19 unexpected European holiday hotspots hiding in plain sight

The adage about familiarity breeding contempt has always had a certain inaccuracy. Although the same routine might cause a calcification of feeling, it can also produce something softer: a warm comfort; a cosy settling into an unchallenging space; a satisfied reliance on the tried and tested, on the weighed and measured.

This can definitely be true of travel. It can be easy to return, year after year, to the well-trodden and the widely documented; to destinations of known qualities and guaranteed enjoyment. And there is nothing wrong with that. A holiday is about relaxation; about recharging. That was the case in 2019. It is, all the more so, here in 2021.

If anything, the pandemic has exacerbated our instinct to retrace our steps to old favourites – particularly while the traffic-light system is in force and options are limited.

But this caution does not need to define our thinking forever. For all its resemblance to a much-thumbed guidebook – with corners of pages folded over for Paris and its boulevards, for the beaches of the Aegean, for the resorts of the Costa del Sol – Europe is a wonderland of remarkable depth and diversity. And it is still, in these young days of the 21st century, capable of surprising the traveller who looks beyond the obvious – even in France, Greece, Spain, and other classic segments of the continent. This is even truer in the likes of Croatia, the Czech Republic and Poland.

The 20 getaway suggestions here are alternative takes on all-time greats – locations that, though firmly on the map in countries we love, have long been overlooked. None is too far away, but all are places you might not normally consider for a holiday or a long weekend.

Moreover, they should all – from unheralded French departments to Balkan canyons and islands “hidden” in the Danish archipelago – offer something refreshingly different, even as green and amber continue to flicker. After a year of lockdowns, restrictions and fear, we could all use some of that.


The Alentejo

A fabulous filling to a sandwich shaped by the Algarve on one side and Lisbon on the other, the Alentejo should really be a staple part of British holiday diets. That it is not, though it has over 100 miles of Atlantic coastline, says much about its placid demeanour – agricultural, sleepy, and unimpressed by either the big beach resorts of its southern neighbour, or the urban delights of the capital above (its own key city, Evora, is home to fewer than 60,000 people, and is still partially enclosed by its medieval walls). But as a window on the Portuguese soul, assuming you are in no rush to get anywhere, it’s perfect.

Wexas (020 8125 4213; offers an eight-day Alentejo & The Algarve road trip that rolls south, staying in historic pousadas. From £665pp, including flights.

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