January 1st 2017 will mark 15 years since the Euro currency was implemented. To mark this milestone, Booking.com is publishing a series of articles highlighting the very best of Europe.
First up, Booking chose to highlight the countries who joined the EU in the second wave. Using internal data, the analysts found which destinations in these new EU countries were best for three key travel criteria; food, culture and history.*
The hilltop village of Motovun, Croatia
This tiny Croatian hilltop village is deep in truffle country, surrounded by woods that are perfect for foraging. The region’s cuisine is as sophisticated as the flavours it contains and Motovun is a blissful setting in which to enjoy them. Visit one of the local olive oil producers for a tasting or sit in the main square enjoying a fragrant, local grappa and order a beef carpaccio sprinkled with truffle shavings.
Street food in Ljubljana, Slovenia
A fast-growing foodie capital, cosmopolitan Ljubljana has an impressive array of scenic cafés and restaurants, from those that line the Ljubljanica River to the renowned Restavracija Strelec, found high up in the courtyard of Ljubljana Castle. From early spring to late autumn, the Odprta Kuhna (Open Kitchen) is an open-air food market held every Friday where you can pick up local street food, beer and wine.
Romanian delicacy, 'sarmale' (pickled cabbage leaves containing minced meat, rice and spices
With each ruling empire that came and went, Romania picked up many different culinary influences, resulting in an exciting combination of national cuisines. Its majestic capital is the best place to sample this, be it in an acclaimed restaurant, a traditional café or from a busy street vendor. Snack-sized delicacies worth tasting are ‘sarmale’ (pickled cabbage leaves containing minced meat, rice and spices) and ‘mititei’ (small grilled sausages seasoned with paprika, thyme and garlic).
As the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia is a hub of Balkan architecture, art and cuisine. Sights to see include the Aleksandâr Nevski Cathedral, complete with golden domes, big bronze doors that will make you feel miniature and a crypt containing ancient religious icons. Then there’s the city’s oldest monument, the fourth-century St George’s Rotunda, the Banya Bashi Mosque and the Zenski Pazar (Women’s Market) stocking all sorts of fresh produce.
The Charles Bridge, Prague
Prague, Czech Republic
A city of whimsical castles, forts and architectural triumphs, Prague has overflowing cultural attractions. Explore on foot to make the most of the pretty parks and pavement cafés, in between stopping off at some of the world-class galleries and museums. The Old Town Square and main attractions are certainly worth a visit but do try to dip into some of the city’s atmospheric and alternative neighbourhoods.
The skyline of Pécs, Hungary
Since the Middle Ages, Pécs has been a centre of culture and learning. This historic city is now home to hundreds of museums and galleries, as well as a university that gives the city a youthful, creative air. Of the many beautiful buildings, the Hungarian Art Nouveau-style Palatinus Hotel, built in 1914, is especially impressive. As is the huge Neo-Romanesque Cathedral.
With a beguiling skyline similar to Istanbul (though on a smaller scale), the walled city of Valletta is also deeply historic. It was one of the first sites in the world to be given UNESCO World Heritage status thanks to its many fortresses, churches, palaces and the incredible prehistoric Hal Saflieni Hypogeum. The latter is an eerie subterranean structure and is the only known prehistoric underground temple in the world.
Though it’s not terribly well-known as a travel destination, Székesfehérvár was the capital of Hungary in the Middle Ages and has successfully retained many of its timeworn relics. The cobbled, tree-lined streets and squares are marked with old clock towers, statues and romantic orange and yellow architecture. But the key sights to see are St Stephen’s Basilica, St Anne’s Cathedral and Bishop’s Palace.
Traditional Bulgarian architecture in Koprivshtitsa
Most tourists head to Bulgaria for the skiing alone, missing out on a hundred and one things to do and see in this scenic country. Notably, the well-preserved, historic village of Koprivshtitsa. In the middle of Bulgaria’s misty Sredna Gora mountains, this village has been turned into an open-air museum, though it still has two and a half thousand residents. It’s importance in Bulgarian history lies largely in it being the place where the uprising against the Ottoman empire began. But it’s now just as important for managing to freeze in time traditional, rural Bulgarian life. Turkeys freely roam the leafy lanes, which are dotted with old wooden houses of all shapes, colours and sizes. It’s not only a lovely place for a romantic getaway, it’s also engaging and fun for children.
*The data analysts at Booking.com looked at endorsements for ‘food’, ‘culture’ and ‘history’ for the countries that joined the EU after 2004 (the second wave of member states). Then, the three destinations that were the highest-rated for each endorsement were selected.