Offbeat European Getaways You Need To Experience This Year

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Travelling off the beaten path in Europe reveals small towns that are hidden away from a traveller’s plainsight. We’ve listed five of our most interesting finds.

By Prachi Joshi

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The romance of a European holiday is strewn in achingly pretty hilltop towns, colourful fishing villages, historic, medieval communes, and rustic, secluded hamlets that are still blissfully unspoiled and hidden from the touristy eye. Summer may be the best time to visit the continent, weather-wise, but the delights of a spring sojourn are unsurpassed.

You are likely to have large areas of the valley to yourself during walks, save a few local picnickers who don’t mind pinpricks of the late winter air. Meander along the cobblestone streets, explore historic ruins, discover a hidden café or gelateria, and just soak in the feeling of having traveled back in time. You will find a rare peace and quiet, and the time to stand and stare.

APPENZELL SWITZERLAND

Gentle, rolling hills in fi fty shades of green; finely carved chalets with adjacent barns; tinkling bells of cows blissfully grazing in the meadows—this pastoral Swiss image plays out in loops in the tiny town of Appenzell. Walk through the town admiring the houses, boutiques, and restaurants with their colourful façades and intricate frescoes—the Löwen Pharmacy (loewen-drogerie.ch) with its crimson façade painted with medicinal herbs is an architectural gem. Stop by at Böhli Bakery (Alfred und Markus Sutter Engelgasse; 9;+4171/788-1570) to sample the Appenzeller Biber, their delicious gingerbread with honey and nuts.

Visit Hampi Fässler’s Atelier (hampifaessler.ch) next, to watch him make traditional leather belts studded with metal décor, which are proudly worn by the local farmers. Head over to Stein (10 kms from Appenzell) to the Appenzeller Schaukäserei (schaukaeserei.ch), a show dairy, where you can watch the pungent Appenzeller cheese being made and the storage process for ageing. In the rustic restaurant of the dairy, try various cheese delicacies like fondue, raclette, and rösti. For a spot of adventure, go hiking or snowshoeing in the Alpine landscape.

STAY

The stylish Hotel Hof Weissbad (hofweissbad.ch) where the typical Swiss chalet hotel meets a cool design aesthetic. Every Wednesday, the hotel hosts a typical Appenzeller evening featuring traditional string music and folk dances.

Credit: Robertharding

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CONG IRELAND

Along the Wild Atlantic Way (the moniker given to Ireland’s west coast) Cong is set amidst the Lough Corrib and Mask. The thatched-roof houses, well-tended gardens, winding streets, and the one odd pub called Pat Cohan (patcohanbar.ie) are everything you’d imagine in a twee Irish village. Traipse around the ruins of the 13thcentury Augustine Cong Abbey, or go boating on Lough Corrib. Head to Inchagoill (7 kms from Cong), the largest island on the lake, for spectacular views of the mountains of Connemara. The grounds of Ashford Castle are perfect for long walks amidst hundred-year-old trees, or for a round on their nine-hole golf course. Visit the Falconry School located on the grounds of the castle for an exhilarating evening learning to fly hawks. Don’t miss the afternoon tea at the castle’s Connaught Room or a meal of sumptuous steaks at Cullen’s At The Cottage.

Credit: Hotel Hof Weissbad

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STAY

Ashford Castle (ashfordcastle.com) is a medieval castle converted into a luxury hotel. Set on the picturesque shores of Lough Corrib in 350 acres of ancient woodland, Ashford boasts elegant rooms and suites, and a state-of-the-art spa

FACT CHECK

► From Ortigia, head to neighbouring Catania for the annual Feast of St Agatha (Feb 3-5, 2017), complete with processions, street food, and fireworks.

► Fishing season starts in February on Lough Corrib; try angling for trout, salmon, and pike in Ireland’s scenic Lake District.

Credit: Findlay

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ORTIGIA ITALY

On a tiny island jutting off mainland Sicily, Ortigia is a little Greek bubble in Italy, dotted with 2,000-year-old ruins of Greek temples. It’s easy to lose yourself here ambling about the sleepy alleys lined with pretty pastel-coloured houses, topped with ageing balconies over-run with plants. Visit the impressive Cathedral in Piazza del Duomo, built over a 5th century Greek Temple of Athena, whose Doric columns can still be seen incorporated into the walls of the cathedral. Take a short bus ride to Neapolis in Siracusa (on the mainland) to admire the well-preserved ruins of an ancient Greek theatre surrounded by the Latomia del Paradiso, an old quarry filled with citrus trees.

Visit the Ortigia food market, heaving with local produce and the freshest catch of the day, then feast on the best seafood pasta at the nearby Ristorante L’Ancora (ristoranteancora.com). Caff è Apollo (Largo XXV Luglio 13; +39-0931/185-2656) is your best bet for an espresso and a ricotta-fi lled croissant. Stop over at the Puppet Theatre (teatrodeipupisiracusa.it) for a late-evening traditional Sicilian puppet show.

Credit: Aries Hotel And Spa

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STAY

Hotel Gutkowski (guthotel.it) a boutique hotel spread over two, 19th-century palazzi, overlooks the azure waters of the Mediterranean. The ambience is rather avant-garde, a seamless blend of designer retro and urban minimalism.

QUEDLINBURG GERMANY

Step back into medieval Germany with a visit to the charming town of Quedlinburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Harz Mountains. With its maze of cobblestone streets with colourful, red gable roofed, half-timbered houses on either side, the town looks straight out of fairy tale book. Here, the Quedlinburg Castle looms large over the town with its twin towers.

Walk up to the castle complex (it’s a steep cobbled path; wear appropriate footwear) and have a look around the medieval abbey and the imposing Collegiate Church of St Servatius. Don’t miss the sweeping view of the town from the terraced area at the rear of the church. Drop in at Brauhaus Ludde (restaurant-quedlinburg.de), a former brewery turned cosy restaurant that offers a choice of local dark beers accompanied by hearty German fare.

From Quedlingburg, drive down to Gernrode from where you can take a cute little, steam-powered toy train up the Harz Mountains for a panoramic view of the region.

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STAY

The romantic Hotel Theophano is a half-timbered house converted into a modern boutique hotel, conveniently located at the market square of Quedlinburg.

ELSEWHERE IN EUROPE

In the car-free Dutch village of Giethoorn, there are no roads; go punting down its canals, past the 18th-century houses and arched wooden bridges. From the tiny fi shing village of Reine in Norway, take a hike up Reinebringen for a spectacular view of the Lofoten Islands and the Reine Fjord.

In Europe’s oldest village of Hallstatt, Austria, go sliding down a 3,000-year-old salt mine and discover its secrets. Sail into the pretty seaside village of Pučišća on the island of Brač, Croatia and take a dip in the cool Adriatic. Hike through the misty woodlands in Sintra, Portugal to the Moorish Castle and the opulent Pena Palace.

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ZAKOPANE POLAND

Two hours (100 kms) south of Krakow, Zakopane is a popular resort town with the Poles, both in summer and winter. Set in the foothills of the Tatra Mountains, the town is dotted with oldworld wooden chalets topped by high, sloping slate grey roofs. Wander down Krupówki Street and the Gubałówka Market to shop for local souvenirs like wooden handicrafts and high quality leather products.

Taste the typical Zakopane cheese, oscypek, a salty, smoked sheep’s milk cheese often served grilled with a dab of cranberry marmalade. Take the cable car up Kasprowy Wierch for a view of the mountains that separate Poland from Slovakia. Advanced skiers can take to two skiing and snowboarding pistes here or try the horse-drawn sleigh ride in the Tatra National Park to admire the winter landscape while ensconced under warm sheepskin.

The best place to sample the local highlander cuisine is the rustic restaurant Bakowo Zohylina Wyźnio which hosts lively folk music and dance performances.

Credit: Dirk Renckhoff

Photo of Zakopane, Poland by Travel+Leisure India & South Asia

STAY

The cosy Aries Hotel & Spa, which is a perfect blend of local architecture and contemporary design, complete with a thermal pool and jacuzzi. The spa off ers treatments and products from the premium Polish brand Dr Irena Eris.

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