Europe’s top 5 romantic hidden gems

Europe’s top 5 romantic hidden gems

From Paris to Venice, Europe is home to some of the most romantic places in the world. But why not surprise yourself and head to one of these lesser-known gems?

Picture the scene: a candle lit dinner for two overlooking Rome's Colosseum followed by a lingering kiss in front of the Trevi Fountain. Sound romantic? In theory yes, but factor in that thousands of people visit these iconic places every day, it's inevitable you'll end up sharing the experience with another 300 couples. Not quite the intimate affair you'd hoped for! That's why we've found the best places around the continent to get up close and personal, without the world watching.

1. Ile de Ré, France

Why go: Exuding French cool, yet quietly understated, the island of Ile de Ré is a haven for honeymooners seeking a little je ne sais quoi. Located just off the coast near La Rochelle, this small but perfectly formed French resort is so laid back its guest are practically horizontal. The best way to get about the island is by bike (think Oxford and Amsterdam style) and the roads are relatively flat meaning you don't have to be Bradley Wiggins to navigate your way around. Hire one from one of the many shops on the island and glide past harbours, beaches and crumbling abbeys before parking up to sip a glass (or two) of wine outside a pavement cafe. Ile de Ré produces around 2 million bottles of wine a year, making it the perfect place to toast to your marriage.

The capital St Martin is drenched in original charm and is particularly lively on summer evenings when street markets are in full swing. There are also plenty of restaurants to choose from and the harbour is a great place for a sunset stroll. If your legs have done enough cycling, you can catch the bus to Ars-en-Ré, which was the first yachting harbour on the island. It's a relatively small village with a morning market - grab a stick of bread and some cheese and head down to the beach for a simple and intimate picnic.

When to go: Thanks to the Gulf Stream, the island is pretty mild all year round. Go in July when the weather is at its peak and there are lots of outdoor activities to enjoy. September is better for those seeking somewhere a little quieter but still want a bit of sunshine.

Stay: For castle-like luxury stay at The Hôtel de Toiras at the entrance to the port of St Martin. This 17th century house has 20 rooms and a panoramic view over the harbour. Rooms start at €190.

2. Bled Island, Slovenia

Why go: Said to be the former home of Ziva, Slavic goddess of love and fertility, Bled Island is romantic, picturesque and straight out of a fairytale. Sat in the middle of the glacial Bled Lake in northern Slovenia, the tiny island is surrounded by the magical Julian Alps and lush green sloping forests. Bled only has a few buildings - the main attraction is the Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Mary, which was built in the 15th century. 99 steps lead up to the majestic tower and the church is particularly popular with couples looking to tie the knot. Try out the local tradition that involves the groom carrying the bride up the steps while she stays completely quiet - if she speaks bad luck will descend on the marriage. Not an activity for the faint-hearted!

The only way to get to the island is bypletna,a traditional wooden barge, or you can make a romantic ride of it and hire a boat yourself. Once you've explored the island there's plenty to do back on land: try out the 50 or so restaurants and scoff a traditional Bled Cream Cake; go horseback riding; sunbathe on the beach or experience the ultimate in relaxation at one of Bled's many spas.

When to go: Year round. There's something to do every month of the year in Bled, depending if you're after sun or snow! As with the rest of Europe, September is perfect for sunny days with a quieter atmosphere.

Stay: The Grand Hotel Toplice with its sumptuous elegance also boasts a private beach and boathouse as well as a thermal swimming pool. Rooms from €192.

3. Olomouc, Czech Republic

Why go: Often falling into the shadow of Prague, Olomouc is home to countless beautiful buildings, fantastic culture and more Olomoucké tvarůžky than you can shake a stick at (that's cheese to you and me). The city is the old capital of Moravia, and one of the most underrated places in Europe. A sightseer's dream, Olomouc boasts the largest historic preservation zone outside Prague, with 12 churches in the centre alone and the largest pipe organ in Central Europe, which is housed in St Moritz church. Most of the main sights are situated in and around the Upper Square, which is the centre of the action in Olomouc. Take in the city's pride and joy, the Holy Trinity Column and 14th century Town Hall before wandering the romantic labyrinth of cobbled streets and courtyards that dart off around the city. There's a wealth of cafes, restaurants and clubs to enjoy and if beer is your tipple of choice get cosy with your partner in one of the many microbreweries that are dotted around.

In the summer months Moritz restaurant and brewery is particularly good with an atmospheric beer garden to bask in the sun. And, as they say, the best way to get a taste of the culture is to take a bite out of the food, so sink your teeth into some traditional Czech cuisine.  One of the best-known products in the area is Olomoucké tvarůžky, a soft cheese with a pungent, distinct taste. Although the cheese can be bought all over the Czech Republic, it's only restaurants in the Olomouc region that include it on the menu. Dobrou chuť!

When to go: Year round. Although November/December is a great time to visit - there's bustling Christmas markets, plenty of live music events and free concerts in the square.

Stay: NH Olomouc Congress Hotel offers modern luxury in the heart of the city. Rooms from €58 per night.

4.Kalambaka, Greece

Why go: Ask most people where they'd flock to in Greece and you can bet it won't be Kalambaka. Santorini definitely, Athens perhaps; and yet a five-hour drive north of the capital lies this stunningly beautiful mountainous city, which is home to one of the most impressive sights in Europe, Metéora. Derived from the Greek expression meaning 'suspended in air', Metéora is home to a dozen ancient monasteries, which rise imposingly from the tops of giant rock formations. They are best viewed when thick fog sweeps across the area and the buildings appear to be floating mid-air, hence the name.For a unique honeymoon experience, follow one of the many hiking routes and footpaths, which weave their way up the Metéora and the neighbouring mountains.

If the dizzying heights prove too much, head back down to the ancient city of Kalambaka with its bright red rooftops and tasty Greek cuisine. Try out Taverna Panellinion for overflowing plates of salad and halloumi or its extensive selection of grilled meat and traditionalmezedhes.

When to go: July/August get relatively hot - up to 34C so visit in September when the weather is a little cooler.

Stay: Just outside of Kalambaka in the village of Kastraki is the fantastic Dellas Boutique Hotel. It offers unbridled views of the Metéora with comfortable and modern rooms from around €60.

5. Maastricht, The Netherlands

Why go: There's a permanent sense of excitement in this exuberant city in southern Holland.Perhaps down to its history - it was the first city to be liberated in WW2, or perhaps its eclectic mix of gleaming hip areas and romantic Renaissance. Either way, there's much to enjoy in Maastricht.

The city is split east to west by the Maas River and is extremely walk-able. Indeed, you can get from the modern Wyck-Ceramique area with its contemporary, designer shops to the old town on the west bank in around 30 minutes.Visit Het Vrijthof, a picturesque square known for its outdoor cafes and events, which lies to the west of the Maas River. Originally a pilgrimage for the grave of Saint Servatius, today it's more likely to attract visitors looking to share a piece of Limburgse Vlaai, a popular fruit pie.

For a romantic jaunt outside the city, head for the juicy vineyards of the Limburg hills, which are among some of the oldest in The Netherlands Take a tour and sample some deep and fruity Pinot Noir at Wijngoed Thorn vineyard or a fresh, fruity and slighty sweet Reisling from Hoeve Nekum.

When to go: Maastricht enjoys more sunshine than any other city in The Netherlands but still has a relatively chilly winter. Visit in springtime for pleasant temperatures and the beginning of the outdoor art exhibitions.

Stay: Get romantic in the unique Townhouse Designhotel with its eccentric bed frames and graffiti art. Rooms from €140

 

 

 

 

 

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