Courtesy of Villa Castagnola

These under-the-radar European beach towns, wine regions, and lake districts are just waiting to be discovered.

Ticino, Switzerland

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The capital city of Lugano is also the spiritual home of Italians in Switzerland, which adds a sexy slouch to an otherwise buttoned-up country. True, there is a Michelin-starred restaurant (the Galleria Arté al Lago), and Ticino is only a motorboat ride from the paparazzi-happy Lake Como region, but because this is technically Switzerland, the trains always run on time (to the ticking of Patek Philippe watches), and a politeness and white-glove service perseveres. Spend your nights in the Villa Castagnola, the former residence of the czars on the shores of Lake Lugano, and you’ll be instantly initiated into the lifestyle of long lunches, boat trips to the lake, and perfectly toned guests sunning themselves in the private gardens. Hiking and biking are popular activities, and there just happens to be Alpine skiing up the hill.

Europe's Secret Hot Spots

Ticino, Switzerland

The capital city of Lugano is also the spiritual home of Italians in Switzerland, which adds a sexy slouch to an otherwise buttoned-up country. True, there is a Michelin-starred restaurant (the Galleria Arté al Lago), and Ticino is only a motorboat ride from the paparazzi-happy Lake Como region, but because this is technically Switzerland, the trains always run on time (to the ticking of Patek Philippe watches), and a politeness and white-glove service perseveres. Spend your nights in the Villa Castagnola, the former residence of the czars on the shores of Lake Lugano, and you’ll be instantly initiated into the lifestyle of long lunches, boat trips to the lake, and perfectly toned guests sunning themselves in the private gardens. Hiking and biking are popular activities, and there just happens to be Alpine skiing up the hill.

Courtesy of Villa Castagnola

Europe's Secret Hot Spots

Americans can’t get enough of Paris, as becomes painfully clear each summer, when it swarms with tourists. Relief waits a train ride away in Île de Noirmoutier: You’ll be greeted by the scent of mimosa and the sight of bobbing yachts and families picnicking on the beach.  

Thankfully, Europe is still full of under-the-radar gems like this French retreat. And we can’t resist spreading the word about the latest emerging hot spots, from Eastern Europe’s hippest art scene to a sleepy district of lakes and castles. 

The continent is so varied that even with 17 countries sharing the euro currency, it can barely keep from splintering back into thousands of microcultures. While this complicates the financial markets, it has an upside for travelers: continued opportunities for discovery. You’ll never walk into a beach bar in Bergen, Holland, and one on the Aegean Islands and have the same experience.

So while the hunt is always on for the next Tuscany, you’ll find that Spain’s answer—the little-touristed northeast Matarranya region—has its own distinctive accent. Its patchwork of vineyards, rivers, and olive groves lies at the confluence of the ancient Aragon, Valencia, and Catalonia kingdoms. The feeling is still a bit regal, especially at the Hotel Torre del Visco, a surprisingly affordable 15th-century palace in Fuentespalda (population: 368).

Further afield, in Estonia, there’s a secret island of juniper forests, fishing villages, and small farms that was the last stronghold of Estonian pagans until the 13th century. Looking for a windmill? You’ll get your photo-op with the country’s last working wooden version here.

For more of a scene, look to the Netherlands and a beach town that’s recently made waves. Like the Hamptons, but with clogs, Bergen is becoming a second-home haven for newly monied Germans and Dutch who prefer bike rides and outdoor cafés to power lunches.

It takes extra effort, sure, to reach these European spots, but the reward comes with that sense of being let in on a fantastic secret—and the opportunity to experience a place rooted in local tradition before it’s really discovered and altered.

And if you just can’t forget Paris, consider you’ll probably get to transit through one such glittering European hub along the way.

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