There’s so much more to Europe than just the big cities and landmarks. Go off the beaten track and discover some of Europe’s lesser-known cities, hidden towns and secret villages that are rich in natural beauty and history.
How architecture and contrasts changed Europe’s cities.
Bulgaria: A hermit’s mountain retreat
Surrounded by the green mountains of Rila, Bulgaria, a colourful monastery blends seamlessly with the landscape. Its Balkan architectural style will certainly catch your eye, but it is in the story behind its foundation that you will find clues to Bulgaria’s gripping past. Located on the highest Balkan Peninsula Mountain, the Rila monastery was founded in the 10th century (between 927-968) by St John of Rila, an Orthodox hermit, who chose to live in isolated caves.
Slovakia: Made out of wood
There was a time when Slovakia had more than 300 wooden churches. Built in harmony with nature, all parts of the church had to be made of wood using exquisite joinery skills. Indeed, nails had to remain unused inside the master craftsmen’s toolboxes. Behind this story, lies a search for beautiful simplicity. Around 50 of these wooden churches remain, mainly in the Carpathian Mountains region. These sacred places offer a glimpse into original architectural methods and cultural influences.
The Netherlands: ‘A direct line to heaven’
On a visit to Den Bosch, you’ll be greeted by a little angel statue, wearing jeans, with a laptop bag over the shoulder and a mobile phone in hand. There is only one button on the angel’s mobile phone and, according to the artist, it is used as ‘a direct line to heaven’.Visiting the Cathedral may take you back through the ages to ancient times, but do not assume the journey is always about the past. Damaged by many fires, the Cathedral has been renovated several times.
Denmark: A tale of kings and queens
This is the first gothic cathedral built in red brick between the 12th & 13th centuries in Roskilde, and became the main burial site for Danish monarchs. Around 3 million bricks were needed to build the impressive structure that visitors can see here today. Inside, you will find several burial chambers and chapels that have been added throughout the years, with hundreds of flagstones lining the cathedral floor marking the identities of its occupants.
Finland: Rebuilding a monastery
In 1939, a military conflict between Finland and Russia forced around 190 monks living in the Valamo monastery, Lake Ladoga, Russian Federation, to be evacuated as forces advanced. Soldiers appropriated the building and the monks soon found a new home: Heinävesi in Eastern Finland. They settled down in the current location in 1940, creating the New Valamo Monastery, which became an active centre of Orthodox religious life and culture.
Ireland: The view from the top
Climbing a mountain can be an act of faith. Leaving everything behind, aiming only for the top. Visitors wishing to get away from the crowds and embrace a moment of solitude might consider heading for Croagh Patrick, Ireland. Located in County Mayo, in the west of the country, Croagh Patrick is considered one of the holiest mountains in Ireland, with its pilgrimage tradition stretching back over 5 000 years to the Stone Age.
France: Lourdes, a place of healing and reconciliation
Lourdes, in south-western France, will always be remembered as the place where the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernardette Soubirou, a 14-year-old girl in 1858. . This was the first of eighteen apparitions that would later turn Lourdes into the most well-known pilgrimage destination in France. At the time, scepticism about Bernadette’s visions was evident, but she would eventually be beatified by the Catholic Church in 1927.
Latvia: From wood to stone
The Aglona basilica was assembled by Dominican monks between 1768 and 1780. In the middle of a warm European summer, visitors can always get away from the big cities and experience faith, tales and legends in Aglona.
All European expeditions should include a trip to a museum or gallery. Luckily, they can be found almost everywhere in Europe. And a lot of them are free of charge. Consider this your guide to some of the best free museums and galleries in Europe so that you’re prepared to take in the art on your next trip.
Just a ten-minute walk from the city centre is one of Debrecen’s most popular locations, with numerous activities on offer under the 100-year-old trees for young and old alike.
The therapeutic use of hot springs has been present in Europe from ancient times to the present day, giving birth to a number of spa towns well-known for the beauty of their buildings, or long tradition of welcoming guests and the healing properties of its springs.
Bread and earth within us.
One foot in a vineyard, the other in the sea. The Primorska wine growing region is nowadays undoubtedly the leading wine growing region in Slovenia, stretching from Goriška Brda on its western side, to the Vipava Valley, Karst and Slovenian Istria on its southern side. A combination of the Mediterranean and Alpine climates has created the region’s unique conditions for growing red and white wine grape varieties.
A visit to Europe is unforgettable in itself, but people often find themselves dreaming about all the delicious foods they tried, long after they’ve returned. From sweet to salty and every flavor in between, fondly remember your trip when you bring home a taste of Europe.
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