Now that people are confidently booking travel again, many are setting their sights on unique adventures. A recent Travel Weekly survey revealed that international travel has gone up and is back on its pre-pandemic track, representing 55% of bookings.
“People are definitely keen to book bucket-list travel after putting plans on hold for two years; we’re seeing lots of European travel requests,” says Lindsay Smith, owner of L+S Travel in Spring Mills, Pa.
We asked advisors to share some of their favorite overlooked or under-the-radar European destinations they enjoy sending their clients to, and recommendations on what to do, see or eat there.
“Germany has great travel options for families, and train travel within the country is great,” says Smith. “The cities and villages offer so much for multi-generational travelers, including lots of fun activities for kids, like castles and unique museums.”
Consider heading to Mittenwald, a sleepy, fairy-tale-like village with snow-capped mountains, colorful historic homes and few crowds. Located just two hours by train from Munich and 40 minutes from Innsbruck, Austria, Mittenwald is one of Europe’s best hidden gems, where the Karewendel Alps offer a stunning backdrop to hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter. And speaking of castles, plan to take a one-hour drive to visit the 19th-century Neuschwanstein Castle.
Sicily & Southern Italy
“Italy is our highest selling destination, and once you go, you want to return again and again. It's the type of destination that you can travel to dozens of times and have a different experience every time,” says Roseann Freeman, an advisor at Spring House Travel in Spring House, Pa.
“The Italian cultural experiences are amazing; Italy has more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than anywhere else in Europe. Some people love the city experience and some love small town local flavor experience. I think it’s best to get a mix of both. One of my favorite places in Italy is the little town of Scilla, Calabria — our city has many people whose ancestors are from Calabria, and we often send clients to remote towns there with local guides who help them connect with their family history.”
Anne Densk, an advisor in Danbury, Conn. with Daybreak Destinations Travel, an affiliate of Magical Adventures Travel, likes sending clients to Sicily.
“A lot of people usually take the mainland route with Rome, but Sicily offers a whole island of fascinating things to do: There's the Valley of the Temples, villages built on lava bedrock. And, of course, beaches. There's plenty for families and friends to do and Sicily has something for everybody,” says Dansk.
Canary Islands, Spain
With its temperate weather and year-round sunshine, Spain’s Canary Islands offer a rare spot where travelers can enjoy beach weather in Europe in every season. This seven-island archipelago — which includes Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, La Gomera, El Hierro and La Palma — is closer to Africa than Spain, though there are nonstop flights from the U.S., making it an ideal destination. Featuring volcanic black sand beaches and its own vibrant culture and gourmet food, the Canary Islands is an affordable vacation spot with hundreds of hiking trails.
Yes, Paris is on every traveler’s must-see list, but Smith suggests making it a home base and then touring the countryside. "France is great for all ages. It’s such a vast country with so many different regions to explore,” she says.
“Annecy is a charming little town in the French Alps; hire a boat for the day on Lake Annecy. From there, you’re close to Chamonix and Samoëns, two French ski villages that are just as charming and full of activities in the summer. In the south of France, enjoy the seaside town of Menton — a true Mediterranean blend of Italian, French and Northern African influences — which is east of Monaco on the Italian border. In the summer, there are multiple beach clubs ranging from family-friendly to the clubbing scene.”
Clients seeking a quieter experience where history and nature intersect can head to Figeac, one of Europe’s best-preserved medieval towns. Located two hours north of Toulouse, Figeac features cobblestone streets and 13th- century architecture. It’s perfect for outdoorsy travelers who want to hike and go canoeing.
Inishfree, Cork, Ireland
“For the past 50 years since Spring House Travel was established, we have loved selling hidden gems all over Ireland; we love connecting clients with their heritage and Ireland is one of the easiest places to do so, thanks to the small, welcoming towns,” says Freeman.
“My favorite place is the little island of Inishfree, Co. Donegal, where my grandfather was born, and Dungloe/Tuberkeen, Co. Donegal, where my grandmother was born. They’re not the normal tourist spots but they’re the kind of place where locals stop you on the street and ask you what your connection is to be visiting there, just because they want to make you feel ‘at home’.”
Smith recommends a wedding vow renewal on the Wild Atlantic Way or learning what it’s like to be a professional hurler in Kilkenny or a sheep farmer in Northern Ireland. "I recently went to Ireland, and we had a wonderful time in Cork; it's near the Blarney Stone and the Blarney Castle,” adds Densk. “There's great local culture there, and the seafood is just amazing.”
Ypres & Small Towns of Belgium
Freeman says she loves sending clients to Belgium. "The people of Belgium embrace their country’s history in the most incredible way. Going to Belgium and learning the history of WWI and how Belgium respects history is something everyone should experience,” she says.
“The small towns of Belgium each have their own beer craft and the food has such amazing influences from many different surrounding countries. Whether you chose to dine in a small café or a Michelin-star restaurant, it’s always a treat. The town of Ypres/Ieper/Yper is one of my favorite places.”
The Cotswolds, Cornwall, Rye, United Kingdom
Densk recently sent a group of wine lovers to Scotland on a private tour that proved very enjoyable. "Private tours are great for multi-gen families, friends' or girls' getaways or themed groups,” she says.
“It was customizable so we could remove places they weren't interested in and add other stops such as whiskey tastings. Because you can get someone from the area driving them around, it could be a very culturally intense experience as well.”
Freeman often sends clients to small, historic towns in Great Britain. “Itineraries where clients explore the little villages in the Cotswolds and Corwall is one of our favorite things to plan,” she says.
One unique town, Rye, brings visitors back in time. With its cobblestone paths, quaint homes and buildings dating back to the 14th century, and its own Castle Museum, Rye is tucked near the English Channel about 70 miles southeast of London, offering gorgeous views of Romney Marsh and the River Rother.
Thessaloniki, Greece & the Smaller Greek Islands
For families, Densk recommends spending a day at Magic Park, a sprawling theme park in Thessaloniki, Greece, which is packed with interesting things to do. “Pieria is close by and that has some nice blue, calm waters,” she adds. “There's an array of accommodations, taverns and nightlife, so it’s a great destination in Greece that's often overlooked where people would have a fantastic time.”
Freeman says the smaller Islands of Greece — Paxos, Ios and Naxos — are getting stronger interest from American travelers lately. “The Inter-Island ferry service between islands is something everyone should do, along with booking small Greek family-run accommodations and trying incredible restaurants with local delicacies.”
Pag Island, Croatia
Smith recommends sending clients to Croatia, an overlooked getaway. Consider Pag Island, one of 1,200 Croatian islands in the Adriatic Sea. Located 35 miles north of Zadar, the island’s northern section is famed for its vibrant nightlife, while the southern area is tranquil and looks less like a lush rainforest and more like an exotic white, desert-like landscape. Numerous secluded beaches, calm coastline and crystal-clear water make this an ideal escape for busy travelers.
Foodies will love Pag Island’s renowned artisanal sheep milk cheese, regional lamb and local white wine called Pag Zutica.
St. Gilgen, Austria
Clients seeking an authentic Alpine experience will love St. Gilgen, a tiny village on one of Austria’s most picturesque lakes, Wolfgangee. Located 17 miles east of Salzburg, St. Gilgen is affordable, offering stunning landscapes, traditional cuisine and, yes, otherworldy skiing at Zwölferhorn Mountain. The town comes alive during the holidays with its Christmas Market. In the summer, hikers flock to its peak, and there are lots of water sports and boat rentals available at the lake.
Densk adds that clients seeking good value for their time and budget will find lots of choices at under-booked European destinations. “Some of these places really aren't too far from the touristy area, so it's something I can often work into an itinerary. I try to get people thinking outside the box,” she says. Finding something a little bit different, a place where not everybody goes, can make a unique adventure.”
Responding to the Return of European Travel
Partnering with the right tour operators and insurance companies makes an advisor's job seamless. "I find great deals to Europe for my clients with Travel Impressions (a company within Apple Leisure Group, or ALG)," says Roseann Freeman, an advisor at Spring House Travel in Spring House, Pa. "Packages include transatlantic airfare, accommodations and CFAR (Cancel For Any Reason) insurance. There are thousands of different types of accommodations available to package with very good airfares to most cities in Europe,” she says.
“It takes a bit of finagling through the VAX system, but well worth the search to get the right fit for the clients. The CFAR is very important now to most clients, and Travel Impressions' 100% cash back is a great safety net. We then book additional specialized experiences for our clients directly with our suppliers in Europe that we’ve had connections with for the past 50 years,” Freeman says.
Supply Meets Demand
ALG is meeting the uptick in demand with its comprehensive product offerings from its multiple well-known brands. "With over 120 destinations available to book, we continue to see the demand grow for European travel," says Melissa Backus, vice president of Supplier Engagement at ALG. "In addition to adding more hotel and activities to the major European destinations, we continue to expand our product in unique destinations throughout the Canary Islands, Balearic Islands, Greece, Malaga, Bulgaria, Portugal, and more to come.
"With the ALGV focus on Europe in 2023, we will be sharing more unique content than ever before for European travel, including a new Travelogue, inspirational itineraries and so much more!"
A Hidden Gem
So what is an insider's tip for Europe's top hidden gem? "There are so many incredible destinations in Europe," says Backus. "In my most recent trip Spain, I explored the beautiful Balearic island of Mallorca. I stayed in the countryside at Zoetry Mallorca, a renovated 14th-century villa. Just a short drive to beautiful beaches, the capital city of Palma, and the historic town of Valldemosa, Mallorca was idyllic."
What incentives are there for travel advisors to book with ALG? "Advisors can earn all of their ALGV benefits when booking their clients to Europe," says Backus. "Advisors receive competitive commission, they can take advantage of the low deposit policy, price guarantee, earn WAVES® points on all bookings, and for a limited time, they can earn bonus air commission on all United airlines flights. Plus, all Europe bookings qualify toward Elite Status."
For more information on ALGV's offerings, visit www.ALGVacations.com.