely popular.
In the summer months, when the snow has cleared from the peaks, it’s possible to make like the Prince and hike big portions of the nation in two or three days; 400km of paths spider the landscape. However, not content with just one country, I decided to amble between bits of Liechtenstein and Austria in the course of one day.
We began by walking over the Gantenstein, where the occasional gargantuan Ice Age rock nestled among pine forests full of deer, woodchuck and even the odd skittish cat. Emerging from the trees, we strode past a tiny weathered wooden hut that looked to have been abandoned since the time of Kaiser Wilhelm II. This, I was told, was the Austrian border post. Technically we should have had our passports with us, but the likelihood of being asked to produce them was, according to Leander, about as likely as it was for Liechtenstein to reform its army (once 80 strong, it was disbanded in 1868).
Walking through the minute Austrian village of Norfels, a hamlet of a few dozen traditional alpine houses, within ten minutes we found ourselves back in Liechtenstein. Sitting outside the Gasthaus Loiven, a classic alpine chalet, I sampled Liechtenstein’s national dish, Käsknöpfle, a belt-busting mountain of cheese dumplings with a side of applesauce.
Lurching from the table, we drove ten minutes up the mountain to the highest municipality in the land – 2,000m Triesenberg. This is the home of the Walser people, who settled here to escape persecution from feudal lords in their original home in south-west Germany during the 13th century.
With a distinct dialect of its own, Triesenberg has a bijou museum, and is also the best starting point for a walk up some tiny pathways clinging to the side of the mountains to Silum. This is Liechtenstein at its most rural: the slick banks and cafés of Vaduz seem centuries removed here among the ancient stables and woodland glades.
With only a short drive between our two walks, Leander and I had still managed to get across great swathes of Liechtenstein in one day – not to mention illegally crossing the Austrian border. It was hiking with a whiff of political anarchy. And the distances are manageable – as long as you go easy on the Käsknöpfle.
When to go: Trails are best in summer, after snow has melted.
Take me there: Swiss Air flies daily from London to Zürich. From Zürich take a train to Sangans (one hour) and then catch a Post Bus to Vaduz (25 minutes). The Park Hotel Sonnenhof in Vaduz has rooms from £160.
For more information on visiting Liechtenstein go to www.tourismus.li.
Like this? Also try… Traversing Andorra in a few days along the Pyrenean nation’s section of the GR11 long-distance hiking trail.
Get more from this summer by picking up a new skill on your travels
Learn how to jibe-ho and hoist a mainsail amid the sheltered – but spectacular – safety of the Greek Islands. The Ionian Islands in particular are perfect for novice sailors: days are fine, the swell low, visibility good and tides negligible, with plenty of protected moorings. Join a flotilla to learn among like-minded beginners – a lead boat with expert skipper shows you the ropes; you can pay extra for more advanced tuition. Sharing the boat keeps costs down too, leaving you more euros to spend in the tavernas.
When to go: May-October; Greece gets busy in high summer, but with a boat you can sail away from the crowds.
Take me there: Various airlines fly from the UK to the Greek Islands (Kefalonia and Preveza are good access points for the Ionians). Sailing Holidays runs learn-to-sail flotilla trips, suitable for beginners; one week from £395pp including flights, based on four sharing.
Immerse yourself in Moroccan culture by learning the techniques of its iconic pottery and the local lingo. Taught at the Moroccan School of Traditional Arts and Crafts in the northern city of Tetouan, the course is a mix of Arabic language lessons and traditional ceramics tuition. When to go: Year round.
Take me there: Go Learn To runs a seven-day Learn Arabic And Moroccan Ceramics Course; accommodation can be included. Fly or train/sail to Tangier; Tetouan is a 50km drive/bus from Tangier.
Like this? Also try… Classical sculpture classes, using traditional materials, in Tuscany, Italy (www.arcoarte.it).
Malta’s waters contain some of Europe’s best dive sites – full of marine life, wrecks, caves and tunnels. It’s a great place to learn: no tides, weak currents and excellent visibility, plus sheltered lagoons provide perfect practice pools. Take an open-water course (around €300) to learn the basics, then submerge to look for squid, seahorse, swordfish and dolphins.
When to go: Water temperatures peak August/September, as do turtle sightings.
This course will look at how to attain happiness through the simple things in life – stone-skimming, stargazing, bread baking. Hosted by Tom Hodgkinson (The Idler) on his idyllic farm, the weekend also explores the ideas of Buddha, St Francis of Assisi, Henry Thoreau and more.
When to go: 2-4 July.
Take me there: See The Simple Living Weekend for more information.
Like this? Also try… Learning to create a sustainable organic vegetable garden in St Germain les Belles, France (www.vacvertes.com).
No need to fly as far as Argentina: you can learn the sultry moves of the South American tango in Andalucía instead. Classes take place in Moorish marvel Granada and include 15 hours of Spanish language lessons as well as four hours of tango tuition. At the end the week you’ll be ready to attend a milonga (a public tango ballroom), where you can put both your new dance and new lingo skills to the test.
When to go: Year round.
Take me there: Ryanair flies from Stansted, East Midlands and Liverpool to Granada. A seven-day Beginners Spanish And Argentinean Tango Course costs from £267 (www.golearnto.com); accommodation costs from £137 for six nights.
Like this? Also try… Making your own guitar on the island of Formentera (www.formentera-guitars.com).
You don’t need to go to Timbuktu to immerse yourself in the unfamiliar…
It’s most often visited to see Santa Claus and the northern lights, but Finland’s Arctic north is also a wonderfully mind-bending experience in summer. Wilderness hikes, bikes and canoe trails – interspersed by daylit ‘nights’ in log cabins – are the main draw, but you can also meet Europe’s largest indigenous group, the Sámi.
The village of Hetta in Western Lapland is home to many Sámi families: ask around for the chance to go berry foraging, meet reindeer herds or join in a traditional dance. Nearby Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park – Finland’s third biggest – has enough trails and huts to keep Ray Mears happy till winter, and can also be accessed from ski town Ylläsjärvi.
When to go: July can be insect-y; August and early September are ideal.
Take me there: Finnair flies London-Kittilä from £227, via Helsinki. Kellokas Visitor Centre near Ylläsjärvi focuses on Sámi history, and can arrange foraging expeditions. For more info, visit www.visitfinland.com/uk.
La dolce vita and monastic life may not appear to tally, but after awaking to the sweet sound of nuns chanting the liturgy, you might disagree. From the Alps to Sicily, hundreds of Italian monasteries and convents welcome visitors, and you needn’t be religious to appreciate the lifestyle they offer. Rooms are private, simple but comfy, and usually cheaper than hotels. Several Tuscan monasteries lie on the old pilgrimage route from Canterbury to Rome: try tower-studded San Gimignano or Monte Oliveto Maggiore in Chiusure.
When to go: Any time in summer.
Take me there: www.monasterystays.com lists hundreds of options.
Forget the fangs-and-garlic clichés: the real appeal of Romania’s wild heart lies in rural scenes and customs unchanged for centuries. Visit rugged Piatra Craiului NP in June and you’ll meet shepherds protecting their flocks from wolves and bears while villagers scythe hay into giant stacks. In nearby Saxon villages such as Viscri you’ll find wooden churches straight from a Grimm’s fairytale.
When to go: Late June for haymaking; all summer for traditional, all-weekend wedding ceremonies.
European Capital of Culture it may be, but it’s Istanbul’s Asian airs that entrance. And the city is never less European than during Ramazan (Ramadan), when its Muslim citizens refrain from food and drink until nightfall – and then tuck into their ‘breakfast’ (iftar) with gusto. For a month, the historic but usually touristy Sultanahmet district is abuzz with locals: stalls pop up selling kebabs and candy floss, and cultural events (Islamic book fairs, whirling dervishes...) abound.
When to go: Ramazan is 11 Aug-9 Sep.
In a nation so synonymous with furry hats and freezing temperatures, it’s no wonder Russians so relish high summer. In June and July residents of St Petersburg celebrate the White Nights, a magical window of almost 24-hour daylight at this northerly latitude. There are festivals and fireworks, late-night walks along the canals and boulevards, and plenty of vodka toasts. However, prices are hiked, and queues at museums such as the Hermitage can be hours long.
Get into the summer spirit in August instead for almost equally long evenings at lower rates.
When to go: The White Nights usually lasts 11 June-2 July, but visit late July/August (when the sun rises around 5.30am and sets around 10.30pm) for cheaper prices but still plenty of sun-lit fun.
Take me there: Regent Holidays runs trips to Russia.
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