The Europe You Don't Know: 16 Destinations for the Traveler Who's Seen it All
Seaside hideaways, new culture capitals, neighborhoods on the rise—all spared the EasyJet hordes and summertime tourists. From Ireland to the Greek isles, T+L uncovers 16 destinations to visit now.
Related: 13 Affordable Trips to Europe
Reported by: Stephen Bayley, Rachel Felder, Adam Graham, Marti Buckley Kilpatrick, Alexandra Marshall, Nicola McCormack, Shane Mitchell, Anja Mutić, Debbie Pappyn, Brandon Presser, Evan Rail, Peter Schlesinger, Ann Shields, Valbona Twerdahl
Setting off through southeast County Waterford feels like stumbling upon County Cork 15 years ago, before its farmers’ markets and country house hotels became part of Ireland’s established culinary circuit. Ardmore’s Cliff House Hotel (doubles from $246) is the perfect base from which to explore the area’s craft brewers, artisanal distillers, and cheese makers. It has 39 sea-facing rooms with chairs upholstered in Donegal tweed, campaign trunks, and glassed-in double showers; there’s also a light-filled indoor pool and outdoor stone tubs at the spa. At chef Martijn Kajuiter’s Michelin-starred dining room, you’ll taste locally sourced sea vegetables, lamb, and whiskey. Just up the coast in Dungarvan, chef Paul Flynn rethinks Irish staples at his restaurant Tannery (entrées $29–$31), which also houses a cooking school. Nearby, Dungarvan Brewing Co. recently teamed up with nearby newcomer Blackwater Distillery for some ambitious collaborations—fancy a pint of cask-aged oatmeal stout?
Long known for its wine and annual Gastronomic Fair, this ancient city—the provincial capital of Burgundy—can now lay claim to a vibrant contemporary art culture. Leading galleries include Interface, which hosts experimental installations by the likes of Benedetto Bufalino, and Le Consortium, where the work of conceptualist Oscar Tuazon is on display. Visit in July to catch the Dièse Festival, when the city’s Renaissance-era palaces are taken over by avant-garde theater and musical acts. The food scene has also had a modern makeover: while Stéphane Derbord (entrées $40–$52) and Jean-Pierre Billoux (entrées $36–$59) still carry the torch for traditional Burgundian fare, David Zuddas adds North African flavors to the boeuf bourguignonne at his informal DZ’envies (entrées $16–$23), and Restaurant So (15 Rue Admiral Roussin; 33-3-80-30-03-85; entrées $19–$39) fuses French and Japanese culinary styles. Dijon’s hotels have also taken a design-focused turn: the new Vertigo Hôtel (doubles from $166) is housed in a Haussmann-era apartment building with furniture by progressive designers like Eléonore Nalet and Didier Gomez.
At the 16-room Relais Sant’Elena (doubles from $233), a centuries-old farm off the main oenophile trail of southern Tuscany, days start with oven-fresh bread and honey from local beehives. After tasting Ornellaia in nearby Bolgheri, you’ll return to find an Italian nonna picking rosemary for that night’s beef stew.
On the fringes of the Périgord-Limousin national forest—a region famous for its rich butter and foie gras—the 12th-century château Domaine des Etangs (doubles from $402) has 23 rooms and six cottages decked out in natural stone and antique timber, as well as a library and a Gallo-Roman spa. Activities on the scenic 2,100-acre grounds include fishing, horseback riding, and farm visits.
Noordwijk, The Netherlands
For years, well-heeled Dutch urbanites have enjoyed the anonymity of this laid-back coastal village less than an hour outside Amsterdam. Now the Vesper Hotel (doubles from $157), a refashioned 1904 inn, is catching the eye of the international design crowd. The 27 Scandi-inspired rooms feature neon-bright accents and handmade beds, while the glass-ceilinged bar is ideal for watching the sun set over the North Sea.
More than 85,000 people have flocked to the West Country outpost of Hauser & Wirth (doubles from $576) since it opened last July. Set on an 18th-century farm, the contemporary art space—which has branches in Zurich, London, and New York—tapped Piet Oudolf, who landscaped Manhattan’s High Line, to design its garden. This year’s debut of the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion added a dazzling shell-like structure to the grounds. Plan ahead to score one of the six art-strewn rooms in the farmhouse.
The 2019 European Capital of Culture is riding a wave of popularity. The second-century Roman amphitheater is now a live music venue; Ottoman manor houses have become galleries like City Gallery Plovdiv, which promotes Bulgarian painters, including Encho Pironkov and Zlatyu Boyadzhir. Philippopolis has a compelling collection of Thracian antiquities.
More than a decade of big openings—Museo Picasso, the Carmen Thyssen collection, Centro de Arte Contemporáneo—has cast Andalusia’s second city in a new light. The latest: semipermanent outposts of Paris’s Centre Pompidou, displaying works by Francis Bacon and Frida Kahlo, and St. Petersburg’s Russian Museum, which will showcase Kandinsky and Chagall.
Not long ago, most Lisboans steered clear of this former red-light district north of Martim Moniz square. But redevelopment has brought in artists and artisans and Joana Vasconcelos’s Kit Garden, a sculpture that now sits in the heart of the neighborhood. Behind the dazzling façade of a former tile warehouse, an outpost of A Vida Portuguesa carries vintage brands and local wares: hand-wrapped tins of Tricana tuna, Ach Brito soaps, hats from the Azores. On sunny days, locals pack the esplanade tables outside O das Joanas (28 Largo do Intendente; 351-218-879-401; entrées $6–$11) for Mediterranean dishes like béchamel-smothered cod, then head to the 19th-century town house Casa Independente, which hosts screenings and concerts on its patio.
Gros, San Sebastián, Spain
While the old town remains touristy, cheap rents and a dynamic surf culture have created a lively scene in Gros. The bookstore Garoa puts on literary-themed concerts and alternative poetry readings, while at Essencia Wine Bar y Store, wine consultant Dani Corman pairs an extensive collection with fresh anchovies and heritage Basque pork. And the owners of the gin-focused hangout La Gintonería just opened a tiki bar, Shaka & Shake (5 Calle Zabaleta; 34-943-271-912), right across the street.
Witness this leafy district’s road to renewal after a 2002 flood at projects like Karlín Studios, a warren of ate- liers and conceptual galleries in a refashioned factory; Můj Šálek Kávy, a café that serves weekend brunch and Latin American roasts; and Veltlín, poet Bogdan Trojak’s emporium of natural wines from Central Europe.
Chic creative types are the latest settlers in this diverse, multicultural neighborhood that is getting more sophisticated by the day. Don’t miss cult coffee brewers like Cream (50 Rue de Belleville; 33-9-83- 66-58-43), which makes the best flat white in town, and the art space Galerie Balice Hertling, a magnet for international talent.
With its pretty fishing villages rimming Cardigan Bay, cute shops, and deserted beaches, this picturesque region looks like the setting of a Masterpiece Classic series. In Aberaeron, the harbor is lined with pastel Regency houses and backed by lush green hills. It’s home to boutiques like Seld, which sells handcrafted housewares, and cafés such as Naturally Scrumptious, where you can try traditional seaweed laverbread. The Harbourmaster (doubles from $170) has 13 stylish rooms with Frette sheets and a restaurant serving fresh crab cakes. And the skiffs bobbing in the marina out front lead day trips to glimpse bottlenose dolphins. Down the coast, the windswept shores of Aberdovey recall the ones in Massachusetts, as do stores like Sweet Shop (2 Sea View Terrace; 44-1654-767-222), popular for its housemade ice creams—try the peanut-and-honey. Farther south is Aberystwyth, marked by an 1865 pier and a surprising food scene: Spanish tapas at Ultracomida (tapas $15–$30) and Welsh pheasant wrapped in treacle bacon at Gwesty Cymru Hotel & Restaurant (entrées $20–$29). A few minutes away is Penbryn Beach, a favorite with surfers for its glassy waves.
Even Icelanders think that the Arctic Circle peninsula, 123 miles northwest of Reykjavík, is pretty far out. Getting there involves either a white-knuckle drive around deep-water fjords or, more easily, a ferry ride from Stykkishólmur. Stop for the night on Flatey Island at Hotel Flatey (doubles from $190). Continue on to Ísafjörður, where in summer you can pick crowberries under the midnight sun, kayak next to seals on placid bays, and dine on fish chowder at the dockside Tjöruhúsið (354-456-4419; entrées $15–$44).
Perhaps its nickname—the Accursed Mountains—keeps this range development-free. But in-the-know hikers have long come here to see lynx, bears, and Alpine wildflowers. Stay at Rilindja (doubles from $40), a four-room inn run by a Brooklyn native and her Albanian partner. At night, the couple puts on a feast of shepherd’s salad, spit-roasted goat, and slow-cooked tomatoes and eggplant from the garden.
Few travel guides mention this speck in the Aegean Sea, and its rawness is the reason to go. The main town is Chora, a white ziggurat with two great hotels: Tholaria (doubles from $123), a homespun stay with driftwood accents, and Pylaia (doubles from $96), which has Philippe Starck design touches. At the Livadi beach café Astropelos (30-224-306-1473), there’s only one task at hand—eating spinach pie while gazing at the wine-dark sea.