Design Pics Inc. - RM Content / Alamy

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

Fermanagh Lakelands, Northern Ireland

2 of 14

Northern Ireland’s self-styled lake district isn’t as dramatic as its English sister, which has given it reprieve from the millions of visitors who come to the region’s shores. Here, instead of membership-only clubs and helipads, you get crenellated castles from the 17th and 18th centuries, misty loughs (lakes), and views of the distant Donegal Mountains. For a truly Irish experience, stay in the west wing of Crom Castle, the historic seat of the earls of Erne for more than 350 years. Its 1,900 rolling acres are filled with every possible amenity to fulfill your outdoor Gaelic fantasies—and reachable within a two-hour drive from Belfast or Dublin.

Europe's Secret Hot Spots

Fermanagh Lakelands, Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s self-styled lake district isn’t as dramatic as its English sister, which has given it reprieve from the millions of visitors who come to the region’s shores. Here, instead of membership-only clubs and helipads, you get crenellated castles from the 17th and 18th centuries, misty loughs (lakes), and views of the distant Donegal Mountains. For a truly Irish experience, stay in the west wing of Crom Castle, the historic seat of the earls of Erne for more than 350 years. Its 1,900 rolling acres are filled with every possible amenity to fulfill your outdoor Gaelic fantasies—and reachable within a two-hour drive from Belfast or Dublin.

Design Pics Inc. - RM Content / Alamy

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.

Explore More