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4 Undiscovered European Getaways to Visit This Summer
Take the road less traveled and visit these quiet towns and regions in Europe.
Lillehammer, Norway, is a great year-round destination and a base for outdoor enthusiasts.(Getty Images)
If your heart is set on visiting Europe this summer but you want to avoid the crowds and populated city centers, consider traveling to one of these under-the-radar regions. Far from the maddening crowds, these quieter towns and villages will captivate and surprise. They are also less expensive to visit than major tourist destinations. Discover breathtaking scenery, picturesque medieval towns and villages, adventurous activities, and specialty regional foods, wines and other unique offerings in these extraordinary destinations.
A well-preserved ancient hill town built on the slope of Monte Ingino, a small mountain in the Apennines range, Gubbio is located in the far northwest corner of Perugia (Umbria). One of the largest medieval towns in Italy with a history dating back to pre-Roman times, it’s accessible only by car and not on most traveler’s must-see lists. With its proximity to the Le Marche region, it’s a great town to use as a base for exploring in and around Umbria.
Visit the neighborhood of San Martino with its cafés, restaurants and shops, and stroll along the narrow streets and alleyways where many of the late-medieval buildings have facades with “porta della morte” or “doors of death.” Legend has it that the residents who passed away would have been removed from the house via these doors. For a spectacular view from above, take a ride on the Funivia Colle Eletto, a funicular that resembles human-sized, open-air birdcages, to the summit of Monte Ingino, where you’ll find the Basilica di Sant’Ubaldo, a monument honoring Gubbio’s patron saint. The Corsa dei Ceri, held annually on May 15, is a popular civic and religious festival that culminates with a foot race to the basilica and is one of the most celebrated and exciting events in Umbria.
Other highlights include the ruins of a first-century BC Roman amphitheater built with local limestone and a visit to the Piazza Grande and the Palazzo dei Consoli, an impressive 14th century palace towering over the square and the city that houses the Museo Civico. Covering the entire first floor of the building is the Sala dell’Arengo, one of the largest medieval rooms ever built, and it’s here where the famous Eugubine Tablets can be found. These ancient bronze works, in the old Umbrian language, are the only documents of the ancient religions of Europe and the Mediterranean that have been found mostly intact. Visit the square at sunset when a golden glow is cast over the gray stone buildings and the terracotta tile roofs of Gubbio are ablaze with color. If you visit in late spring or late fall, enjoy the region’s prized truffles and its truffle festival.
Known as the “Green Heart of Austria,” Styria (or Steiermark), is the second largest of nine provinces in Austria. Located between Vienna and Slovenia, Styria is home to the Dachstein glacier, spectacular mountains, lush green hillsides, forests and thermal springs. The region is also known for its wine routes, culinary specialties and the famed Lipizzaner horses of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. Graz, the capital of Styria and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is Austria’s second-largest city and features a beautiful medieval old town as well as more modern architecture and many historical attractions.
Culinary aficionados will appreciate Styria’s wine region as well as its award-winning schnapps and liquors made at Edelbrand Edenbauer in the hills of Eastern Styria in the town of Wenigzell. Just southeast of Graz in Spa country is Vulcano Ursprung in Auersbach. Learn about the methods of creating smoked hams, visit well-cared-for pigs and sample what has been called the best ham in the world. For a look at chocolate production with a creative and quirky edge and one of the most amazing tasting experiences, visit Zotter in Riegersburg, where they produce 365 different chocolates, one for each day of the year.
If a fresh breath of Alpine air and outdoor activities are at the top of your vacation must-do list, plan a visit to Triesenberg, a quaint mountain village in the small principality of Liechtenstein. Located between Austria and Switzerland, this country, one of the smallest in Europe and with just less than 62 square miles, also has much to offer visitors from a cultural and historical perspective.
Triesenberg’s elevation is approximately 2,900 feet. The village is known for its distinct dialect and “Walser spirit” of the original Walser inhabitants. This settlement dates back 700 years, and the people remain proud of their origin and traditions to this day. Head up to the family-friendly ski resort of Malbun, where notable Olympic skiers, such as world famous Liechtenstein-born Marco Büchel, trained, or hike the surrounding area with a llama or alpaca. If you want an unforgettable experience, book an “Under the Eagle's Spell” hiking tour with falconer Norman Vögeli and his golden eagle, Taiga. For an authentic alpine experience, stay at the spa resort Berggasthaus Sücka, where you can learn to make cheese with the local herdsmen and dine on cheese fondue in the evening.
When you’re ready to head back down into the valley, make plans to visit Vaduz, the capital and largest municipality in the country.
Lillehammer became famous when it hosted the Winter Olympics in 1994, and visitors to the area can still take to the slopes to relive the action at the Lysgårdsbakken Olympic Ski Jump Arena. Just two hours north of Oslo by train, this picturesque small town is situated on the shores of Lake Mjøsa in the Gudbrandsdalen Valley in southeastern Norway. While best known for its winter sports, Lillehammer is also the perfect year-round destination, especially as a base for outdoor enthusiasts.
Lake Mjøsa, a fjord lake, is Norway’s largest. Covering 89,500 acres, it’s surrounded by one of the most fertile agricultural regions in the country and offers excellent sport fishing. For a thrilling day excursion, head north by car (1½ hours) to go rafting on the Soja, one of the world’s best rafting rivers. If you prefer to stay dry and on land, go hiking in the nearby mountains at Skeikampen.
Lillehammer also has five open-air museums to visit in the summer. Maihaugen Museum, one of the largest outdoor museums in Norway, is a village of 200 log and wooden homes, some as old as 800 years. You can tour several of them to learn what life was like in earlier times in Norway. The museum also offers guided tours, has wandering performers and hosts special exhibits and events throughout the summer.
About En Route
Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.
Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.
Edited by Liz Weiss.
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