Slovakia | Stužica
The Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians are a transnational Unesco World Heritage Site located along a 185km axis which stretches from the Rakhiv mountains in Ukraine all the way to the Vihorlat mountains in Slovakia. The Unesco citation, which only came in 2007, states that they are “an outstanding example of undisturbed, complex temperate forests” and that “they contain an invaluable genetic reservoir of beech and many species associated with it”. Frankly, they just look ravishing. Given the unique value of these ancient forests, Slovakia has opened up only one of them to the public: the beech forest of Stužica. It lies deep within the Poloniny National Park , which boasts the highest concentration of old growth forest in Slovakia. The park, in northeast Slovakia, can be easily approached from the town of Snina. Hiking trails starting from the village of Nová Sedlica lead into Stužica.
Albania | The Riviera
You don’t want to go to Albania simply because it’s being touted as one of Europe’s hottest budget destinations. You want to go because the Albanian Riviera is one of the most beautiful, least explored stretches of beach going in Europe. Your Albanian holiday will begin at the capital, Tirana. But quickly head seawards for a journey along Albania’s 400km-odd Adriatic coastline, from Vlore down to Butrint. Highlights include: Orikumi, the site of a village dating back to 600BC; the Cika Mountains; the newly happening beach at Drymades; the charming coastal town of Saranda; and Butrint, a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Malta | Valetta
The well-travelled might find this a cheeky inclusion in a list of unexplored European destinations. Because this three-island nation off the coast of Italy has been thoroughly explored over its 7,000-year history. Malta has been called a ‘microcosm of the Mediterranean’, offering everything from opulent 16th-century churches (the St John’s Co-Cathedral in capital Valletta features a magnificent Caravaggio) to an underground necropolis (the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, dating to 3600 BC) to one of Europe’s oldest theatres (the Manoel Theatre, built 1731). Then, of course, there’s the glorious Mediterranean itself. For a country this tiny, there’s a lot to do here. Not least, enjoy yourself at one of its innumerable festivals.
Spain | El Transcantábrico
If you’re thinking off-beat Europe, we’re betting Spain won’t even be the last place on your list. And here’s why you’ll be wrong: in a tiny, forgotten corner of northern Spain, sandwiched between the mountains and the sea, is the spectacularly luxuriant landscape of Cantabria. And the nicest way to experience it is aboard the El Transcantábrico, a luxury train that takes you along the Bay of Biscay from Santiago de Compostela and Asturias to Cantabria and Leon. Discover bucolic villages and fishing towns, cathedrals and museums and some truly jaw-dropping scenery… it’s a world you probably didn’t know existed.
Liechtenstein | Vaduz
Tucked inconspicuously among the great slopes of the Alps and perpetually overshadowed by its neighbours, Switzerland and Austria, is a tiny jewel of a country begging to be rediscovered. Liechtenstein manages to pack a lot into its 160-odd square kilometres. You’ll encounter fairytale castles — one that’s home to a real prince — gorgeously scenic villages and alpine meadows. You could visit the Prince’s personal wine cellar to sample his collection or go sightseeing through the capital, Vaduz, on an imitation toy train. There’s also paragliding, ice-skating and even dog-sledding with huskies.
Slovenia | Ljubljana
It’ll be unlike any capital city you’ve been to. For starters, it’s small enough to walk across. Keep walking and you’ll have taken in the big attractions — the Triple Bridge, Dragon Bridge, the Ljubljana Castle and the Square of the Republic. Take a day trip to the stunning Škocjan Caves, a 5.8km system of underground karst caves, now on the Unesco World Heritage List. The 27km Postojna Caves system, also a day trip away, has a cave train to take you on a ride around it. And then there are Bled and Bohinj, beautiful Alpine lake resorts that few people visit.
Norway | Traena Archipelago
Traena hosts the world’s ‘remotest music festival’, the Traena Festivalen (trena.net), during which the sun (almost) never sets and the drunken revelry (really) never stops. But you might appreciate Traena’s remoteness and overwhelming beauty better when there aren’t 2,000 revellers swarming all over it. The municipality of Traena is an archipelago of over a thousand small islands, of which four are populated (just). Mountainous Sanna is exciting for its caves, the most imposing of which is Kirkhelleren. At Husøy, there’s the Petter Dass Chapel, with its beautiful murals and an art gallery.