6 places you never knew existed in Europe
For a continent stuffed full of countries that could fit into the state of Victoria, there’s even smaller blink-and-you’ll-miss-them independent states dotted across Europe. These so-called European microstates are not only ideal for racking up your country count and passport stamps for bragging rights, they’re packed full of quirk and offer a totally different experience to your Frances, Italys and Germanys.
If you’re planning your European travel itinerary for summer 2015, here’s some places you may never knew existed to consider hitting up on your tour de Europe.
Sandwiched between Spain and France and located high in the Pyrenees, the Principality of Andorra is just 40 kilometres across and 90 percent forest, although it’s mostly known for skiing with 300 kilometres of marked slopes. It’s also the only country in the world with two heads of state known as co-princes; one is religious – a Spanish bishop, and the other is the French prez. The independent state of Andorra has been around for over 1,000 years, and the official language is Catalan (also spoken in Barcelona and other parts of Spain).
Fun fact: Andorra has over 1,000 shops and seven major shopping centres. With a population of 78,000, that’s pretty much a store for every 40 residents!
Said to be the oldest sovereign state in the world and one of only two enclaves in Europe (the other being Vatican City), the landlocked Republic of San Marino is located within central Italy and around 10 kilometres from the Adriatic Coast. Bordered by the Apennine mountain range, San Marino is pretty hilly and just 61 square kilometres in total. Despite its size, this micro nation has nine municipalities and its largest town, Dogana, has 2,714 residents. There’s even an UNESCO World Heritage site – the medieval settlement of Città di San Marino on Mount Titano.
Fun fact: With almost 30,000 residents at last count, that number swells to around 45,000, if you count all the expats. The largest community of San Marino citizens outside the country is in Detroit!
One of the only European microstates to be a member of the EU, the Republic of Malta is an archipelago of seven islands in the Mediterranean Sea with Sicily and Tunisia its closest neighbours. With a hot, dry summers and mild winters, and English as one of the official languages (along with Maltese), Malta is a popular holiday destination for Europeans where the sea provides heaps of seafood plus opportunities to explore sunken WWII wrecks, underwater caves and get your tan on. At 316 square kilometres, Malta is one of the world’s smallest yet densely populated nations.
Fun fact: Everyone’s fave lap dog, the fluffy moppets known as Maltese dogs are an ancient breed that’s been around for centuries and were believed to have originated from the island of Malta.
Surrounded by Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo and Albania, the petite country of Montenegro faces the Adriatic Sea for a coastline and turquoise waters just like nearby Dubrovnik. At just 100 kilometres from top to bottom, Montenegro is stuffed with sights like jutting mountains, deep canyons, ancient monuments and even fjords. You’ll speak Montenegrin here, although plenty of South Slavic languages are also spoken in Montenegro due to the diverse range of ethnic groups.
Fun fact: The three-day Sea Dance Festival was held on Jaz Beach in Montenegro this year with headliners like Jamiroquai, Underworld, Example and heaps more EDM luminaries.
At 25 kilometres long and six kilometres wide, the wee Principality of Liechtenstein is a mere speed bump on the roadmap of Europe. The doubly landlocked German-speaking alpine nation is wedged between Switzerland and Austria, and is a fave of trivia boffins for the sheer amount of fun facts it generates. Presided over by a prince, Liechtenstein is the richest country in the world in terms of GDP per capita and is official currency here is the Swiss franc, although euros are also accepted. Did you know that Liechtenstein is the world’s sixth smallest country? See, lots to know!
Fun fact: Liechtenstein is the world’s largest producer and exporter of false teeth and dentures.
With Germany, France and Belgium as neighbours, you’ll hear a mix of languages on the streets of the Luxembourg, including the official lingo of Luxembourgish as well as French, German and English. The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is 82 kilometres long and 57 kilometres wide with almost 512,000 citizens within its borders. The fairytale country is chock full of pretty with dense forests, rolling hills, winding valleys, a wine region in the Moselle, as well as over 50 medieval castles and ruins in the Luxembourg Ardennes - a most scenic area in the microstate.
Fun fact: For knights and medieval maidens, Luxembourg has an annual Festival Médiéval held at Vianden Castle complete with jugglers, minstrels, fire eaters and knight tournaments.
Want to see the microstates, major countries and island nations of Europe next summer and nab some spending money for tours? Book a Contiki 2015 Europe Earlybird tour of seven days or longer with Student Flights before September 30 to save up to $1,075 and get $200 Contiki Cash to spend on ME Time Optional Excursions. Find out more about what's in store with Contiki for 2015.