With picturesque villages, gorgeous hill towns, seaside resorts and medieval hamlets among vineyards and lakes, Europe abounds with “secret” destinations away from the crowds.
European Best Destinations (EBD) has released its 2022 list of “Best Hidden Gems in Europe” to entice travelers on the hunt for unique experiences free from mass tourism and a hunger to reconnect with nature.
“Amazing secret pueblos blancos in Spain, the Algarve islands of Portugal, secret medieval villages in Italy, and beautiful beaches in Georgia” are among the recommendations by the organization, which is part of the European Commission’s EDEN Network (“European Destinations of Excellence”) working to promote sustainable tourism on the continent.
These are 12 of the top Secret Destinations on the EBD list. All the hidden gems are here and include Sant’ Angelo Ischia Island in Italy, Zahara de la Sierra Cadiz in Spain’s Andalusia, St Jean Cap Ferrat Provence-Alpes-Côtes-D’Azur in France, Hondarribia, Basque Country in Spain, Theoule-sur-Mer, Provence-Alpes-Côte-D’Azur in France, Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, Alpes de Haute Provence in France, Ilha do Farol, Algarve in Portugal, Trogir Split, Dalmatia in Croatia, Sesimbra, Costa Azul in Portugal and Savona, Liguria in Italy.
1. Batumi, Adjara Region, Georgia
This sparkling, beautiful destination known as the ‘Pearl of the Black Sea’ in Europe and awarded by the World Travel Awards as “Europe’s Leading Emerging Tourism Destination” made it to the top of the Best Hidden Gems in Europe.
Located on the coast of Georgia’s Ajara region, Batumi boasts more than 2,000 years of history and is at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. This vibrant city invites you to experience the contrast between ancient sites and modern lifestyles.
Due to its year-round subtropical and mild climate, Batumi can be visited in any season. Its national parks have recently been recognized by UNESCO as World’s Natural Heritage sites.
In old Batumi, the main streets lead to the port — hence its renown as a city that looks at the sea.
“We love strolling through the historic streets of Batumi’s old city centre, hiking, biking or canyoning in the nearby Adjara mountains, visiting one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in Europe, lazing around on Batumi beach or being pampered in a wellness hotel facing the sea,” writes EBD.
Rich in history, heritage, museums unique in the world and among Europe’s most daring architectures, Batumi is also a destination for foodies and wine lovers.
The city is a perfect destination in summer, combining city-break and beach, wellness and shopping. Autumn dresses its parks and the Adjara Region in flamboyant colors, making it probably the best time of the year to combine city break and nature getaway as a couple or with family or friends.
With new trendy hotels opening every day, Asian and European fusion restaurants, rooftop bars atop extraordinary buildings, independent shops, designers, stylists and an exceptional nightlife, Batumi is much more than one of the Best Hidden Gems in Europe: It stands out as one of the best City Breaks in Europe.
2. Torrevieja, Alicante, Spain
Located between two salt lagoons, the Laguna Salada de Torrevieja and the Laguna de La Mata are excellent destinations for birdwatchers, cyclists and nature lovers.
The protected reserves are separated by a strip of land and are habitats for many species and more than 100 birds including flamingos and other waders.
“The ‘Laguna Salada de Torrevieja’ is a pink lake that will blow your Instagram account and leave you with memories for a lifetime,” advises EBD.
It’s located in the Natural Park of the Lagunas de la Mata y Torrevieja and in addition to having exceptional color, this lake is said to have therapeutic properties — especially for rheumatism — thanks to the healing components of its salty waters.
Torrevieja also has miles of sublime sandy beaches, a picturesque seafront promenade, waterparks and modern sports centers.
3. Pietrapertosa, Basilicata Region, Italy
Pietrapertosa is a village in Southern Italy’s Basilicata region, situated in a mountainous area within the regional park of Gallipoli Cognato Piccole Dolomiti Lucane.
Pietrapertosa’s first name was “Lucania,” derived from Leukos, and means “sacred wood” in line with the identity of this region located between the heel and the tip of the boot of Italy.
This region of forests and mountains is best known for the troglodyte stone city of Matera. Don’t miss a stop at “Castelmezzano,” another village considered one of the best hidden gems of Italy.
Like Castelmezzano, Pietrapertosa seems to be built into the rock. With its narrow streets and medieval houses at the foot of the castle, this hamlet is one of Italy’s most beautiful medieval villages.
Climb to the top of the castle and enjoy breathtaking views and enjoy a unique experience taking one of Europe’s fastest zip lines, joining Castelmezzano and Pietraportosa.
4. Rio Marina, Elba Island, Tuscany, Italy
Mining capital of the island, Rio Marina no longer attracts gold diggers but, rather, holidaymakers looking for beaches of fine golden sand, crystal clear waters, hidden coves and secret beaches such as Cala delle Alghe or the Spiaggia Luisi d’Angelo.
Eight ferries a day connect Piombino (mainland) to Covo (Elba Island) located 10 minutes by car from Rio Marina.
Elba is the biggest island of the Tuscan Archipelago and the third largest in Italy after Sardinia and Sicily. Together with eight other islands, including Giglio, Giannutri and Montecristo, it’s part of the National Park of the Tuscan Archipelago, Europe’s largest marine park.
5. Losinj Island, Primorje-Gorksi, Kotar County, Croatia
Located 10 minutes by car from the sublime town of Mali Losinj, Veli Losinj is “a secret destination that will make you fall in love with Croatia,” according to EBD.
Natural landscapes, crystal clear blue waters, extraordinary beaches, sun and good food have made Croatia into one of the trendiest countries in recent years.
Veli Losinj was an important fishing port until the beginning of the 20th century. Over the years the village has been transformed to welcome tourists.
Located at the foot of the Kalvarija mountain and facing the Mediterranean, Veli Losinj is one of the most beautiful islands of Croatia.
6. Calella de Palafrugell, Catalonia, Spain
Calella de Palafrugell is a perfect destination to escape from the city and enjoy the idleness of an authentic old fishing village.
With its various rocky coves, sandy beaches and excellent fish restaurants, whitewashed buildings fringing the waterfront and fishing boats on the shore, the town is a showcase of ‘low key as a way of life.’
With its intact architecture, Calella de Palafrugell is one of the most beautiful villages on the Costa Brava.
7. Bauduen, Provence-Alpes-Cote-d’Azur, France
Not many people know this little paradise 90 minutes from Nice. A perfect place for exploring the Gorges du Verdon, Bauduen is also a privileged holiday spot in the heart of nature.
This traditional village appeals to families that take advantage of the activities offered by the nautical center, observe the starry sky at the astronomical observatory or visit the children’s museum “Art in Toys.”
The few restaurants and brasseries in Bauduen offer simple and tasty cuisine at affordable prices compared to some restaurants on the Côte d’Azur.
Bauduen is also one of the most beautiful villages in France.
8. Moraira, Alicante, Costa Blanca, Spain
Moraira is the kind of small seaside resorts one dreams of for a holiday by the sea. Far from the crowds and soulless buildings, this family seaside resort on the water offers a relaxing holiday under Spanish coast sun.
Beautiful beaches and a temperate climate that’s never too hot even in the heat of summer, Moraira is situated on the beautiful mountainous northeastern tip of the Costa Blanca.
The town has grown from a small fishing village to a holiday and retirement resort with an impressive marina, a variety of local shops, markets, harbor-side fish restaurants and bars and has still managed to preserve its Spanish character.
9. Thun, Canton of Bern, Switzerland
Thun is a town by Lake Thun in Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland region.
The turreted Thun Castle, dating back to the 1100s, stands on a hill above the old town and has sweeping views of the Alps.
Popular with the inhabitants of Bern, who come to spend relaxing weekends not far from the Swiss capital, Thun is one of Switzerland’s best hidden gems with Spiez just a short drive away.
For walks or bike rides along the lake, mountain biking, water and winter activities or for a visit steeped in gastronomy and wellness, Thun is a destination made for lovers of nature and wide open spaces.
10. Port Grimaud, Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur, France
The town of Grimaud on the French Riviera is perfect for lovers of old stones, steep streets and typical Provençal villages while Port Grimaud will appeal to lovers of various watercraft including sailboats and yachts.
Grimaud is a village and commune in the Var department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in southeastern France with historical links to Monaco’s Grimaldi family.
The famous coastal town of Port Grimaud, a colorful port, nicknamed ‘The Little Venice of Provence’ and endorsed as a 20th Century Heritage site has only been in existence for some 50 years and is well-loved for its laid-back way of life.
EBD recommends that visitors “wander along the canals, take a boat trip, or count the different colors on the facades.”
11. Quedlinburg, Saxony Anhalt, Germany
Quedlinburg is a typical German town of half-timbered houses and medieval streets.
Its beautiful walks include visits to its castle and the church that shelters the tomb of a 10th century German king, as well as walks around the vast forests that surround it.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Quedlinburg was a powerful and wealthy city in the Middle Ages and is also one of the most beautiful medieval cities in Europe.
12. Sainte Marguerite Island, Lerin Islands, Alpes Maritimes, France
The Île Sainte-Marguerite is the largest of the Lérins Islands, about a half-mile offshore from the French Riviera town of Cannes.
Clean, calm, without cars and surrounded by crystal-clear water, the island is described by its tourist office as a destination with serene beauty.
A mixture of sea air, eucalyptus and maritime pines, Sainte-Marguerite Island is an ideal destination to rest, swim, walk, cycle or simply enjoy beautiful natural and wild beaches.
Many cruises depart daily from the port of Cannes but also from the Port of “Golfe-Juan” and “Juan-les-Pins” towards Sainte Marguerite Island.
Two restaurants, open from April to October, specialize in local specialities. “A unique destination for a business seminar in the countryside, exceptional holidays in a 100% natural setting, sports holidays, alone, as a couple or with the family,” according to EBD.