Quintessential retreats such as Tuscany and Santorini are crowded during peak season—and require that you book hotels months in advance. These four under-the-radar destinations offer similar attractions at lower prices.
Instead of Brittany, France
Go to Rügen, Germany
Why This island in the Baltic Sea was a getaway for the East German elite during the Cold War. With its 400-foot-high chalk cliffs and white-sand beaches, Rügen now attracts a stylish crowd from Berlin, a four-hour train ride away. Hike or bike through the beech forests of Jasmund National Park or poke around seaside towns, such as Sellin and Binz. Getting There Trains connect the island's main city, Bergen, to Frankfurt, Hamburg, Cologne, and Berlin. A summer ferry runs between Stralsund and Altefahr, on the island's southwestern shore. Great Value Panorama Hotel Lohme (49-38/302-9222; www.lohme.com; doubles from $105). For More Information cometogermany.com.
Instead of the Scottish Highlands
Go to Northumberland, England
Why With its moorland and jagged coastline and 1,000-plusyear-old history, England's northernmost county promises stunning landscapes and ancient culture. Hadrian's Wall, built in the second century, now has its own 84-mile hiking trail. And the region has 43 castles—more than any other English county. Getting There Flights leave daily from Heathrow to Newcastle Airport, a 15-minute drive from the Northumbrian border. Great Value The Orchard House (44-1669/620-684; www.orchardhouserothbury.com; doubles from $140). For More Information www.northumberland.gov.uk/vg
Instead of Santorini, Greece
Go to Skopelos, Greece
Why Although it's considered Greece's greenest island and is known for its 360 whitewashed churches, Skopelos remains virtually untouched. Well-heeled Athenians flock to it for culinary specialties like spiral-shaped cheese-and-spinach pie. Climb the narrow streets of Skopelos Town or cycle through the lush pine forests that make up the island's interior. Getting There Fly to Skiathos airport and take a ferry to the island's main port at Skopelos Town (50 minutes) or to the northern port of Glossa (15 to 30 minutes). Great Value Hotel Agnanti (30-24240/22722; www.skopelos.net/agnanti; doubles from $48, including breakfast). For More Information www.skopelosweb.gr.
Instead of Tuscany, Italy
Go to Istria, Croatia
Why The Adriatic's largest peninsula is giving its more popular neighbor a run for its money. Rolling vineyards, Roman architecture, and Italian-inspired cuisine are already drawing the most discerning of travelers, and locals are renovating their villas to meet the demand. Getting There From Zagreb, take a flight to Pula (50 minutes), Istria's largest city, or drive three hours on the Istrian Y highway. Great Value Rent a villa from Vintage Travel (44-1954/261-431; www.vintagetravel.co.uk; from $595 per week). For More Information www.istra.com.
Castles, barges, and wine tours are just a click away. Below, our picks of the sites with the best selection.
Castles and Châteaux
Bienvenue au Château (www.bienvenueauchateau.com) Privately owned manor houses and authentic castles such as the Château de Perreux, on the Loire's right bank ($1,208 per night for up to 14 people, including breakfast).
Relais & Châteaux (www.relaischateaux.com) Always a useful resource. Use the simple three-tiered system to find unexpected options like Kendov Dvorec, an 11-room 14th-century estate in Slovenia ($1,325 per night).
Canals of France (www.canalsoffrance.com) Elegantly restored historic barges. A seven-day cruise in the Languedoc, from Béziers to Carcassonne, includes a wine-tasting in the Noilly Prat cellars and a stroll through the Roman city of Narbonne, founded in 118 b.c. ($22,500 for six people).
Cellar Tours (www.cellartours.com) Wine and food trips in Spain, Portugal, and Italy. A 12-day tour of Piedmont and Tuscany includes private transportation, art guides in Florence and Siena, and tours of five wineries ($10,878 per person).
WEB ONLY: Five more sites for luxury country trips.
- Luxury Scotland (www.luxuryscotland.co.uk)
- National Trust Holiday Cottages (www.nationaltrustcottages.co.uk)
- Connoisseur Boating Holidays(www.connoisseurafloat.com)
- GoBarging.com (www.gobarging.com)
- French Wine Explorers (www.wine-tours-france.com)
The European Union is launching a new strategy to lure tourists to the continent as it faces competition from other parts of the globe. The EU aims to coordinate and package its 25-member nations as a single attraction through a new "Visit Europe" Website, www.visiteurope.com. The site, which is funded by the European Commission, provides a one-stop site with practical information on such things as transport, weather and events across Europe. The site is currently focused on travelers from the U.S., Canada and Brazil and is run by the separate European Travel Commission, which represents national tourist boards across Europe. The plan still needs the backing of EU governments. Tourists from the U.S. and Canada accounted for 5.4% of visitors in Europe, the highest number from non-European nations.