TOP 5… As Yet Unseen: Europe

I love reading and writing reviews of places travelled, sharing experiences and memories that will last a lifetime. However I also love the buzz and excitement, dreaming of exploring those destinations as yet unvisited – a viewpoint I seldom see on other blogs / websites.

I wanted to share my excitement prior to visiting these locations so we all go on the journey together; from day dreaming, to trip planning and then finally living the dream and exploring each of these amazing destinations with each and every one of you. So here goes…

5. Bosnia and Herzegovina

First up, its Bosnia and Herzegovina. Yes, I know it’s a bit cheeky having an entire country on the list – but it is a land far too amazing to limit a trip to one spot. Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the most underrated and unexplored natural wonders in Europe, with just under 1.5m foreign tourists per year visiting the Balkan beauty based on 2019 figures (I have excluded 2020’s stats for obvious reasons).

For some the initial mental image conjured up when I say Bosnia & Herzegovina will be Mostar Bridge, however sadly for many the scenes of war from the news in years gone by will dominate.

Bosnia & Herzegovina has a troubled recent history – between 1992 and 1995 the Bosnian War saw an estimated 97,207 people killed. There have been many convictions for war crimes in the Bosnian war, including Slobodan Milošević, Radovan Karadžić & Ratko Mladić for committing genocide. It is incredibly important to bear this in mind when travelling to this region and be respectful of this. I strongly encourage you to visit the memorials across the country such as the Srebrenica–Potočari Memorial to pay your respects and learn about the history of the country.

Despite the troubled past, Bosnia and Herzegovina is a thriving country bursting with amazing culture and natural beauty. Bucket list activities include walking across the UNESCO world heritage bridge in Visegrad (pictured above), visiting the Pliva Waterfall located in Jajce town centre, exploring the capital Sarajevo, a trip to the aforementioned Mostar, climbing Maglic Mountain to swim in Trnovacko Lake in Sutjeska National Park, and finally rafting down Štrbački buk in Una National Park pictured below.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country rich with history, culture and natural beauty all bundled up in to one fantastic package. Whilst I love finding hidden gems off the well trodden tourist path, it feels wrong that only 1.5m foreign tourists visit this nation each year. For perspective, that means that on average the UK has more tourists in 2 weeks than visit Bosnia and Herzegovina in an entire year. This is definitely one to add to your bucket list!

4. Tibilisi & Batumi, Georgia

So number 5 was a little cheeky, but number 4 is as cheeky as it gets. The country of Georgia is in the Caucasus, right on the borderline between Eastern Europe and Western Asia – however as they are eligible for membership of European institutions including the EU and most importantly Eurovision… that qualifies Georgia for the European list in my book.

Now for the second elephant in the room. Yes, Tbilisi and Batumi are 2 separate cities approximately 400km apart – but let me explain…

The former Soviet state of Georgia is widely known as just that – a part of the old Soviet Union, but Georgia has so much culture and excitement to offer! A melting pot of Ottoman, Persian, Armenian and Soviet history and influences and a former stop along the famous Silk Road, Georgia is an intriguing and relatively unexplored nation. Tbilisi, the capital city, is one of Europes most up and coming cities, and is a must for my Top 5 list!

After exploring Tbilisi, the city becomes the perfect hub to launch out for day trips, my selection being;

  • the Monuments of Mtskheta, photographed above
  • a visit to Josef Stalin’s birthplace of Gori
  • exploring the oldest cave city in Georgia, Uplistsikhe

If a wine tasting floats your boat, then a trip to Sighnaghi is a must. Whilst visiting Sighnaghi is something I would like to do, this will be the trip I am prepared to sacrifice given I don’t really drink!

The chances are I will only ever visit Georgia once, so it makes sense to travel between cities & locations as and when required to ensure that key sights are not missed. So on that note…

Following exploring Tbilisi and the surrounding areas, a road trip to the Black Sea resort of Batumi is top of my list of priorities in Georgia (photographed below). The drive to Batumi would take at least a day, as there are a minimum of 10 stops to make along the way, my number 1 priority being a visit to Borjomi-Kharagauli national park in the lower Caucusus.

Once in Batumi my priorities are; taking the Argo Cable car in to the Anuria Mountain to enjoy a panoramic view of the city and its skyline, enjoying the pebbled beaches on the Black Sea, experiencing the restaurants & nightlife, and exploring the eclectic mix of neoclassical architecture alongside modern interpretations of architecture from the elite of Georgia in the present day.

Special thanks to Wander-lush.org for the inspiration to travel to Georgia and for some of the locations suggested above! If you want to check out their comprehensive Georgia travel guide, is is available here.

3. The Lofoten Islands, Norway

I have done it! At last, I have chosen an individual location. To be completely honest with you, there were 2 or 3 places in Norway that could have made this Top 5 list however I plan on multiple trips here and so I settled on just 1, and the winner is…. the Lofoten Islands.

The four main islands of Lofoten are Moskenesøy, Vestvågøy, Austvågøy and Flakstadøy. Located in the Arctic Circle, you would think that this is going to be a pretty bloody cold trip, right?! Well, you’d be wrong… or kind of wrong. The climate of the Lofoten Islands is described as mild winters and warm summers. Average winter temperatures are around 0 and on average in summer you can expect the low teens – so I would suggest the words “mild” and “warm” are a little generous by most standards, however this is the Arctic Circle after all!

Within the Lofoten Islands you will find beautiful fjords surrounded by imposing snow capped mountains. For the winter sport enthusiasts amongst you, if you travel here in the winter months one of the most popular activities is skiing. The winter is also the best time to see the humpback & killer whales around the Lofoten Islands – considered to be the best location in the world to see these ginormous species in real life, booking a whale watching trip is a must!

I will be travelling here in the winter months, but not primarily for the winter sports or the killer whales, but more for this…

The Lofoten Islands are the perfect location to see the aurora borealis, better known as the northern lights. This natural phenomenon occurs due to disturbances in the magnetosphere cause by solar winds (I have no idea either). But it is incredible!

Seeing the northern lights has been at the top of my travel wish list for years. Visiting Norway has been up at the top of that list for years too… I think its rather fitting that I check both items off the list in one trip! I know it is very much dependent on the weather conditions, however I will be booking a few days here to give myself the best possible chance to experience the northern lights in real life rather than through computer / TV screens!

2. Sardinia, Italy

Sadly, as I am writing this post, news has broken of wildfires burning through Sardinia. Already over 900 families have been forced to flee their homes and the fire has consumed over 20,000 hectares of land. The Italian fire fighters, with support planes from France and Greece are battling to get the fires under control. I wish them all the best in their brave efforts, and I send my love and support to the families impacted in this tragedy. Sardinia will be back just as beautiful, and stronger than ever.

From one extreme to the other – the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean island of Sardinia. The warmth, the perfect golden beaches, and the clear waters with their famous turquoise shimmer sounds like the perfect trip to warm up after near frost bite conditions in Norway!

Sardinia is a large island, second only to Sicily in the Mediterranean, but wherever you choose to spend your time, you will be sure to make memories that last a lifetime.

I have previously had a full trip to Sardinia booked, but unfortunately had to cancel last minute due to injuries sustained in a car accident… but that’s a story for another time! It does however mean that I have a well researched plan of exactly what to do and where to stay, so here goes;

Starting with my number one tip for Italy, and specifically Sardinia, a stay at an Agriturismo. In short, taking the translation quite literally, they are tourist farms. Set in the rolling hills of Sardinia, there are hundreds of Agriturismo’s to choose from, some with views down to the sea, a chance to eat and drink produce directly from the farm, what is not to love?

Yes, I am sure some will be enhanced reality for the tourist trade, but that’s the same wherever you go! And it is certainly not a reason to avoid these little gems. I would recommend that you don’t spend your full trip here though – a night or 2 will suffice!

Next stop for me is the ancient walled city of Alghero, situated on the north west of the island. Alghero, captured by Catalan conquerors in the middle ages is one of the most beautiful and interesting destinations on the island. The historical charm of this stronghold has been preserved brilliantly, giving a chance to admire both its beauty and its history. The Catalan legacy is still visible today – with many inhabitants the direct descendants of the Catalonians, the co-official language of the town is the Alguerès dialect of the Catalan language.

A trip to Sardinia wouldn’t be complete without heading down south for a night in Cagliari before flying home! The historic capital of Sardinia, located on the seafront, the city rises up to Il Castello, giving breath-taking views back over the city itself. On the southern tip of the island, Cagliari is the most traditionally Italian city in an otherwise very unique island. The tight streets with plant lined balconies, Vespa scooters weaving in and out of tourists and locals alike. What is not to love?

1. The Bay Of Kotor, Montenegro

Here it is, my number 1 destination of my Top 5… As Yet Unseen: Europe list is the Bay of Kotor, or Boka Kotorska, Montenegro.

The Bay of Kotor has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, and encompasses several medieval towns such as Kotor, Tivat & Perast. It is incredibly hard to describe Boka Kotorska and do it justice.

Gorgeous, breathtaking, majestic, divine; however hefty your thesaurus, the brain-blowing beauty of the Bay of Kotor will leave you struggling for superlatives

Lonely Planet

They’re not wrong…

In the 18th century Boka Kotorska rivalled the naval fleets of Dubrovnik and Venice, however in the years since then its popularity declined. Kotor has had various ruling forces occupy their land…

From the French to Napoleon and the Italians, back to Montenegro with Russian backing and then to the Austrian Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire before becoming part of Yugoslavia, and then Serbia and Montenegro following the collapse of Yugoslavia, until 2006 when Montenegro seceded from the union gaining full independence.

Since then, Montenegro has flourished. Approximately 2.5m foreign tourists visit the country each year, of which a large proportion travel to Boka Kotorska. This figure is still relatively low compared to other destinations, however it has increased by over 50% between 2016 and 2019. The positive being that the infrastructure improves to accommodate the increased numbers of tourists, with the negative that some of the charm will inevitably be lost as the tourist trade is capitalised upon.

From kayaking through the Blue Cave on the Lustica Peninsula, to exploring Our Lady of Rocks and Perast old town, or hiking the Ladder of Kotor for the ultimate view back over Boka Kotorska, there are endless activities and amazing things to see in this region.

Flights from the UK are direct in to Tivat, meaning holidays here are very easy to arrange and flights often start around the £90 return mark meaning they are also incredibly affordable! This is a popular destination, and given its status as a not so hidden gem, it is not as cheap as some other locations in the Balkans. Boutique hotels will cost around £350-450 for a week based on 2 adults sharing, however there are good quality apartments for approximately £150-250 per week. If you want a luxurious stay, dates in September currently cost around £540 for 2 people flights and accommodation for 7 nights. Given the location and the experiences, I would suggest that is fantastic value for money!

So there you have it, my Top 5… As Yet Unseen: Europe! Are there any destinations here you have added to your travel plans? Or anywhere else you think I should have considered? Let me know in the comments below!

Have a good ‘un guys!

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