Travel: Undiscovered Europe
Hollywood blockbusters such as Mamma Mia have seen even the lesser known Greek Islands inundated with tourists eager to experience the white-washed rooftops and sun-drenched beaches of Skiathos for themselves. Rather than reverting to this tried and tested formula year after year, why not try somewhere unusual this summer? Here are our recommendations for destinations in Europe worth discovering:
Destination: Palanga, Lithuania
Lithuania is a vibrant destination with a colourful recent history to match. After winning its independence just over a year ago, Lithuania is now a fully fledged member of NATO. Though the country’s capital Vilnius is a popular choice due to its impressive gothic architecture and eccentric artist community, a great destination for the intrepid traveller is coastal town Palanga. Cheap and cheerful, this seaside resort is covered with busy bars and a lively crowd seeking a heavy dose of cocktails and hedonism. An Eastern European equivalent to Brighton, Palanga is bright and brassy yet retains a sense of traditional charm with troupes of local elders frequenting the cobbled streets and brightly-coloured stalls selling waffles and crepes.
Cultural highlights: Steeped in Lithuanian legend, Palanga was said to be home of beautiful priestess Birute, who was captured by The Grand Duke of Lithuania and taken to his capital, Trakai. After his defeat, she returned to Palanga where she was buried in a pagan shrine at the foot of the now-named Birute hill.
Culinary treats: Carbohydrates aplenty with a mix of sweet and savoury variations on crepes and pancakes. The national Lithuanian dish is a stuffed potato creation, which is popular with locals.
Fly to: Kaunas, Lithuania from Leeds Bradford Airport.
Destination: Gdansk, Poland
Those wishing to break away from generic city break destinations such as Paris and Rome should try Polish city Gdansk. For many, Poland will conjure up images of party capital Krakow. While Britons will travel to Krakow in search of cheap booze and strip clubs, Gdansk appeals to an entirely different clientele. Steeped in history, the city is often used as a cultural pit stop, but those who stick around will soon uncover Gdansk’s abundance of bustling restaurants, lively bars and glamorous nightclubs suitable for the more discerning party-goer.
Cultural highlights: Gdansk’s Old Town has been rebuilt to its former glory after being destroyed in World War II, its streets lined with breathtaking Hanseatic architecture. From June to August the city is transformed for the Gdansk musical summer, a series of classical music concerts taking place in a stunning amphitheatre off the Motlawa River.
Culinary treats: Polish food is rich in meat, especially beef, chicken and pork. Try Polish signature dish Bigos – a ‘hunter’s stew’ of cabbage and meat.
Fly to: Gdansk, Poland from Leeds Bradford Airport.
Destination: Kaya, Turkey
Only an hour away from the hustle and bustle of Dalaman, the ruins of this remote Greek-Christian town are set in a rural haven. Full of al fresco family-run restaurants and an abundance of wildlife, Kaya is a self-styled ghost town revived by the recent interests from tourists. Visitors will enjoy the stark contrast between the desolate atmosphere of the extensive ruins that adorn leafy Kaya and the welcoming family run cottages.
Cultural highlights: The previously forgotten story of Kaya’s abandonment in 1923 resurfaced as the inspiration for Louis De Bernières’ 2004 epic Birds Without Wings. The highly-anticipated novel depicts the geopolitical events that led to the demise of the town from the battle of Gallipoli in 1915 to Turkey’s forced exile of its Christian populations in 1923.
Culinary treats: Food is exceptionally good value for money. Dine at Kinali Restaurant in Kaya for only £5-£10 a head, including wine. Expect traditional Turkish cuisine in Kaya, such as Circassian chicken with walnut and tahini and stuffed courgette flowers.
Fly to: Dalaman, Turkey from Leeds Bradford Airport.
Destination: Mahon, Menorca
A quieter, more rural contrast to sister Spanish island Majorca, Menorca is home to some of the most beautiful resorts of the Balearics. The capital, Mahon, is a sleepy city, brought alive at night by the bright lights of the many restaurants and bars along the seafront. Mahon has plenty to offer tourists with a variety of shops and boutiques lining the narrow streets, as well as town markets providing fresh fish, fruit and vegetables.
Cultural highlights: Mahon houses a variety of historical buildings, one of the most notable being the impressive Church of Santa Maria, which was rebuilt between 1748 and 1772.
Culinary treats: Mahon is one of the largest natural harbours in the world, so travellers must not leave without sampling some of the island’s seafood specialities. Tapas are a common feature of Spanish cuisine and enable visitors to sample a range of dishes from riñones al jerez (kidneys in sherry) to calamares a la romana (fried squid rings in batter).
Fly to: Mahon, Menorca from Leeds Bradford.