Ten of the best European regions you’ve never heard of

TOKAJ, HUNGARY

Splendid aerial view of Fuzer Castle built on a volcanic hill named Nagy-Milic.  Zemplen mountains in the background.  Autumn sunrise landscape.  credit: single use istock for travelers only Brian Johnston Traveler 10 Most Underrated Regions in Europe

Photo: Janos Illesi/iStock

Sweet wines from the Tokaj region (often spelled Tokay in English) are so beloved by Hungarians that they are even mentioned in the national anthem. On a continent filled with famous wine regions, this one is less trampled and yet is a beautiful combination of vineyards, venerable farming towns, fresco-covered medieval churches and romantic-looking castles, including the whitewashed Fuzer Castle. lime atop a volcanic plug is the most dramatic. See visithungary.com

LAKELAND, FINLAND

Savonlinna, Finland - September 22, 2019: Bird's eye view of Savonlinna town, view of Olavinlinna castle.  credit: single use istock for travelers only Brian Johnston Traveler 10 Most Underrated Regions in Europe

Photo: Mikhail Blavatskiy/iStock

Eastern Finland is a pointillist wonderland of blue lakes, winding waterways and shimmering birch forests dotted with vacation cabins. Paddle, hike, sail, swim, fish and dive into the Finnish countryside lifestyle. Attractions include national parks, island castles such as Olavinlinna and pretty towns surrounded by water such as Savonlinna, from which a ferry ride to Kuopio reveals romantic landscapes that have inspired generations of Finnish painters. See visitfinland.com

ALENTEJO, PORTUGAL

Street view with beautiful old residential buildings in the city of Evora in Portugal credit: single use istock for traveler only Brian Johnston Traveler 10 Most Underrated Regions in Europe

Photo: RossHelen/iStock

Despite being Portugal’s largest region, this south-central destination of rolling wheat fields and olive groves remains sleepy unaffected by development and hordes of coastal tourists. Relatively poor and pared down, it nevertheless features whitewashed villages, fortified towns topped with castles, Roman ruins and World Heritage-listed Évora, which bursts into Moorish and Baroque architecture. It even has its own stretch of coast whose plump white sand beaches are often deserted. See visitalentejo.pt

WACHAU, AUSTRIA

Beautiful landscape with Aggstein castle ruins and Danube river at sunset in Wachau, Austria.  credit: single use istock for travelers only Brian Johnston Traveler 10 Most Underrated Regions in Europe

Photo: bluejayphoto/iStock

The lazy sweep of the Danube through this region has been called the smile on Austria’s face. It is not one of the great assets of the country, but its reduced landscapes, its vineyards, its orchards and its old fortified towns make it a beautiful destination that is most appreciated by bike. The pretty riverside village of Dürnstein and the flamboyant baroque abbey of Melk are two key attractions, while the wine trading town of Krems is full of medieval architecture. See lower-austria.info

WALLONIA, BELGIUM

View of the picturesque town of Dinant, the citadel of Dinant and the collegiate church of Notre Dame de Dinant on the Meuse.  Belgian Province of Namur, Blegium Credit: Single Use istock for Travelers Only Brian Johnston Traveler 10 Most Underrated Regions in Europe

Photo: f9photos/iStock

The French-speaking south of Belgium does not attract the attention of Flanders but offers a more everyday Belgian life away from the tourist crowds. Mons, which was European Capital of Culture in 2015, has the requisite old town and a great contemporary art museum, while Namur features a massive fortress behind mighty ramparts. The ecclesiastical center Tournai, the 18th century wellness spa and the rugged Ardennes for hiking and biking are other attractions. See walloniabelgiumtourism.co.uk

ARAGON, SPAIN

Aerial cityscape view of rooftops and spiers of Our Lady Basilica in Zaragoza city in Spain

Aerial cityscape view of rooftops and spiers of Our Lady Basilica in Zaragoza city in Spain Photo: RossHelen

If you’ve heard of Aragon, it’s probably only because of Henry VIII’s first wife. But this inland region that extends from the Pyrenees offers beautiful hikes in canyons, national parks and mountains dotted with villages with spectacular sites. Mudejar is a World Heritage Site for its medieval churches and mansions, and the capital Zaragoza has a remarkable Islamic-era palace. Aragon’s relative isolation has produced a distinct cuisine and preserved traditional culture. See spain.info

HIGH TATRAS, SLOVAKIA

2F9M9XP Aerial view of the mountainous and rocky landscape of the High Tatras Credit: Alamy single use for travelers only FEES APPLY Brian Johnston Traveler 10 Most Underrated Regions in Europe

Pphoto: Alamy

Why aren’t these jagged mountains along the Polish border better known? The landscape of peaks and lakes is breathtaking, and the alpine villages of painted houses, church steeples and gnarled castles would inspire fairytale illustrations. Head out in summer to hike 600 kilometers of hiking trails or in winter to ski (there are three resorts), all at half the price of Western Europe’s most famous alpine getaways. See slovakia.com

TAUBER VALLEY, GERMANY

2A16AD0 Tauber River and isolated houses in the Tauber Valley, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Bavaria, Germany

Photo: Alamy

The medieval town of Rothenburg is one of Germany’s most touristy towns, but the Tauber Valley it overlooks is… well, neglected. This gentle fold in the landscape takes you through attractive, unassuming towns with a dense heritage of castles, monasteries, cobbled squares and a Renaissance palace. All around, vine-covered hills produce fresh and fruity Silvaner wines. Eventually you come out onto the Main River south of Frankfurt. See romantischestrasse.de

EMILIA-ROMAGNE, ITALY

Aerial cityscape view from Bologna old town center tower with Maggiore square in Italy

Photo: RossHelen/iStock

Just north of Florence, south of Venice and filled with lavish little towns and once powerful duchies such as Ferrara, Modena and Parma, you would think this region should be visited more. It is notable for opera, high-end cars, and iconic dishes such as Parma ham, parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar, and tortellini. Enjoy visiting farmhouse gates, car factories and Renaissance squares without the tourist crush that overwhelms neighboring Tuscany. See emiliaromagnaturismo.it

ENGADIN, SWITZERLAND

HDBX1P Tarasp Castle, Tarasp, Lower Engadine, Grisons, Grisons, Switzerland

Photo: Alamy

Granted, where the River Inn rises (En in Romansh) has a world-famous destination, the chic ski resort of St Moritz. But few foreigners go much further in this southeastern corner of Switzerland, let alone in summer, despite its wild alpine landscapes, quirky Romansh culture and beautiful villages with ornate facades. The Swiss National Park has excellent hiking trails and stunning scenery. See engadin.ch

The writer traveled as a guest of many tourist offices and at his own expense.

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