4 places you haven't heard of in Europe
Most of my favorite travel tales come from smaller, lesser known locations. There’s just something about taking a step off the tourist trail and feeling a bit uncomfortable. It could mean hopping on a bus where the driver doesn’t speak English, practicing your Slovakian on a waitress in Bratislava, or arriving in a small town you can’t even pronounce with no accommodation booked. Here are four of these places that I discovered in Europe this year.
1. Gouda, Netherlands
Yes, this is where the famous cheese comes from in the Netherlands. But don’t go around saying it like a tourist! It’s actually pronounced 'GOW-da' in Dutch (good luck!). You can reach this spectacular little town on a direct train from Amsterdam in less time than it takes to say, “Yes, I’d like to try all of your cheeses.”.
Take a walk past stunning little canals to one of two windmills in town to tick that box, then relax for a beer in the main square before attacking the free samples at a cheese shop. The locals here are incredibly friendly - they love to talk about their town with pride and if you’re lucky, you may even get a private walking tour.
2. Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
You can reach this magical medieval town from Prague or Vienna; it sits in the Czech foothills just before the Austrian border. I dare you not to gasp while walking through town for the first time. Centuries-old stonewalls, a castle perched above a babbling rocky creek, and thatched roofs make Cesky Krumlov feel like an episode of Game of Thrones.
The tiny Bohemiam hamlet has been populated since the 13th century and the old town area has not changed much since. Meat-lovers won't be able to resist a meal at Krcma v Satlavske, a cave-like restaurant with an open-air fire pit in the middle of the dining room. Devour chunks of tasty morsels washed down with local red wine, just like the kings and lords of the past did.
3. Bratislava, Slovakia
This thriving little city is actually the youngest capital in Europe, having been established after Czechoslovakia’s split in 1993. It really feels like the gateway to Eastern Europe as well, despite being only an hour’s train ride from fancy-shmancy Vienna, the mood and architecture are very different.
This bohemian enclave is fantastic to explore on foot - you can cover the old town easily in one day including a short prance up the hill to the castle for spectacular views over the city and countryside. Top tip: Bring a bottle of wine up with you and enjoy the sunset under a tree with a few cheap glasses of wine. Afterwards, carefully stumble back into Bratislava, making sure to catch all the amazing street art covering public spaces. Then, pick a bar to start your night - drinks are cheaper than a McDonald’s cheeseburger. Enjoy!
4. Tbilisi, Georgia
I know it’s not technically part of Europe, but this gem of Georgia definitely feels more European than Asian. If you’re up for a real adventure and want to find a place that’s not already full of Aussies,hop a flight to Tbilisi for something different. You’ll struggle with the language, you’ll order food by pointing at menu items and hoping for the best, and you’ll go on a taxi adventure with a crazy bearded man who turns out to be a policeman (long story).
Georgia has not been without its problems since the USSR broke up – Russia still governs part of the country without permission and blackouts are common. But hey - it’s cheap, it’s absolutely beautiful and it’s definitely somewhere your friends haven’t already been to. So put away your Lonely Planet and your inhibitions, and go take a look at the birthplace of wine. It won’t be long before you’ll be hearing Aussie accents wafting from every hostel in town, so get in now.
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