Words by Tara Young
Did you do the rite of passage European trip gap year thing, you know 21 countries in 21 days, the whirlwind tour of the big Europe icons? Well now – perhaps a little bit older and a little bit wiser – is your chance to take the road slightly less travelled.
There are many more leisurely tours available, taking in some of the lesser-known gems that Europe has to offer. All the while, offering the benefit of exclusive experiences, fine accommodations and a trail less travelled.
Eastern Europe boasts many opportunities to blend spectacular scenery with some truly unique experiences in the many unspoiled corners of this region. There are tours available that include breath-taking vistas like the stunning Kotor in Montenegro, a UNESCO World Heritage Site nestled into the Bay of Kotor, which happens to be the Mediterranean Sea’s deepest natural fjord.
You can also experience what life was like in rural Croatia in the early 1900s at an outdoor museum in the heart of the pretty village of Kumrovec. In Sarajevo, you can visit the Sarajevo Tunnel built between 1992 and 1995 during the Bosnian War and get a fascinating insight into some not-so-distant history.
Europe In Winter
For those seeking a white Christmas, you can explore the cities of Prague, Budapest, Vienna, and Salzburg on an Imperial Europe Winter tour. While the frosty eaves and snow-dusted rooflines of the historic architecture are worthy of the trip, your local guides who share their own experiences and insights into the history and culture of their region offer an added degree of magic.
And then there's the Christmas markets. Seeing Europe in winter is the perfect time to experience the festive buzz that comes with these expansive markets. Learn about authentic holiday time customs and traditions, while sipping a warming cup of mulled wine and browsing handmade local treats and crafts.
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The Channel Islands
History, beaches, a mix of British and French influences and delectable seafood are just the beginning of what the Channel Islands have to offer. Kick off in Guernsey, which the perfect escape from busy European cities. You’ll have the chance to explore country lanes, quiet beaches and rocky coves. It's everything relaxing holiday dreams are made of.
Though, those that prefer a little history with their travel will be rewarded with rich tapestry of sights and experiences. There are plenty of reminders of the Napoleonic and Second World War that have helped to shape the island’s history – an interesting contrast to Saint Peter Port, Guernsey’s capital, considered to be one of Europe’s prettiest harbour towns.
Next up, head to the Isle of Sark. Covering a few square kilometres and just a short boat trip from Guernsey, this tiny island spurns car traffic, with all travel by either horse drawn carriage or bicycle.
A visit to Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands, is a mini haven for food-lovers. St Helier, the capital, has many restaurants, where you can try the famous Jersey Royal potatoes or Jersey black butter.
Russia And The Baltics
See Russia and the Baltics by water and embrace the charm of the Russian countryside as you glide along grand canals, rivers and lakes. Explore grand imperial cities, golden-domed churches and romantic wooden villages.
You can start in Helsinki, Finland’s vibrant capital, that is so proud of its natural, cultural and historical attractions. Just don't forget to delve into their delicious Finnish specialties on the food front.
Travel to Russia via the incredible Allegro high-speed train and arrive in opulent St Petersburg where there is the option to take a water journey down the Neva River. Or there's the famous Vodka Museum where you will also learn all about the nation’s signature beverage and see hundreds of varieties on display. Some cruises also include a Russian language lesson, which allows you to test your new linguistic skills as you travel.
Images courtesy of Getty