While the allure of popular tourist cities like London, Barcelona or Paris is undeniable, if you’re seeking a destination less frequented by the masses, a more off-the-beaten-path adventure could be just what you’re looking for. Here are six suggestions of lesser-known holiday spots.
As the most beautiful fortified town in Montenegro, Kotor has been named by Lonely Planet as the number one city to visit in the world but unlike popular tourist destinations in neighboring Croatia, is not as overrun by tourists. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Old Town of Kotor was built between the 12th and 14th centuries, and a visitor could spend many happy hours wandering the pretty streets. Climb the 1300 steps to the fortress of San Giovanni for spectacular view of the Old Town and Boka bay. Then have lunch at a restaurant on the harbor front with sweeping views across the bay. Galion restaurant is a good choice. Stay at the four star Astoria, a boutique hotel within the UNESCO-protected 13th-century Buca Palace in the heart of Kotor’s fascinating old town.
Although the coast of Languedoc-Roussillon isn’t as obvious a holiday destination as the Cote d’Azur, it has just as much to offer with less crowds, even in peak season. And Montpellier, a medieval city founded around 1200, is an excellent base for a visit to the area. Stay at the gorgeous Hotel Richer de Belleval, a 17th-century former private mansion, beautifully restored as a Relais & Châteaux hotel-restaurant in the heart of the city. Or, for the more budget minded, the family run Hotel du Palais has 26 charming rooms and a sweet terrace. Montpellier is a gastronomic delight. Even the simplest cafes offer high quality food, always beautifully presented. Among the best high-end restaurants are Le Petit Jardin, with a gorgeous internal terrace garden and the Pourcell brothers’ La Canourgue in the Hotel Richer. Chez Canaille in Place du petit Scel has a cute outdoor terrace for a casual meal on a pretty square and La Coquille has great seafood including gambas with squid ink linguine. Culture lovers will enjoy the Fabre Museum, with European works from the Renaissance to the present day, and a full wing dedicated to contemporary artist, Pierre Soulages. If visiting in the summer, the annual Radio France Music festival showcases top international talents featuring hundreds of mainly free classical, opera, jazz and DJ music concerts.
Stavanger has been known as the country’s oil capital since the major discovery of the Ekofisk field in 1969. Further discoveries in the North Sea transformed Norway from Europe’s poor relation into one of the wealthiest countries in the world. The city has also become the country’s top foodie destination and has three Michelin starred restaurants. Foodies will love lunch at Spiseriet at the concert hall with fabulous views of fjords and mountains or at Fisketorget, an excellent fish restaurant on the harbor. A great choice for dinner is Matbaren by renaa, an informal bistro with a super creative menu using local ingredients. And for a unique Japanese-Norwegian tasting experience at Michelin-starred Sabi Omakase, chef Roger Asakil Joya uses Edomae, an age old method of sushi making, one of the most revered in the world. And a well-deserved Michelin star was awarded in 2023 to Restaurant K2. Stavanger is surprisingly arty, with Kunstmuseum, a cutting edge contemporary art museum and a thriving artists’ community with studios often open to the public. Also, essential to visit is the fascinating Petroleum museum which uses engaging and interactive displays to show how oil and gas are formed, how resources beneath the seabed are found, and how drilling and production are conducted.
The sprawling fishing port of Vigo in Galicia, Northern Spain has ancient Roman ruins, neoclassical churches, a lovely old town and the best octopus you’ll ever taste. Stay at the four star NH Collection Vigo, overlooking the harbor. MARCO, the museum of contemporary art housed in what was formerly Vigo’s prison and court (1880), doesn’t have a permanent collection but has regular temporary exhibitions. For a lovely daytrip, take a ferry to the nearby islands. The beautiful Islas Cies with the Playa de Rodas has been described as “the best beach in the world” with turquoise water and white sand.
Tallinn has less than half a million people but its charms are that of much larger cities. A multitude of museums and galleries, a historic old town that’s a World Heritage site, a strong foodie culture and a long sandy beach on the city outskirts, hemmed with a pine forest, are just a few of Tallinn’s attractions. A wander around the quaint cobbled streets of the historic old town with its walls and towers is a must. And just outside the city walls is the KGB museum in the Viru hotel. During Soviet times, Hotel Viru was the main hotel for foreign visitors, all the while being monitored by the KGB, particularly on the officially non-existent 23rd floor. The rooms, frozen in time, offer a unique glimpse into the past, showcasing an extraordinary collection of espionage paraphernalia. Also essential to visit are Kai Art Centre in the Noblessner former shipbuilding area, Tallinn Art Hall (currently in a temporary location on the city outskirts because of renovations) and internationally renowned photographic art center, Fotografiska, with a great rooftop restaurant. And for a really unique art experience, go to the Flo Kasearu House Museum, a site-specific art project by a contemporary artist Flo Kasearu, in her home, attic, basement and backyard.
For history buffs, Gaziantep beckons with its ancient charm, woven with cultural, religious and gastronomic treasures spanning 6000 years. Positioned strategically in southeastern Turkey, along historic trade routes near the border of Syria and serving as a crossroads for civilizations, the city is a fascinating place to spend a few days. A must see is the Zeugma Mosaic Museum, which houses one of the world’s most important mosaic collections, most of which was discovered at the Roman site of Belkıs-Zeugma. The most famous exhibit is the Gypsy Girl, although equally impressive are huge, detailed floor mosaics. Stay in the center of the old town at family-run boutique hotel Aynur Hanim Konagi Butik which has plenty of character and a fantastically generous Turkish breakfast.