GreecePicture mile upon mile of sumptuous turquoise coastline, reams of ancient ruins and more tales of mythology than you can shake a proverbial stick at! The birthplace of the Olympics, maths genius Pythagoras and philosopher Plato is currently riding high as one of the cheapest destinations in Europe, following a tumultuous few years economy-wise. But Greece has always been a travellers’ gem and I confidently predict that this postcard-perfect destination will continue to tempt adventurers.
Top 3 Must-Experience in Greece
- Island hop the myriad of Greek islets and islets – which number more than 6,000 – that’s enough nearly one island a day for 17 years!
- Athens - the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the Temple of Hephaestus and oodles of fascinating museums – need we say more?
- Trek mighty Mount Olympus, sample superb local wines and roam the countryside on a 4x4 jeep safari – Greece has enough activities and adventures to keep even the most experienced traveller happy.
BulgariaSun worshippers are no stranger to Bulgaria’s glorious Black Sea coastline, with its stunning sandy beaches, superb watersport facilities and well-equipped resorts. And its recent inclusion within the EU ensures that Bulgaria’s rugged mountain ranges, bustling cities and quaint religious architecture is set to get picked up by even more travellers. Head inland to bike around remote villages, loose a few hours at the wealth of engaging museums and tiptoe around some seriously impressive monasteries and churches: Bulgaria does religious art like nowhere else in Europe. And wintersports enthusiasts will be intrigued to know that Bansko has just been named the cheapest European ski resort.
Top 3 Must-See in Bulgaria
- Experience the myriad of rich architecture in the capital city of Sofia, which is a curious blend of Ottoman, soviet and European styles.
- Bulgaria boasts nine World Heritage Sites, including the Hellenistic Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak which, startlingly, was only uncovered in 1944! Watch the YouTube video above.
- Cycle the Balkan Mountains, discover the mysterious land of Orpheus whilst horse riding in the Rodopes and gawp at the pristine UNESCO-listed Rila Monastery.
RomaniaAlso a new addition to the EU, Romania is probably best known for the soaring Carpathian mountains, its plethora of castles, fortresses and churches and of course, the blood-chilling character of Dracula! Hike amongst the pine forests of the Carpathians, which meander through the very heart of Romania; glide along the might Danube River, which snakes through the southern landscapes and journey to mysterious Bran Castle (if you dare), home to Bram Stoker’s most fabulous fictional character of Count Dracula. And of course in Bucharest, Romania has a thriving vibrant capital city, which, I predict, is set to rival neighbouring European cities. Get here before prices go up!
Top 3 Must-Explore Sites in Romania
- Pick a castle, no, pick ten castles, and you’ve still only just touched the tip of the iceberg – in a country studded with fairytale castles seemingly occupying every mountain top. Head to Transylvania – the ‘castle capital’ of Romania - take your pick from 100 or so gems; 16th century French renaissance Cetatea de Balta - Bethlen-Haller Castle; impressive Fagaras Fortress, and of course the seriously mysterious turrets and towers of Bran Castle in Central Romania.
- Seven sites within Romania earn a highly coveted World Heritage status including the Brancovan style Monastery of Horezu, the colourful and deeply Historic Centre of Sighişoara town and the country’s only natural sight; the Romanian portion of the atmospheric Danube Delta.
- Try skiing in the Retezat Mountains, horse ride through the national parks around Bucovina and go off-road in the Apuseni Mountains.
CyprusI’m lucky enough to have visited both North Cyprus, as well as the better known southern part of this Mediterranean island. And I can confirm that both sides excel at traditional villages, breathtaking architectural sites and sumptuously fresh seafood. Whilst the financial troubles of the last two year put Cyprus in the news, the appealing prices have placed Cyprus at the forefront of travellers’ minds, for all the right reasons. Those looking for traditional Mediterranean resorts to soak up the near year-round sun and fun will be in their element; Paphos, Limassol and boisterous Ayia Napa all beckon. Keen adventurers can traipse the well-worn trails though the cedar clad imposing Troodos Mountains, whilst history buffs can explore the Greek and Roman legacy. Romanticists will appreciate the fact that the Greek goddess Aphrodite was born here. Prepare to fall in love!
Top 3 Must-Discover in Cyprus
- One of three UNESCO sites, Paphos is so much more than ‘just’ an established resort – uncover the areas rich Neolithic heritage, where Aphrodite's Mycenean temple was constructed in the 12th century BC.
- Learn of the island’s history at the engaging Cyprus Museum in Nicosia.
- Admire the resplendent Byzantine church of Ayios Lazarus in Larnaca.
Algarve, PortugalIf you thought that southern Europe was out of your budget - think again! Packing some seriously tempting offers right now, has placed the Portuguese Algarve at the top of the cheapest European destinations board! More than ‘just’ gorgeous beaches and pristine golf courses, the family-friendly Algarve packs an impressive cultural punch, thanks to a rich legacy from the Romans, Phoenicians and Moors. Postcard-perfect whitewashed towns nestle within wooded countryside. Come before July and after the middle of September and you’ll be in for a (budget-friendly) treat!
Top 3 Must-Dos in the Algarve
- Soak up the Moorish and Iberian influences within the lively city of Faro – spend your days trawling the museums, galleries and boutiques, and party hard by night.
- Don’t miss the seriously impressive Milreu Ruins which offers a rare glimpse into ancient Roman life – the 1st century ruins only hint at the sheer unbridled opulence of the period.
- Stand at the regal Cabo de São Vicente point and you’ll be atop the most southerly point within Europe – watch the sun go down over the highly revered site which fascinated the Phoenicians and Romans for centuries.