These under-the-radar European beach towns, wine regions, and lake districts are just waiting to be discovered.
Muhu Island, Estonia
Europe's Secret Hot Spots
Muhu Island, Estonia
On the tiny island of Muhu—accessed by an ice road in winter—you’ll find working windmills, thatched cottages, and a 13th-century pagan church. The population is only around 2,000, but this island 100 miles from Tallinn is rich with tradition, dating back to 1227 when an army of Christians crossed the ice and ended the Estonian Crusade. Padaste Manor may not be that old, but it still has some 700 years of history under its Danish-style eaves. Experience what a descendant of one of those crusaders (the last private owner, Baron Axel von Buxhoeveden) thought of as impeccable taste in the hotel, whose outbuildings merge the old world styles of St. Petersburg (to the east) and Denmark (to the west).
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.
Related: 25 Secret European Villages
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.