Where in Europe should I go next?
June 8, 2017 1:24 PM   Subscribe

I have ten glorious free days in Europe at the end of July. I want to go somewhere quiet and interesting, with lots of options for being outdoors, and stay there the entire time. Where should I go?

I am finishing a fun but stressful job in Paris on 24 July and won't return to the States until 5 Aug. I'd like to go elsewhere in Europe and just... stay there... for a bit over a week. I am interested in doing some touristy things if they're available, but am mostly invested in reading good books, eating great food, being outdoors, getting some excellent (outdoor) exercise, looking at beautiful things and places, and maybe chatting with locals if we share a language.

I am a young woman (>30) traveling alone. I'm not flush with cash, but am doing a bit better than a student budget. I have a significant amount of travel experience, but most of it has been in Western Europe. I only speak English and very small amounts of conversational French and Spanish, but I do always make it a point to learn to say hello, goodbye, please, and thank you in the local language of wherever I am. I tend to stay in hostels or with locals in AirBnB-type accommodations. I love to hike, swim, cycle, sail (although I'm not good enough to go on my own), ride horses, and basically all other outdoor leisure activities. I'm also a fairly adventurous eater.

Last year, I went to Malta, which I adored. I could wake up in the morning, go downstairs, cross the street, jump in the water and chase the fish in the Grand Harbor, and then spend the day looking at the historic architecture in Valletta or the ruins in Hagar Qim. I also loved how easy it was to get around using public transit, how relatively cheap good food and decent housing were, that it wasn't too crowded despite having a major rep as a holiday destination, and how it felt like, despite the tourism, people actually lived there. It was also easy to avoid large groups of loud university students and other partiers, which was a big bonus. I've been to Scotland twice as well, which I loved for many of the same reasons, except substitute "moors" for "beach". Most of my travel experience has centered on larger cities (Edinburgh, Sliema, Stockholm, London, Paris, etc.) and I'd love to branch out from that!

So, Mefites, what small, overlooked corners of Europe/North Africa/etc. have you been to that you absolutely love?
posted by WidgetAlley to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I would head for the Annecy-Chambéry-Grenoble region of France. Lovely lakes, good hiking, mountain vistas, enough elevation to make it not so hot. They are towns large enough to have ample amenities but small enough so you can definitely relax.
posted by Liesl at 1:37 PM on June 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

I loved the Aude. Quillan might be a bit too touristy for you, but it has great outdoor activities, based around the river or you can get up into the mountains and do some biking or check out the Cathar castles. Carcassone, for your historical needs, and Perpignan if you want to lounge by the Med are both accessible on public transport. Everything I ate or drank was fantastic and dammit, now I want to go back.
posted by IanMorr at 1:41 PM on June 8, 2017

Response by poster: Oh, sorry, one more detail that Liesel's excellent suggestion made me think of: I'm coming from Phoenix, so I am definitely not afraid of what Europeans consider hot weather. (Last year everyone told me not to go to Malta because it was too hot and I really enjoyed it.)
posted by WidgetAlley at 1:42 PM on June 8, 2017

Slovenia is a little jewelry box of a country. There's mountains (Julian Alps), the (Adriatic) Sea, culture and cool architecture and lots of great food. I was last there several years ago and was surprised at how many people spoke English. Since you mentioned horses, the famous Lipizzaner horses come from the town of Lipica, just over the Italian border.
posted by orrnyereg at 2:19 PM on June 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Barcelona is amazing. It's got beaches, mountains, amazing food, beautiful people, and it's cheap compared to the rest of western Europe. Some neighborhoods are touristy, but the city's big and you can easily escape those areas.
posted by monologish at 2:26 PM on June 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

It sounds to me like you really need to be in Interlaken. I doubt there's anywhere in Europe more conducive to outdoor leisure. Stay further up along the Berner-Oberland Bahn to avoid the crowds (I stayed in Wilderswil, which is the first stop, and it's plenty quiet and chill. The further up you go, you get into the mountains, and there are more tourists, so Wilderswil might be a good place for you.)

In addition to having plenty of stuff you can do right there, Interlaken is also a great base for exploring the surrounding area. There are a bunch of places that are a day's round-trip hike or a few minutes' train ride away. Brienz might appeal to you for its woodworking artisans and the Brienz Rothorn Bahn, which is a really fun, scenic cog railway. There's an open-air history museum nearby at Ballenberg. Lake Thun is famous for its castles. And the Jungfraujoch railway is the highest in Europe.

If you don't mind taking a train a little further (but still only a day trip), you're about 45 minutes from Bern and half an hour from Luzern, both of which are beautiful and charming. And Zurich isn't too much further.

And if you don't feel like going that far afield, Interlaken should have plenty to entertain you for a few days. You can't lose.

It is a bit pricier than other places, but there are ways to do it cheaply.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:29 PM on June 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

I am doing the same thing as you, only for a shorter stay earlier in July, sandwiched between a trip to Portugal and Spain. After much research, I settled on a road trip through the Berner-Oberland region of Switzerland. It is absolutely the best for excellent outdoor adventures, quiet villages with local flavor, and, since you have more time than I do, big cities like Geneva and Zurich with their own touristy attractions.

You may not want to drive, but the train system in Switzerland is one of the best in the world, and is absolutely breathtaking.

According to my research, the villages of Gimmelwald and Wengen are care-free and quieter places to stay. You can make either of those your base and use public transportation/ hike to the places of interest within the region easily. From what I can tell, 10 days is an ideal amount of time in which to do explore most of Switzerland. Switzerland is also easy access from Paris via car or train.

Feel free to MeMail me if you need more info. Excited for you - have fun whatever you decide!

On preview, what kevinbelt said while I was typing!
posted by Everydayville at 2:36 PM on June 8, 2017

Btw, my post should say car-free instead of care-free, although I'm sure it is that also. One other thing to add - apparently the rail pass in Switzerland gets you a lot more than just free train rides, so you're able to do a lot more with one pass cheaply.
posted by Everydayville at 2:59 PM on June 8, 2017

Somewhere on the Basque coast - You could choose one of the charming villages like Getaria or Saint Jean de Luz, or one of the larger cities like San Sebastian or Biarritz. It is absolutely gorgeous, the people are friendly, and the vibe is relaxed.
posted by tmharris65 at 3:41 PM on June 8, 2017

Sicily. I spent two weeks there doing more or less precisely what you describe & it was wonderful.
posted by frumiousb at 4:16 PM on June 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I spent a week in Chania, in western Crete, last year and it was wonderful, with excellent transport links by cheap public bus all over, including the great beaches at Balos and Elafonisi. It will be busier but is still a small-ish place. Stay a bit west/east of the old town for a more local vibe; I stayed in a simple 'rooms' place I found by looking around on Google Maps and it was very reasonable and one block from a calm swimming beach lined with cafes.

Alternately: Georgia. I stayed at Envoy Hostel in a private room in the centre of Tbilisi and did all of their day tours, which were cheap and friendly and absolutely gorgeous. Everyone I spoke to in Georgia under 40 spoke at least some English and the food and wine is incredible.
posted by mdonley at 4:12 AM on June 9, 2017

Being from LA (so, not so far from PHX), there is nothing more magical to me than northern Europe in the summer. The long long long days lend such a sense of happiness and freedom. And in most places in the north language won't be a problem.
posted by vignettist at 8:38 AM on June 9, 2017

Budapest. Beautiful architecture, beautiful location on the Danube. Tons of hip bars and cafes, all outdoors during the summer. Lots of people in just your age range hanging out in them. Plenty of English spoken in the tourist areas, which are still not crazy over-touristed. Check out the english pages at WeLoveBudapest or their FB page to get a good sampling of all the fun stuff going on. :)
posted by leticia at 10:05 AM on June 9, 2017

"the rail pass in Switzerland gets you a lot more than just free train rides"

This is true. There's a wonderful boat that goes from Interlaken Ost train station to Brienz, and it's included in the rail pass. (Indeed, it's integrated into the rail system so well that the departures and arrivals are in sync with train departures and arrivals at Ost.)

Note that your hotel might include some rail amenities. The hotel I stayed at in Wilderswil included a free BOB pass, in order to get to and from Interlaken. If you're staying at a hotel that does this, and you're not planning on venturing too far away, that will probably be all you need. Check with the hotel you book before buying a pass.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:50 PM on June 9, 2017

We spent a week in Corniglia (Cinque Terra) last summer and it was fantastic. Italians know food and wine and there's as much hiking as you want.
posted by Horselover Fat at 9:10 AM on June 10, 2017

Seconding orrnyereg's suggestion of Slovenia. I've been spending quite a bit of time in the capital Ljubljana for work recently, and I've fallen in love with the place.

The city itself has loads of interesting nooks and crannies, with a thriving café culture, and is very walkable. It's also surrounded by beautiful countryside, with lots of opportunities for hiking and swimming.
posted by garrett at 8:49 AM on June 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

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