Exploring the best spots in Europe often means cheap flights on Ryanair, heading off the main path or simply finding yourself somewhere totally unexpected.
Some people call that inconvenient. I call it winning.
I love hunting out the hidden gems of Europe, the places still waiting for the crowds to descend and those destinations that unexpectedly capture your heart. If you are like me and would rather point to a random village called Arisaig on a map and drive there on a whim, then this list, my friends, is for you.
Here are 18 unique places in Europe worth adding to your travel list…
1. Lagoa & Silves, Portugal
While the Algarve is now famed for its sun-kissed beaches and pristine golf courses, you don’t have to stray far to find some of the Algarves best-hidden gems.
The two municipalities of Lagoa and Silves sit alongside each other and provide the perfect mix of history, culture, cuisine and those sunny all year round beaches that gained the coast its fame.
Silves was once the capital of the Arab kingdom here in the Algarve, and its well preserved red castle, perched above the colourful streets and squares below, is still the largest in the region. Surrounded by green hills and orange trees, Silves town has an impressive local market, an ancient Mosque (converted to a church) which boast both Gothic and Baroque features and plenty of traditional coffee shops lining its small cobbled streets. It feels a world away from the bar filled roads at the beach resorts.
Lagoa has grown hugely in the past 30 years and has become one of the most respected wine regions in Portugal (read: vineyard tasting/drinking is compulsory). The postcard-perfect village of Carvoeiro sits alongside that of Ferragudo, still very much a local fishing village. With a clifftop boardwalk, plenty of beaches and the famous Benagil caves, these two destinations provide the perfect mix of culture and relaxation in the Algarve.
Why visit in 2018
The Silves Medival Festival, from the 10th to 19th August will take the town back in time while a new craft beer/winery/restaurant/accommodation combo, Quinta Dos Santos, in Lagoa has just opened and the old Adega cooperative barn has converted into a funky gallery come wine sample venue.
How to get to Lagoa and Silves
Silves is around one hours drive from Faro airport. It’s also served by an out of town train station connecting to Lisbon and the local lines, whilst busses offer access to Lagoa from the capital and across the coast.
2. Piran, Slovenia
One of the best spots in Europe, Piran is sometimes called the Venice of Slovenia, partly due to its enviable position on the Adriatic coast.
The city itself is a mix of red rooftops and white houses, and it provides a more relaxed alternative to other Adriatic destinations such as Dubrovnik. Being part of the small Slovenian coastline the beaches are popular, and with the outstanding Portorož beach not far away, its another great mix of history and sun loungers. The countryside around the city feels completely different, with vineyards, olive groves and an old-world vibe, day trips are accessible from this base in small, but perfectly formed Slovenia.
Why visit in 2018
Slovenia is not going to be a Europe hidden gem for long; Lake Bled has already become a star. A new mobile app in the city, Nexto, uncovers the Legends of Piran and allows you to explore the city uniquely and see its history through pictures and text by pointing your camera at buildings around the city.
How to get to Piran
You can drive from the capital Ljubljana in 1.5 hours. Alternatively, fly into Trieste in nearby Italy and take the scenic 30-minute ferry or drive.