Do you 💛 Europe?

Happy Thursday Hidden Gem Travelers! 

My attention was captured this weekend by a New York Times article asking readers to submit love letters and pictures for their upcoming article, 52 Places We Love, about one place in the world that is special to them personally.  The instructions were simple:  a place that “can be a popular tourist destination or a place that’s largely overlooked.  You might inspire someone else to go there one day, or to reconsider their assumptions, or to spark their inquisitiveness about a new piece of the world — all the empowering things that travel brings to our lives.”  Since I try to achieve these same objectives in my newsletters, it was a no-brainer that I would submit an entry for why I believe that Alaska is so special (yes, it was hard to pick just one place!).  If you’re inspired to enter the place you love the most, I encourage you to do so – it’s easy and fun.  If you do, please share your choice on the Hidden Gem social channels (links below)!

As mentioned last week, recent research shows that just making travel plans can boost our spirits, energy, and well-being,” so I’m dedicating the month of October to boost your happiness, energy, and well-being by highlighting 21 global destinations for travel in 2021 (and beyond).  If you feel motivated to plan your next bucket list trip, then I will have succeeded! 

  • Last week’s newsletter covered Central & South America (Costa Rica, Galapagos Islands, Argentina, and Chile)
  • This week we head to EUROPE!
  • For the rest of October, we will find ourselves in:

October 22nd – Asia & Asia Pacific

October 29th – Africa

Reminder:  in the spirit of making sure that your happiness is boosted, I’m offering a chance to win a travel-themed prize for everyone who requests a free consultation and mentions ’21 in 2021’, by November 1st, 2020.  Note – the consultation doesn’t have to be for a highlighted destination or have to be for travel next year but can be anywhere that you want to travel in the future (hopefully the newsletters will inspire you to identify your next best vacation destination!). 

Without further ado, we begin our happiness boosting by highlighting four places in Europe, in our countdown to 21 destinations, that I know you will love based on my own experiences and those of my clients.  See if you agree with the choices!  Read on for the scoop…

9. Croatia

I wouldn’t be surprised if you wonder why Croatia (instead of Greece) made the list?  Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely love Greece.  However, Croatia is a hidden gem country (Dubrovnik is only around 350 miles from the northern border of Greece) and offers some amazing, diverse experiences that many travelers might not yet realize.  If it hadn’t been for the pandemic, I would have spent a few days in Croatia this past April and was very much looking forward to it.  Luckily, I’m already rescheduled for 2021.   

Croatia is shaped like a boomerang (or a croissant), is slightly smaller than West Virginia in landmass, and is located in central Europe with a 1,000+ mile coastline along the Adriatic Sea, across from Italy’s eastern coast.  In fact, its 1,246 islands and islets ramp up the total coastline total to over 2,500 miles.  Croatia borders Slovenia to the west, Hungary to the north, Serbia to the east and Bosnia and Herzegovina to the south, and across the sea from Italy.   

Why should Croatia be on your travel bucket list?  This 2018 article from Virtuoso does a terrific job explaining the many reasons why Croatia is so special  Croatia has many compelling facets:  dramatic coastlines and islands, storied, multicultural cities, breath-taking National Parks, and strong Italian influences relating to food and wine.  Whether you’re into history, boating, beaching, cycling, hiking, relaxing, or culinary experiences, Croatia won’t disappoint. 

Sail the many islands or cycle along the coast and into the interior of the country. Inland Croatia is gorgeous, and Plitvice Lakes National Park is stunning with emerald green waterfalls and alpine forests.  It comprises 16 beautifully colored lakes connected to waterfalls full of wildlife and rare bird species making for gorgeous photo ops!

Before Game of Thrones, Croatia was far less traveled by Americans.  For GOT fans, Dubrovnik is at the top of the must-see list as it inspired Kings Landing.  Dubbed the “Gem of the Adriatic,” Dubrovnik is where you can walk the 80-foot walls that circle Old Town and take a cable car up to Mount Srd for amazing views of the city and the Adriatic Sea. 

Love truffles and wines?  Truffle hunting is a popular activity in the Istria peninsula area of Croatia.  Combine it with a private wine-tasting at a vineyard and you’re in culinary heaven!

💎 Hidden Gem Tip:  Plan to visit in the autumn for fewer tourists, beautiful weather, and much more reasonable rates!

10. Switzerland

Switzerland is a second home to my oldest son, so of course, it is a country near and dear to my heart.  When I have European consultations, I typically mention Switzerland to clients as my expectations were far exceeded when I traveled to the country. 

Did you know that in Switzerland you can experience 3 different cultures, culinary traditions, and languages depending on which region you’re in?  French, German, and Italian influences are strong while exploring this friendly country.  The tourism board in Switzerland is excellent – check out their Discover Switzerland video

Train travel is an amazing experience in Switzerland.  It’s clean, efficient, and offers views of the majestic Alps, serene lakes, and quaint towns.  Your jaw will hit the floor when you see the views from the “Top of Europe” called Jungfraujoch, the highest altitude railway station in all of Europe.  The Glacier Express is cheekily known as the slowest express train in Europe.

When should you go?  Switzerland is a year-round destination with glitzy ski resorts, mountain villages, glacial lakes, and Alpine hiking trails that offer unforgettable experiences in all seasons.  I was last in Switzerland in November, which isn’t a peak season, but it was glorious!  When in Geneva, we stayed at the elegant Ritz Carlton Hotel de la Paix right on the lake and steps from the train station.  I have a fond memory of taking the train to Lyon, France as a day trip and eating crepes and chocolates while touring that wonderful city.  Another special memory was discovering the town on Thun, a hidden gem, postcard-perfect Swiss town that is often overlooked despite its Schloss Thun, a charming castle built in the 12th century with sweeping views, and Schadau Castle right on the lake.

We work with Virtuoso network suppliers to create custom itineraries for our clients.  With so much to do in Switzerland, it’s important to prioritize and get behind the scenes access to the most popular activities.  Yes, that rule applies to most bucket list destinations with much to do and see and so little time 😊. 

11. Portugal

If you’re a regular reader of this newsletter, you may recall that I highlighted the amazing Portuguese island of Madeira this summer – a true hidden gem for most Americans.  I have close contacts in the country (tourism board, hoteliers, etc.) and like Switzerland, I love to recommend Portugal to clients as it isn’t usually top of mind. 

Rich in history and culture, Portugal is a stunning country with the maze-like Moorish alleys of Lisbon, cliffs and beaches of the Algarve, waterfalls and lakes of Peneda-Geres National Park, gorges and peaks of the island of Madeira, and the historic wine region of the Douro Valley.  In fact, the Douro Valley is one of the hottest river cruise destinations right now, as is Porto, an old world-type city built on two massive hills rising from the Douro River with red-tiled roofs, cobblestoned streets, and Baroque churches. 

The capital city of Lisbon is 2020’s European Green capital because of their commitment to a 50% citywide reduction in carbon emissions.  Electric bikes comprise two-thirds of its bike-sharing fleet making it easier to get around the hilly city.  We love the Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon which takes up an entire city block and has the unique feature of a walking/running track on the roof with amazing city views.  The Varanda Restaurant is known for its culinary excellence, and Virtuoso guests receive a $100 food/beverage credit as well as breakfast for two daily.  Walking the famous Camino de Santiago?  You can start or end your journey in Lisbon (note we have access to great insider information for this amazing experience!).

Don’t miss Sintra, a UNESCO world heritage site and the home of the Palace of Sintra, home of Portuguese royalty, and other amazing buildings.  For instance, Pena Palace is considered one of Portugal’s seven wonders and in some respects recalls Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany for the impression it makes on visitors.  Sintra will check the box for travelers who love castles and palaces! 

Check out this multilingual, musical overview of Portugal from their tourism board:

12. Denmark

I lived in Copenhagen for 6 months and must say that it was easy to fall in love with Denmark and honestly all of Scandinavia is bucket list-worthy.  Sadly, the little Danish I learned has been boiled down to a few key phrases, but you don’t need to speak Danish in Denmark.  Most, if not all Danes, speak excellent English!  Denmark is the southernmost Scandinavian country and consists of the Jutland peninsula and over 400 islands.  The Faroe Islands and Greenland are both Danish territories. 

Denmark’s charming capital city of Copenhagen is remarkably diverse in its attractions.  It’s a foodie haven with many Michelin-starred restaurants, a cyclist’s dream, home to the two oldest amusement parks, rich in Scandinavian history with palaces and castles, and an amazing city for upscale, contemporary shopping.  I like the late Anthony Bourdain’s list of 10 must-dos in Copenhagen:

A tip from personal experience – one of the most iconic tourist spots in Copenhagen, the Little Mermaid statue, is only 1km from Nyhavn (a must-see, colorful waterfront area listed in the article above) is charming but very small.  Due to crowds, be sure to visit on off-hours.  If you plan your trip with us, we will work with a local travel supplier who will enable you to avoid the masses.  Oh, and the same advice goes for Tivoli Gardens, the second oldest amusement park in the world dating back to 1843. 

Obsessed with Vikings?  A day trip to Roskilde to the Viking Ship Museum is in order.  I loved seeing the massive ships and imagining how these intrepid sea explorers (pre- 11th century!) traveled in these long boats.  It’s mind-boggling!

Be sure to try the famous smorrebrod, open-faced sandwiches which you will find all over Denmark.  They are works of art with each ingredient artfully displayed!  Wash it down with a Carlsberg draft beer or Aquavit cocktail.

Until we can all travel to Europe again, practice the Danish way called Hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) which basically means getting cozy (particularly useful in their dark, cold winter months) through soft blankets, wooly socks, a warm fire or candlelight, comfort foods, warm drinks, and the like.  It works – the Danish are smart people 😊.

Are you ready to learn more about any of these European destinations?  Send me an email or give me a call.  Now is the perfect time to begin planning for next year and beyond.  And of course, experiences make the best holiday gifts!  🎁

💎 Hidden Gem Tip:  Send me any questions you have about the upcoming destinations, and I’ll be sure to answer them in the newsletter! 

Wishing you and your family continued good health,


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Hi, I'm Susan Wilson

I’m the founder of Hidden Gem Travel Consulting. As your personal travel advisor, I craft custom worldwide itineraries that astound and inspire you.


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