It’s no secret the treasures of Europe call out a siren song to travelers the world over. Sparkling coastlines, golden beaches, architectural gems and a thick, melting soup of cultural, historical and culinary delights tempt and enchant explorers from all four corners of the earth.

And what better time of year to start planning a European getaway than spring? After all, springtime in Europe is a time of cerulean skies and crisp, fresh air; flowers and lambs and new beginnings. It’s also a time when the more adventurous among us are brushing off the cobwebs of winter and feeling the urge to try something new.

So, in the spirit of springtime, let’s set aside the stalwart classic getaways of Europe and take a fresh look at some of the continent’s lesser known hot-spots for 2013. Out with the old and in with the new…

city-break europe

1) Košice, Slovakia – the new city of culture

Nobody knows how to pronounce it, let alone why you should go. But Košice is being touted by those in the travel know as one of the coolest city breaks of the year. This Eastern-Slovakian city showcases a charming mix of Medieval Old Town, Renaissance, Baroque and Art Nouveau architecture from its many years of rule under different countries.

kosice-stadt photo via Merian

Hang out on the pedestrian-only, Main Street to people watch and check out the street performances. Take a tour of the fairytale palaces and troop up the 160 steps of the gothic cathedral, St Elisabeth’s, for incredible, panoramic views. Check out the State Theatre, painted with famous  Shakespearean scenes and explore the fascinating museums, such as the grisly Executioner’s Bastion. And after all that exhausting, culture cramming, take a sip of the city’s official cocktail, the Košice Gold, and get stuck into the vibrant party scene. Košice, here we come!

 

2) Adriatic coast, Albania – for those that love to beach

albania photo via awams

Recently recommended as one of the world’s top, bargain beach breaks by the Guardian, Albania looks set to follow Croatia as the next big stop on the sun-worshipper’s trail. A no go area for years following the collapse of communism, Albania is now slowly gaining a reputation as a top hit for the adventurous beach seeker. White, sandy bays (sigh), turquoise waters and lagoons decorate this stretch of 380 miles of coastline begging to be explored. Stop off in pretty seaside villages, soak up the staggering scenery, discover ancient Roman ruins and chow down on delicious seafood. I feel a road trip coming on…

 

3) Slovenia – welcome to the great outdoors

With scenery as pristine and postcard perfect as Switzerland and the Alpine areas, Slovenia is the rising star for active, rosy-cheeked, outdoorsy types. Shack up in the country’s picturesque capital Ljubljana to place yourself within a few hours drive of all sorts of delightful pursuits such as skiing and dog-sledding in the glittering mountains or hiking around the gorgeous lakes of Triglav National Park.

Bildschirmfoto 2013-05-01 um 14.35.01

The Soča Valley and the gorges of the tributaries cater to those that adore the tranquil side of nature as well as satisfying adrenaline junkies with numerous water sports such as rafting and canyoning. After drinking in all that luscious scenery, drink up at a wine tasting in the famous Podravje region. Cheers to that view…

 

4) Tomorrowland – for festival frolics

For festival fans, one of the hottest events of the year is the Belgium based spectacle, Tomorrowland. One of the largest electro and dance music festivals out there, Tomorrowland won the Best Major Festival accolade at the European Festival Awards 2012. Headlined by global stars such as David Guetta and Swedish House Mafia, last year saw 400 DJs play for 3 days in July to over 180,000 shape-throwing visitors – mostly musical pilgrims from overseas.

TomorrowLand photo via thissongissick

Tomorrowland also won big at the International Dance Music Awards beating off stiff competition like Ultra Music in Miami. Top music and top vibes coupled with incredible stage set ups like the Alice in Wonderland theme which saw lasers shooting out of characters eyes and fully functioning waterfalls along with enough fireworks to blow up Parliament collaborate to secure Tomorrowland’s place as festival of the moment. And if you can’t wangle a ticket this year, get booking for 2014 for sure.

 

5) Setenil de las Bodegas, Andalucia – for getting away from it all

The southern coast of Spain has embraced the travelling hordes for many a year but don’t totally write off this area as the land of package holidays. There are still gorgeous locales off the beaten path where you can experience some real Spanish culture and get away from the tourist hot-spots. Take Setenil de las Bodegas, a peaceful and stunning Andalusian town with a quirky selling point – houses are built into the large, rock caves lining the River Trejo. Located in the lovely province of Cádiz, this quiet, agricultural village has remained a well kept secret thanks to the efforts of the local tourist board, keen not to lead the economy to become over-dependent on tourism like some of its neighboring cities. With 3000 residents and only two hotels in the town proper, travelers are very much in the minority.

  Setenil de la Bodega, Cadiz, Andalucía, España. photo via arownd

Eco conscious travelers will be charmed by the self-sustained community with its renowned meat production from pigs kept in local hills and its valuable exports of olive oil, cupcakes and pastries. Wines from the region’s vineyards are abundant and best served with locally produced cheeses. The bright, white-washed houses peep out of cliffs with olive and almond trees thriving on the hillsides above. This lovely pueblo surely can’t stay a secret for long… but shhhh.

Alex Saint is a writer based in Bristol, England – a place she calls home due to its friendly, diverse atmosphere and never-ending list of fun things to do. She loves tattoos, quirky fashion, pugs and, of course, travelling.

Keep up with the Saint sisters and their adventures in Bristol, London and beyond at www.saintsonaplane.com and @saintsonaplane or Alex herself @alexsaint13

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