Six of the (lesser-known) best

Up and coming destinations that may  force you to invest in a bigger ‘bucket list’ 

Fancy a city break that offers something out of the ordinary? With so many destination options available from the region’s airports, it’s easy to overlook some of the less obvious choices in favour of those that are tried and tested. So here’s our guide to six locations that might not feature on your current ‘bucket list’ – but are well worth considering.


Stavanger

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For many, the idea of jetting off for a long weekend in Norway’s oil and gas capital might seem odd… but there’s a whole lot more to this town than industry.

Forget what you think you know, because this charming port city on a peninsular on the country’s south-west coast is brimming with understated charm, chic boutiques and trendy bars and restaurants.

You’ll feel instantly relaxed wandering the cobbled streets – interspersed with open spaces – in the traffic-free city centre.

It’s a fashionista’s paradise too…although prices, as you’d expect in one of the world’s most expensive countries, are on the steep side.

Must do

Once you’ve explored the city centre, plan an excursion to world-famous Preikestolen, aka Pulpit Rock. Located 604 metres above sea level, Lonely Planet named it the number one most breathtaking viewing platform. After a spectacular two-hour hike you’ll be rewarded with a magnificent view of the fjord.

A similar attraction, Kjerag, is even higher at 1,110 metres above sea level, and is famous for a huge boulder that is wedged between two rocks which visitors stand on to have their pictures taken.

If that doesn’t take your fancy, then take a relaxing cruise on one of the fjords, regularly rated among the most beautiful places in the world. The pick of the bunch is the magnificent 42-kilometre fjord in the Lysefjord region.

In Stavanger itself, a weird but charming Canning Museum is surprisingly entertaining. Visitors study the art of old canning labels and try their hand at stuffing fish into tins!

Hot hotels

Scandic Stavanger Park is a modern, stylish hotel with spacious rooms, located close to the bus and train station and only a few minutes walk from the centre.

Meanwhile, close to the city centre and the Canning Museum, The  Clarion has excellent facilities including restaurants, bar, sauna and hot tub.

For a unique boutique hotel , check out Myhregaarden, which is close to the city’s shops and restaurants. Rooms are a combination of classic elegance and modern design, many with chandeliers.


Copenhagen

Stunning architecture, uber-trendy bars and shops, and no fewer than 14 Michelin stars shared between its restaurants – no wonder they call it wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen. The city certainly has it all for food-lovers – including Noma, voted the world’s best restaurant in 2010 and 2011. There’s plenty to see and do too, all crammed into a compact centre full of historic landmarks. The picturesque Nyhavn canal area is a lovely place to unwind whilst the Meatpacking District is where the in-crowd hang out. Nørrebro is another very hip area to explore – especially for those seeking designer shops – and is only minutes away from the city centre. And for those wishing to discover some really amazing world-class architecture, a trip to Ørestaden, a new part of the city, is a must.

Must do

You really can’t do Copenhagen without seeing its world-famous Little Mermaid statue. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s timeless fairytale, this gift to the city from the Danish brewer Carl Jacobsen celebrated its centenary in 2013.

For brave souls who fancy experiencing something truly out of the ordinary, a trip to Freetown Christiania is a real eye-opener. Established in 1971 as a hippy commune, it is a green and car-free neighbourhood that lives largely by its own rules. It’s an eclectic mix of homemade houses, workshops, art galleries, music venues, cheap and organic eateries, and beautiful nature – a society within a society.

It’s easy to see why Tivoli Gardens amusement park became a firm favourite of both Hans Christian Andersen and Walt Disney – it really is a national treasure and a must for visitors young and old.

Hot hotels

For all-out luxury, the legendary Hotel d’Angleterre takes some beating. It was extensively renovated and re-opened in 2013 to an extremely high standard. Classically styled, with a modern twist, it has 90 rooms, including 60 suites, all individually decorated.

The small and quirky Nimb Hotel has a string of accolades to its name. It has been voted “Traveller’s Choice – Best Hotel” for five consecutive years between 2011 and 2015 on  TripAdvisor and featured on the “Condé Nast Traveller – The Gold List” in 2011. If you want value for money but refuse to slum it, check out the excellent Hotel Bethel Seaman’s Home. It’s located in the heart of the city, alongside the canal in the hugely popular Nyhavn area and close to many major attractions.


Valencia

Think of a city break in Spain and it’s only natural that Madrid and Barcelona spring to mind.

However, it would be a terrible oversight to discount the country’s third-largest city.

Valencia is a thriving port city with well established cultural, eating and nightlife scenes. It boasts strikingly futuristic buildings, fabulous museums and an old quarter bursting with character. It’s surrounded by fertile farmland so you can expect the fruit and vegetables to be second to none and, of course, it is also famous for being the home of paella.

Must do

You don’t need a religious bone in your body to appreciate the sheer beauty and magnificence of Valencia’s cathedral. You’ll be blown away by the stunning architecture and attention to detail. There are beautiful frescoes above the altarpiece and a couple of paintings by Goya for good measure in the Chapel of San Francisco de Borja. However, the real star of the show – and the one thing most people want to see – is the Capilla del Santo Cáliz, said to be the Holy Grail, the chalice from which Christ was said to have sipped during the Last Supper.

The best way to escape the bustle of the city for a few hours is to visit the Jardines del Turia – a park located on land that once had the River Turia flowing through it.

The river used to flood regularly and after a particularly bad flood in 1957 a plan was devised to divert the river away from the city centre.

Now the 7km long stretch is a mixture of playing fields, cycling and walkways, gardens and a children’s adventure play area.

It would be criminal not to visit Torres de Quart, undoubtedly Spain’s most magnificent city gate.

Built during the 14th and 15th centuries, the monument has had several uses over the years and was once even a women’s prison.

And, if you get up close, you’ll be able to spot pockmarks caused by French cannonballs during the 19th-century Napoleonic invasion.

Hot Hotels

For out-and-out luxury check into the Westin Valencia, housed in one of the city’s most impressive Modernist buildings.

It includes a large spa, air-conditioned Art Deco rooms, a therapy pool, Finnish sauna, Turkish bath, and fitness centre.

There’s a reason why the stunning Hotel Balneario Las Arenas is listed on the Leading Hotels of The World website…it’s breathtakingly beautiful and elegant.

And, what’s more, it occupies an exceptional seaside location, making it a great choice for families and sun worshippers.

For something a touch quirky but no less luxurious, the 5-star Hospes Palau de la Mar is an exclusive boutique hotel located near the centre of the city with individual flair and an excellent reputation.


Hvar, Croatia

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There’s no denying the beauty of Dubrovnik or the understated charm of Split, but for many visitors to Croatia Hvar isn’t even on their radar.

Perhaps the idea of continuing the journey to an island after touching down on the mainland puts them off…but it really is worth the effort. The island can be reached by ferry, taking just over an hour-and-a-half from Split. It is one of the Europe’s most beautiful and unspoilt islands and its hub, Hvar Town, attracts 20,000 people a day in high season.

Must do

Relax and watch the world go by in St Stephen’s Square in the centre of town – the largest old squares in Dalmatia. Here you’ll find chilled bars, fabulous restaurants and, of course, the square’s namesake – the beautiful St Stephen’s Cathedral.

Fancy getting away from the crowds? Take an off-the-beaten-track tour to discover Secret Hvar, which takes in hidden beauties of the island’s interior, including abandoned villages, scenic canyons, ancient stone huts and the island’s tallest peak, Sveti Nikola (626m).

Trek up to the citadel northwest of St Stephen’s Square and enjoy stunning views over the harbour.

Hot Hotels

Describing itself as “the only heritage boutique hotel in Hvar”, Hotel Park Hvar is as impressive as it looks. Located near the heart of the town, the 16th century building was originally the baroque palace of the island’s Ivanić family.

One enthusiastic reviewer actually described Hotel Podstine as “Hvarvellous”. We’re not entirely sure what that means, but rest assured that this elegant little gem in a beautiful bay with its own private beach does not disappoint.

The highly-rated Adriana Hvar Spa Hotel is located right on the harbour and boasts stunning views across the bay from its rooftop bar.


Fiji

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White sand beaches lined with palm trees, cloudless skies and locals who seem to have permanent smiles on their faces…what’s not to like about Fiji?

And if you enjoy diving – or even just snorkelling – then you’re in the right place because the underwater action here is among the best the Pacific has to offer. But you don’t have to be an all-action hero to get the most out of a holiday here. It’s also a place where you can turn relaxation into an art form amidst islands that have formed the backdrop to hit movies, including Cast Away and Blue Lagoon. 

Must do

As lovely as the beaches are, it’s worth venturing further afield – and Navala is by far Fiji’s most picturesque village. You must pay a small fee (around £10) to enter, but it’s money well spent and helps to preserve its natural heritage.

If you are fortunate enough to visit during the South Indian fire-walking festival (usually July or August) then this incredible cultural ritual should definitely be on your itinerary.

Visit the three waterfalls that make up the Tavoro Waterfalls, all of which have natural swimming pools beneath them. Reaching two of them is not for the faint-hearted given the terrain, but there are terrific views en route.

Hot Hotels

With its jaw-droppingly beautiful setting, the Likuliku Lagoon Resort has a strong claim to be among the most romantic hotels in the world. Guests stay in overwater bures – wooden cabins with thatched roofs – that resemble dwellings in a traditional Fijian village.

Yanuca Island, just off mainland Fiji, is home to what many regard as one of the region’s best hotels – Shangri-La’s Fijian Resort & Spa, featuring elegant, spacious rooms and incredible panoramic views.

A relatively new hotel, the Nanuku Auberge Resort is nevertheless garnering rave reviews. Located on Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu, it’s a sanctuary for relaxation.


Montenegro

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Small but perfectly formed Montenegro punches above its weight as a tourist destination, and was recently declared one of the best in the world by respected travel guide publishers Lonely Planet. Located on the Balkan Peninsular, its picturesque coastline faces the Adriatic Sea.

But whilst it boasts picture-perfect ice blue seas and sandy coves set into the mountains, it’s much more than a sun worshipper’s paradise, with a rich cultural heritage, more monasteries than you can shake a stick at and lovely historic towns.

Must do

Wander the meandering streets of the old city of Kotor. Built between the 12th and 14th century, its medieval architecture and numerous monuments of cultural heritage have made Kotor a UNESCO listed “World Natural and Historical Heritage Site”.

Soak up the amazing atmosphere in Porto Montenegro in Tivat with its lively marina full of top-of-the-range yachts. This up-and-coming area has been sensitively developed to respect its rich heritage – and with its trendy bars and restaurants, it’s the perfect place to relax and people watch!

Escape from the crowds to the tranquillity of Durmitor National Park in the north west of the country. Here you will find high mountain peaks, gorgeous forests, and the unique Tara Canyon.

Hot Hotels

Located in the heart of the county’s super yacht haven, the Hotel Regent Porto Montenegro only opened in August 2014 but has quickly established itself on the back of excellent reviews.

This spectacular waterfront property has it all – fabulous sea views, amazing food, outdoor and indoor pools, a spa and fitness centre and even a water garden.

In the old village of Donja Lastva, Eco Hotel Carrubba is set right next to the sea with all rooms overlooking Tivat Bay. The 19th century building has been tastefully upgraded using advanced ‘green’ technologies such as solar panels, modern waste-water treatment and geothermal heating.

Forza Mare is a luxury, five-star boutique hotel in Dobrota, overlooking the Bay of Kotor. It’s renowned for its outstanding customer service.

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