My Top Under the Radar Places

World Travel Blog

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Lake Bled
Too often, when people ask me where I have traveled to they ask me about the obvious sights: the Coliseum, the Eiffel Tower, Venice. The more adventurous will ask me about La Sagrada Familia, the Alps, Amsterdam Coffee houses. When people ask me about Big Ben and I inform them that I have never been to London (yet) they look at me incredulously like “And you consider yourself a traveler!” Yes the big attractions have the allure and many should be seen. I love Venice, got wowed by the Eiffel Tower, and the Roman ruins were amazing. But I find the places less traveled to be a much more engaging and intimate way to discover a culture. Places where you are not overrun by tourists, where you can get a true sense of place and history are what I really want to experience.
Hampden, Baltimore
Over the last few years I have noticed that more and more people are interested in more than the must see sights. Places like Iceland, Lisbon, Copenhagen, and Vancouver are now on people’s radars. This results in better infrastructure for the traveler, but also the threat of crowds. As I am not a selfish person and I believe that everyone should see what the outside world has to offer, so as to combat fear and ignorance and promote self-reflection and tolerance, I am generally happy about this trend. But there are still many places I have been to in which I receive a raised eyebrow from people as a response. Here is a non-comprehensive list of the places I have been to that seemed to still fly under the radar of most tourists. This is not to say these places are pristine, undiscovered places.
St. Jean-de-Luz
Some are quite known to vacationers in the know, but everyday life still exists thankfully. But take heed, for who knows how long? Oh, and I will get to London one day.

1. Lake Bled, Slovenia- While one of the most photographed places in Europe, it is surprisingly not one of the most visited. The views are remarkable. Honestly one would be hard pressed to find a more fairy tale setting: An emerald green lake surrounded by mountains, with a castle perched on a cliff overlooking the lake and an island with a romantic old church in the middle of it. The place still has a small town charm and offers a couple of tasty local restaurants and is nearby to many natural wonders. I suspect its relative remoteness has kept it this way. It is 5 hours from Vienna and 1 hour from the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana, hardly an airport hub.

Ordino, Andorra
It is definitely worth the trek!

2. Luxembourg- This tiny country overshadowed by its much more famous neighbors is a complete delight. It is a blend or French and German cultures, with its own added unique element, much like its language. It is a tiny country, but quite developed, and that makes it very easy to explore. It has a charming capital that has all you would find in a big city but in a much condensed form. It is filled with historic countrysides, castles, and vineyards. High-speed rail from Paris now reaches the capital, so how much longer one will be free from crowds is anyone’s guess.

3. St. Jean-de-Luz, France- This charming seaside Basque town on the Spain-France border feels like neither country. Euskara, or Basque, is the language and culture here.

Brasov, Transylvania
It has beautiful architecture unique to the Basque country (and yes they do consider themselves a country). To top it off it has a lovely beach. With its location in a quiet corner of France between glamorous Biarritz and the vibrant Spanish, I mean Basque, city of San Sebastian as the closest major city, it should be able to retain its historic charm.

4. Andorra- I love this tiny nation in the Pyranees. A feudal remnant and ignored by history, the mountainous landscapes are breathtaking. The capital feels like a big outdoor shopping center, but the rest of the country is gorgeous and the people very proud of their unique heritage. Andorrans are neither Spanish (though one of their co-princes is), nor French (though the French President is the other co-prince), nor Catalan (though that’s the official language).

Ravenna mosaic
They are a very friendly, worldly people who are just happy to not be that much part of it!

5. Brasov, Romania- First off this Transylvanian city is probably one of the least scary places you will ever visit. In fact it is very charming. A super-clean city that makes a good base for visiting Transylvania, it also has a very inviting square and mountains you can hike within the city limits. One hike I did was to behind the quirky Hollywood-style BRASOV sign on a mountain looming over the city. While Vlad Tepes Dracula may never have visited this city (but maybe he did), you can easily get to places he did, and there is no better place to do so!

6. Ravenna, Italy- This city is the perfect compliment to Renaissance heavy Rome & the Vatican.

Lugano, Ticino
A very laid back city on the Adriatic coast, it houses some of the most impressive Byzantine mosaics in the world. What’s more, you have to almost find them yourself, which is stunning considering how culturally invaluable they are. While not terribly far from Venice, Bologna, and San Marino, its mosaics make those areas feel a sea away.

7. Lugano, Switzerland- Beautiful alpine lake, mountainous scenery, fresh Italian food, smooth gelato, no this is not Lake Como, nor anywhere else in Italy. It is the forgotten corner of Switzerland, the Ticino. Lugano is the big city here, situated on a lake of the same name. It is Italy with Swiss efficiency. Very accessible to nearby Milan and the rest of Switzerland by rail, it surprises me how few people know about it.

Laussane
Maybe Italians (& tourists) are so preoccupied with lovely Lake Como that they forget to cross the border. The Alps may have prevented some of their fellow Swiss to make the trek south, but the new Gotthard Tunnel underneath the Alps will facilitate people towards this beautiful region. Swiss efficiency you know.

8. Laussane, Switzerland- Yes 2 Swiss cities made this list. When thinking about Switzerland people think about the Alps and banking. Nearby Geneva seems to dominate tourism in French Switzerland, but lovely Laussane has much to offer, except crowds. Also on Lake Geneva there are many boating opportunities. This very hilly city has the world’s smallest Metro system which gets you up and down very quickly. The Olympic Headquarters are here and the city is surrounded by miles and miles of vineyards.

Trogir
This city is truly delightful for the senses, and easily accessible to a major airport.

9. Trogir, Croatia- This beautiful little town looks like it was made for some cable series about a wealthy Middle Ages kingdom. There are no true tourists sights except to walk around this exquisite town on the Adriatic. It looks like a smaller version of Dubrovnik, with a little of Venice thrown in, except without the crowds. I took a one hour public bus ride from the surreal city of Split to get there 10 years ago. Maybe it is more accessible now, especially after the explosion of tourism on the Dalmatian Coast, but if it still takes a hot local bus ride to get there I suspect not.

10. Wurzburg, Germany- Germany has a lot to offer. I suspect that if this city were located somewhere else it might be one of the jewels of the tourism industry of that country.

Wurzburg
This lovely city actually resembles gorgeous Prague, and is surrounded by vineyards. Far from a dead city it was quite bustling, just not with tourists. Its Christmas market was the most unique I visited in the region.

*** My American entry and one that if you have read my blogs will be unsurprising: Baltimore, Maryland. My home away from home is a major seaport on the East Coast, but it is completely overshadowed by Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York, and even Boston. Yes it does have some major problems, but to the careful tourist that should be of only modest concern. This city has tons of well-preserved history, world-class institutions, quirky neighborhoods, amazing food, tremendous bar scene, and laid back people. It makes a nice and cheaper base to visit DC, but that is only if you have time after experiencing what Charm City has to offer.

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Lake Bled
Lake Bled
Hampden, Baltimore
Hampden, Baltimore
St. Jean-de-Luz
St. Jean-de-Luz
Ordino, Andorra
Ordino, Andorra
Brasov, Transylvania
Brasov, Transylvania
Ravenna mosaic
Ravenna mosaic
Lugano, Ticino
Lugano, Ticino
Laussane
Laussane
Trogir
Trogir
Wurzburg
Wurzburg
Clerveaux, Luxembourg
Clerveaux, Luxembourg