If 2020 was the year the world stood still, then 2021 should be the year when we rediscover our roaming instincts and find new gems to explore.
So we’ve been delving into our travel files to bring you five of the very best European destinations which are within (reasonably) easy reach and which still enjoy “unspoilt” status.
That’s not to say these are unknown, remote destinations (after all, you’ll need somewhere to refuel and shop) but rather they maintain a good deal of their original character – something of a holy grail for all us travellers…
Spain: Basque Country
If you love a nice beach, pretty towns, great food and lots of culture thrown in, then The Basque country in north west Spain is perfect for you. Easily accessible by road through France or by ferry, this superb coastal region boasts several large towns, among them San Sebastian, Bilbao, Santander and Pamplona.
In San Sebastian you’ll find excellent beaches, classic promenades and some truly world-class cuisine. Nearby Bilbao is home to several outstanding museums and galleries, including the iconic Guggenheim, while inland there’s a world of nature to explore in the Parque Nacional de Los Picos de Europa.
The Côtes-d’Armor region of Brittany, northern France, gets less tourists than most French coastal areas. This is some surprise when you consider how easy it is to reach (for us Brits at least!) and its many and varied charms.
The coastline around the regional capital Saint Brieuc is particularly appealing, with its dramatic cliffs and rocks, small sandy coves and its abundance of delightful coastal towns and villages. The town itself is well worth a visit, with its historic centre and imposing granite cathedral. Yet the region’s main pull for the traveller must be its idyllic countryside and beautiful coastline: known as the Côte de Goëlo (to the east) and in the west as the Côte de Granit Rose – the ‘pink granite coast’.
There are lots of reasons to visit this charming little city even if you don’t love cheese. But if you do, then it’s really a no-brainer! Known as the city of cheese in Holland, connoisseurs head to Alkmaar for the fabulous weekly cheese markets throughout summer months.
But beyond its dairy delights, the city boasts a beautiful old centre featuring a beer museum, Beatles museum (yes!) historic monuments, lovely shopping areas plus all the atmospheric terraces, cafes and restaurants you would associate with a historic European destination. And if you do grow weary of the city life, there are attractive beaches just a short drive away.
Northern Ireland: Omagh
Set in rural Co Tyrone, 70 miles west of Belfast, the bustling market town of Omagh offers a superb mix of glorious countryside and fascinating attractions. Home to the famous Sperrin Mountains and picturesque Gortin Lakes, you should also seek out the Ulster American Folk Park, a unique museum which tells the gripping story of those who left for the New World in search of a better life during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Another must-see in the area is the fabulous Abingdon Collection. If you enjoy history and have passion for transport (on two or four wheels) then you’ll be blown away by their classic cars, motorcycles and diecast models. For lovers of military history, the Abingdon also houses one of the largest private collections of militaria in the UK.
Half an hour’s drive to the east of Milan in northern Italy lies what some consider the true star of Lombardy (but thousands more know nothing about): the historic town of Bergamo. Crammed full of art, history, wine, cobbled streets and fantastic views, this evocative walled city lives up to the romantic Italian stereotype in every way: yet remains relatively free of mass tourism.
The city is split into two main centres, connected by a ‘funicular’ cable railway and in addition to the wonderful piazzas and cathedrals synonymous with Italian cities, it features a quirky mausoleum built in honour of the town’s famous juggler, Rastelli. With its proximity to Milan, a stunning backdrop of lakes and mountains, and its ancient appeal, Bergamo is indeed an Italian jewel which surely cannot remain unspoilt for long.