Still Haven’t Booked A Holiday? These Underrated Destinations Are Where To Go

When it comes to your holibops this year, Niamh Devereux recommends you take a wander down the path less known...

Lagos, Portugal

Last year, when searching for a short sunny getaway, I randomly settled on Portugal. I had no experience of visiting the country, but I knew I wanted to go for a quiet region; somewhere I could switch off and truly relax. Enter Lagos, a town in southern Portugal’s Algarve region known for its walled old town, cliffs and Atlantic beaches. What followed were days of glorious heat, delicious freshly-cooked seafood at beach-side restaurants and the most breathtaking sights of natural beauty – do not miss Ponta de Piedade or Praia do Camilo. You have been warned. Among my highlights were going dolphin spotting on Marina de Lagos, an incredible, responsible way to see these special creatures in their natural habitat, and visiting Fiesa, AKA Sand City, a festival of sand sculptures where you will see everything and anything recreated in sand. I even spotted Bono. Sand Bono, that is.

Eat: At Bacalhau – try dried salt-cod, preserved in the same way as it was in the days of the first sea voyages in the time of the Portuguese Discoveries. Also don’t miss out on a Portugese custard tart…
Do: Banho 29, which takes place on the 29th August. Basically, it’s celebrating an old tradition when villagers came to spend the night on the beach to enjoy picnics and a dip in the sea to pay tribute to summer. The traditional dip tends to take place at Batata beach and finishes with fireworks at midnight. Meia Praia is the beach where large crowds gather and the party continues until dawn!
Stay: Quita Bonita is a lovely hotel with a romantic feel, complete with pools and beautiful gardens. Prices start at €105 per night.

Warsaw, Poland

When it comes to visiting Poland, Krakow seems to be the top destination for tourists, and it’s not difficult to understand why – I was there myself a couple of years ago, and it’s wonderful. But do yourself a favour and take the two-hour train to Warsaw if you’re in the vicinity, because it’s truly a city that shouldn’t be missed. Whilst in the city centre, you may be surprised to learn that the majority of the colourful buildings and beautiful palaces and castles are reconstructed, as the Nazis destroyed 85% of the area during WW2. In fact, the city is steeped in fascinating history and there’s no better place to learn about it than the Warsaw Uprising Museum. Modern Warsaw is pretty damn interesting too though; make sure to visit Soho Factory, where you’ll find the very cool Neon Museum.

Eat: You have to visit a milk bar! Originating from communist times, these eateries dish out cheap, simple plates of food, primarily made from dairy…hence the name.
Do: Go exploring in one of the parks. I spent one of my days in Łazienki Park which is beyond stunning.
Stay: For cost-effectiveness, I stayed in a hostel, and to be honest I couldn’t recommend it more. Oki Doki hostel is close to the metro, cheap as chips and seriously cute; each room is designed by a different artist. I got the ‘Love’ room, which was entirely pink. Yes, entirely.

Bled, Slovenia

I really don’t get why Slovenia isn’t a more popular travel destination, as quite frankly, it’s a slice of getaway heaven. You can’t get more picturesque than Bled, a town on the foothills of the Julian Alps, best known for its emerald-green lake which has a teeny-tiny church in its island centre and is overlooked by an 11th-century castle. Sounds like a Disney movie, eh? As well as being the perfect destination for romantic strolls (urban legend says that if your partner manages to carry you to the top of the stairs by the church you will live happily forever after), there are SO many activities to get your adrenaline flowing. During my visit, I para-glided, white water rafted, managed to survive canyoning (be warned, it ain’t easy), and hiked to the highest vantage point – words can’t describe the views, which are worth every step.

Eat: Kremšnita Cake. Bled is famous for this vanilla/custard cream cake and it may just be the best dessert you’ll ever try!
Do: Rent a boat and make your way out to the island on the lake. So adorbs.
Stay: Vila Preseren, a lovely boutique four-star hotel on the shores of the lake. Starting at €79 for a small double room.

Lyon, France

Thinking of heading to France? Paris is lovely, and all that, but you really need to check out Lyon, the less touristic, cheaper alternative. Do it for the foodie in you alone – Lyon is the country’s gastronomical capital, with more top restaurants lining its beautiful streets than you can count. In fact, among its 2000+ restaurants, 15 have stars in the Michelin Guide, and 72 chefs are Michelin-starred. And don’t even get me started on the authentic bouchons (traditional Lyonnaise meat dishes), brassieres, fromageries, boulangeries, and so on. Divine isn’t the word. Another gorgeous experience in Lyon is taking a stroll down its medieval Old Town (also known as Vieux-Lyon), which is located on the Saone River. Back in the 50s, the area, made up of charming cobbled alleyways, boutique shops, wine bars and restaurants, became the first in France to gain protection under a law to preserve the country’s cultural sites, resulting in amazing untouched architecture. If you’re looking to have a bit of craic after soaking up all that culture, the nightlife in Lyon is brilliantly diverse – make sure to have your glass of vino on one of the many former riverboats that have since been converted into bars and clubs on the Quai Augagneur along the Rhone river.

Eat: Try something new! I recommend Lyonnais saveloy, which is a cooked sausage of pork mince and pistachio. Seriously yummy.
Do: Jump on on one of Lyon’s Vélo’v rental bikes and make your way to Parc de la Tête d’Or, a stunning ornamental park with a lake, boules courts and zoo.
Stay: Hotel Okko (starting at €90 for a double room) one of a chain of nine boutique hotels across France, which has gorgeous, simplistic bedrooms and hands out free hot and soft drinks and snacks throughout the day.

Burano, Italy

If ever a town was Instagram-worthy, this is it. This little island is located in the same lagoon as Venice, but it’s tropical colours wouldn’t look out of place in Cuba – I’m talking bright pink, blue and yellow houses which instantly lift your spirits as you amble by. Apparently, the island’s fisherman were the first to paint their houses in bright colours, so they could see them while they were out fishing. Others say families used to paint their homes in bright colours to designate where their quarters ended and a neighbour’s began. All I know is it’s very, very adorable. Burano is also famous for its lacemaking, and Leonardo Da Vinchi himself was even a customer to its many lace stores. In terms of food – and let’s face it, Italian food is unbeatable – one of Burano’s restaurants, Al Gatto Nero da Ruggero was recommended by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. You won’t find fresher seafood and pasta.

Eat: Risotto de gò, a creamy risotto made with a typical fish of the Venetian Lagoon.
Do: Stop by La Perla, which has gorgeous lace products and the women who make them are stationed inside, so you can watch how it’s expertly done.
Stay: Casa Burano, starting at €130, an airy, bright, modern hotel in the perfect location.

This article first appeared in STELLAR’s July issue. Our August issue is on shelves now! 

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