First of all, I’d like to congratulate myself with a blogging landmark – this is the 100th post! Kudos to me!
Having spend quite some time in Europe, I’ve had the chance to visit some of the more remote corners of the continent. As a traveller, I like finding the hidden spots, the places not yet tramped by mass tourism. Often, these are places that are very close to those flooded with visitors, but take the left turn where everybody goes right, and you’ll be rewarded with unique experiences, great sights and, often, a thicker wallet. These hidden spots are, of course, not hidden at all, they’re just a tiny bit off the beaten path. I’d like to make them a bit less hidden, by sharing with you some “hidden” spots I’ve had the pleasure to discover.
1. Rago National Park, Norway
On the Norwegian mainland, opposite the well-visited island chain of Lofoten lies the Rago National Park. There’s not much plant life diversity, nor are there many birds and animals. There is, however, plenty of magnificent nothingness and the views are amazing.
2. Texel, Netherlands
Called “mini-Holland”, this small island has plenty to offer. Unlike Rago, Texel actually has the highest biodiversity in the Netherlands. Birds, marine mammals, insects and most of all, sheep, all are present in great variety (except the sheep). Also on Texel – beautiful sandy beaches, a unique piece of WWII history and a wacky beachcombing museum. There are no coffeeshops though, so the “mini-Holland” experience is a bit incomplete.
3. Ghent, Belgium
Say Belgium and people will name Brussels (and Manneken Pis), Bruges and perhaps Antwerpen and Liege. Ghent? Never heard of, right? Well, wrong. Ghent has everything all the other Belgian cities have to offer plus a huge extra – the Gentse Feesten. In July the city is host to one of the biggest festivals in Europe, as the streets are taken over by theatre and music performers of all kinds. As a bonus, Ghent has not one, but two Manneken Pis! Eat your heart out, Brussels.
4. Alpstein, Switzerland
The Alpstein (otherwise known as Appenzell Alps) is a mountain range in the East of Switzerland. While not as high as its bigger cousins in Valais or the Bernese Alps, Alpstein is just as rugged, and offers all extreme activities known to man, without the altitude sickness. Aplstein gets huge amounts of snow in the winter, the summer sun is abundant, the tiny mountain lakes are clear and cold, and if you’re looking for more sophistication, the charming medieval town of St. Gallen and the jet-set of the Bodensee are a short train ride away. And my favourite Swiss cheese – Appenzeller – is made here! No wonder I love Alpstein.
5. IG Farben Building in Frankfurt, Germany
Germany abounds with Holocaust monuments. The impressive Holocaust Memorial in Berlin and concentrations camps like Bergen-Belzen or Dachau all serve well their purpose of keeping the memory alive. But the one I was most impressed by was an office building in Frankfurt, which nowadays hosts the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University. During WWII this building was the headquarters of IG Farben, the firm that developed the Zyklon B gas, which was used to kill millions of Jews and other “unwanted elements”. The irony of the headquarters of IG Farben now hosting the department of Cultural and Civilization Studies of a university named after the greatest German artist is mind-bogging. As is the building itself, by the way. If you’re in Frankfurt, don’t miss it.
6. Kiev, Ukraine
The Ukrainian capital is one of the ten largest cities in Europe, yet not even the final of Euro 2012 was able to put in on the tourism map. Which is a shame. Because in addition to the glister of golden onion domes everywhere you look, Kiev, one of the oldest cities of Eastern Europe, has trendy art galleries, exotic night life, iconic Soviet-era monuments and all that for a bargain price. Hurry up and go there before this rough diamond has been cut, set and tamed.
7. Vall de Boí, Spain
Taüll, the biggest village in this remote Pyrenean valley has only 273 inhabitants. What Vall de Boí lacks in numbers, though, it makes up for in style. From outside, the nine Catalan Romanesque Churches of the valley are splendid examples of Medieval architecture. From the inside, they are decorated with frescoes of amazing colour richness and of a style I can only describe as avaunt-guard. Pretty neat for the 12th century, if you ask me. As an extra, the valley is one of the access points to the Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park, so it’s definitely worth a detour.