Much of Eastern Europe remains a lesser-known secret – with barely any tourist scene and little discussion of its merits. Despite this, it is a place of exquisite natural beauty and fascinating history, so why not devote some time to uncovering its mysteries? Here are our top five under the radar gems of Eastern Europe. [bctt tweet="Much of Eastern Europe remains a lesser-known secret."]
Skopje is the capital of the Republic of Macedonia, despite how tiny it is! It's an eclectic combination of modern quirky buildings and Ottoman-era architecture. Take some time to visit the Čaršija – an old Turkish bazaar, and the Tvrdina Kale Fortress which dates back to the fifth century, to get a feel for the history of the place. Then spend some time on the modern side of town, taking in things like the Warrior on a Horse statue in Ploštad Makedonija. This is a cities of opposites – of Vegas like extravagance, but tempered by a rich and ancient history.
Thanks to its status as up-and-coming, it remains one of the cheaper cities in Europe, so take advantage of this and try the local food. It can be tricky to access by train, but there are plenty of buses available. Plus, when you're done with city life, head out to the nearby nature reserve – Jasen – for a chance to encounter European Lynx, the Balkan Chamois and Golden Eagles. It's a great way to see the less built upon side of Macedonia, and perhaps even spend some time adventuring via kayak, paraglider and even spelunking too.
Set in Transylvania, Sibiu was deemed the European Capital of Culture in 2007. Despite this, it remains on the quiet side, never quite reaching the heights of Prague or Budapest. The city itself dates back to at least the 12th century, being one of seven walled citadels built by the Transylvanian Saxons. This lengthy history means it’s a city packed with culture and stories – with medieval walls, 17th century buildings and quaint cobblestone streets. Of particular interest are the three 15th century towers, still standing tall amidst the buildings. Then there's Brukenthal Palace, built in the 1700s in baroque style and now home to an art museum. If religious history appeals to you, Sibiu has a lot to offer. From Orthodox churches to Jewish synagogues, there's a rich and varied history to explore here.
Heading out of the city and you can explore Marginimea Sibiului, eighteen villages that carefully preserve the traditional life of Romania. It's also within day trip distance of the magnificent Horezu Monastery, a UNESCO world heritage site renowned for its intricacy and impressive collections. So whether it's staying in the city, or exploring the area, Sibiu has something for everyone.
Mljet is a small island in the Adriatic, and is home to the Mljet National Park. Said to be the island which transfixed Odysseus for seven years, it's easy to see why. The park itself is accessible via foot or bike, and is home to a small Benedictine monastery that dates back to the 12th century. Abandoned in 1869, it was subsequently turned into a hotel and is now a restaurant. There's also the town of Polače, which the remains of a 5th century church, a Roman palace and an early Christian basilica. Still, it's mostly nature which is the draw here, with the National Park being a beautiful, shaded forest with two lakes. You can experience these by circling the edges, or potentially even swimming in them! Home to fallow deer, wild boar and eagle owls, its an enticing place with rugged coastlines and olive groves.
Mjlet is also very close to the well known Dubrovnik, meaning it's great as part of a larger holiday too.
Image via www.Yacht-Rent.com
Olomouc, Czech Republic
Less known than Prague, Olomouc boasts an equally thrilling history, with beautiful squares in its own right. Home to the country's second oldest university, it remains a thriving student town, meaning it has a good night-life and is a hive of activity – but often, not tourist activity.
With a huge Gothic cathedral, the Holy Trinity Column and the fantastic Archdiocesan Museum, Olomouc is bursting with culture and history. Unlike some cities however, this isn't all it has to it. Thanks to the young population and the university, there's fast train travel to it and great brew pubs. With local jazz clubs, hidden restaurants and home-made speciality beers, you'll delight in the modernity of such an old city.
Finally, there's Berat. Albania itself is one of the more overlooked Easten European countires, and Berat is a jewel in this gorgeous country's crown. It's on the UNESCO world heritage sites list, and is home to hordes of white Ottoman houses, giving it the nickname of the 'town of a thousand windows'. With minarets, the dome of the university and tiled roofs galore, it's a quaint mix of a variety of styles, from a modern university to the bridges built in the 1700s.
One of the must watch of the town is the Kala, a castle dating back to the 13th century – with some aspects that even go back to the 4th. It's a steep climb, but not only do you get beautiful views, but access to the Onufri Iconography Museum, featuring artefacts from many churches in the region. As well as this, there are many byzantine churches, Ottoman-era mosques and a beautiful waterfall for those craving nature.
So instead of heading on a place alongside everyone else this summer, why not scope out these hidden gems, and explore the side of Eastern Europe you never knew about before?
By Edward Francis and BalticTravelCompany.com!