Under-the-Radar Destinations in Europe
Off the beaten path in Europe with the kids By Rowena Carr-Allinson
Dubrovnik, Croatia (Flickr: Ivan Ivankovic)
When you’ve seen the Eiffel Tower, taken a cruise down the Thames and done the Colosseum, you crave for other, lesser known treasures that Europe has in store. Good thing the Old Continent has more than its fair share of family-friendly attractions. Why not browse our list of gems off the beaten track for some inspiration for your family vacation? Hit the beaches in Croatia, go river rafting in the wilderness of the French Ardeche or explore the caves in Puglia.
Croatia - Europe’s Unspoilt Beaches
Head to Split or to Dubrovnik as both are perfect springing boards to discover the stunningly red, blue and green Dalmatian coastline. The scenic shore that runs along the Adriatic sea is truly beautiful, offering turquoise clear waters, beautiful sandy beaches and pine groves aplenty. The cities themselves are worth visiting too, with their fortified walls, red rooftops and ancient buildings. In fact, some of the scenery in Dubrovnik might be familiar to Games of Thrones fans! To really escape it all, head to the islands such as the Elaphiti Islands. Small fishing villages, olive groves and tiny beaches await. Stay at the very sleek Excelsior Hotel in Dubrovnik for perfect location, views and service or at the family-friendly Sipan Hotel in Sipan for a low-key island experience.
Slovenia – The Outdoor Playground of the Julian Alps
Slovenia’s Julian Alps (Flickr: 29cm)
Looking for a kid-friendly natural escape with plenty of outdoorsy activities? Head to Slovenia’s Julian Alps. Whether you want to go hiking in the Triglay National Park, taking in the waterfalls, cliffs and wildlife, or renting a mountain bike, there are plenty of ways to get up close to the wilderness. Prefer water fun? Lake Bohinj and Lake Bled are perfect for kayaking and taking it slow in the stunning scenery. On a budget? Book into the family friendly Hotel Miklic, a three-star hotel set in the mountain town of Kranjska Gora, at the foothills of Vitranc. Family run, it’s super friendly and has great views, family rooms, a sauna, gym and a big playroom for kids!
Italy – Caves and Cooking in Puglia
Trulli in Puglia Italy (Flickr: Michele Ursino)
Italy is famously kid-friendly, but why not discover the southern region of Puglia, where the ‘heel of the boot’ meets the Adriatic and the Ionian Seas. The area is famous for its amazing food but also for its quirky ‘Trulli’ houses, caves and beaches. Kids will love the shallow clear waters that line the coast, as well as exploring the caves. Try the Grotta Zinzulusa, near Castro, which are easily accessible and full of stalactites and stalagmites or the Grotte Castellana, just near Alberobello. Check out the Trulli, Puglia’s cylindrical houses with cone roofs – like hobbit homes out of storybook! If all else fails, the area is also home to a Zoo Safari at Fasano as well as the Curtipetrizzilandia Acquapark with its water slides, pools and Dinosaur Park! For a great family-friendly option, try the Masseria Torre Maizza with its family rooms, activities for kids, free WIFI and free breakfast.
Liechtenstein – The Tiny Fairytale Principality
Steg, Liechtenstein (Flickr: Clemens v. Vogelsang)
The teeny tiny Principality of Liechtenstein is a microstate locked between Germany, Switzerland and Austria, ruled by the Prince of Liechtenstein. Covering just 62 square miles, the tax haven is also the world’s second richest country! Mainly mountainous, it’s best known for its winter-sports so plan a visit to Malbun near the Austrian border over the winter season to discover its snowy attractions! Culture vultures will also want to visit the international Art Museum and the Liechtenstein National Museum to find out more about the tiny country’s heritage. Also on the must see list is Vaduz Castle, dating back to the 12th Century, now the primary residence of Liechtenstein's Princely Family. Sleep in comfort at the charming kid-friendly Park-Hotel Sonnenhof, a luxurious alpine lodge with glorious views, a beautiful pool and gourmet restaurant. Even better, you’ll find free WIFI, free parking and rooms that allow for one child under 6 or one under 2 to stay for free!
Ardeche – France’s Best Kept Secret
Ardeche, France (Courtesy Ardeche-Guide.com)
The Ardeche region gets its name from the 78-mile-long river that runs through the region. The Ardeche Valley is known as a scenic, unspoilt paradise, specifically around the ‘Gorges de l’Ardeche’. With limestone cliffs reaching 980 feet high, it’s best seen from a kayak as part of camping trip. Don’t miss the famous Pont D’Arc, a natural stone bridge which crosses the river near the town of Vallon-Pont-d'Arc. The area is also famous for its great local food: everything from goat cheese and locally made ice cream to products derived from the local chesnuts. As well as rafting and camping, the Ardeche is a great place to go hiking or try the many kid-friendly zipline camps! Adventurers will love the Mille Etoiles camping site where cosy Mongolian Yurts await. It’s so family-friendly, you can even book high chairs, cribs and baby bathtubs.
Rowena Carr-Allinson contributed this to MiniTime. Since the arrival of her son in 2011, she has taken him everywhere from Bangkok to NYC, writing family friendly articles en route.