World Hidden Vacation Gems: Islands Beyond the Mainstream:
Rarotonga, Cook Islands:
If you dream of running away to a tropical island, this is the place for you! I had always longed to see Tahiti but found the prices a bit high. With the help of Air New Zealand, I learned about Rarotonga and neighboring Aitutaki. At that time, Aitutaki had only one bank open one day a month. If you missed it, well you missed it!
- Today with ATM’s that has gone the way of the clipper ship!
- One nice feature is that it is close enough to travel via small planes and by boat to other islands or to uninhabited atolls!
- You can easily combine a Robinson Crusoe solo travel package adventure with a luxury spa.
- relaxing completely
- taking advantage of available water sports
- riding horseback on the beach.
Tobago (Part of the two island nation of Trinidad and Tobago):
Tobago is the quieter, smaller of the two islands comprising one nation. It may be most famous as a great venue for diving and snorkeling in Buccoo Reef but also as a location for a popular Beatles’ film.
Its main town is Scarborough.
Not a scuba diver? There are plenty of endless beaches to simply relax or stroll.
- For top selfies, try Fisherman’s Bay and Pigeon Point.
- Take a boat tour along Store Bay.
- Explore Fort James and Fort King George.
World Hidden Vacation Gems: Europe’s Renaissance Wonders:
Telc, the countryside of the Czech Republic:
Although Prague is the most visited of the Czech cities and sites, the country is filled with many UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including Telc. Located in Moravia, it is at a midpoint between Prague and Vienna and best arrived at by car.
- The good news is that it is small enough for a self-guided tour or for a small fee hire a local guide.
- The main attraction is the Old Town square, preserved since the Renaissance with nearby colorful town houses.
- Of course, not to be missed are the Telc Castle, several ancient churches, St. Anna’s cemetery and a historic synagogue.
- For 21st century tourists, the Marian Plague Column may seem especially unusual.
Lucca, Tuscany, Italy:
- The most memorable feature of Lucca is its city wall since very few remain throughout the world.
- Not surprisingly, it, too, has a major cathedral and an array of churches to visit.
- For side trips, nearby Pisa, just under 10 miles away, also affords an opportunity to visit its famous leaning tower and cathedral.
World Hidden Vacation Gems: The Former Yugoslavia:
Bled is in the northern part of Slovenia in the Julian Alps. As it is near the Austrian border, the two countries’ histoery is intertwined as part of the Austro-Hungarian or Hapsburg Empire. Following two world wars, what is now Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia until it achieved independence in the late 1900’s.
I had heard of Bled and read of it for years as a famous 19th century spa attracting royalty and chic travelers from around Europe. I even found myself on an earlier visit to Belgrade comfortably ensconed in a local cafe named after Bled! My curiosity was really peaked so I was primed for a visit.
- The most famous point in Bled is the often photographed Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Mary. It looks like a scene out of a Swiss village as it is usually depicted with deep snow surrounding. Unfortunately, it is only accessible by small boats. When I arrived on a cold, winter’s day, I discovered the small lake was frozen solid. Sincet there was no foot bridge, I missed it but did manage to snap a photo!
- The next stop on every visitor’s list is the Bled Castle. As is always the case, the castle stood as a fortress on a tall bluff. My guide book described it as an easy hike up the hill overlooking the town. Apparently, the author had visited Bled in warm weather. I found myself in ice and snow trudging up a path made for a mountain goat. The castle and museum were well worth the visit although I gladly accepted a ride back down to the town.
- Bled still lives up to its reputation for charm but still at an afforable price! (Even Tito could not resist choosing Bled for his grand summer villa!)
Sveti Stefan, Montenegro:
Montenegro is the southernmost of the former states comprising Yugoslavia. Bordering on Albania, it winds its way along the Adriatic Coast. It is bordered to the east by spectacularly tall peaks. Making your way up through the mountains, cliffhanging roads look as though they drop off into the sea.
Montenegro really merits a standalone trip. However, I traveled there previously as part of a longer trip that included Greece and Turkey. It remains one of my most memorable trips even after 68 countries visited.
What was so special about Montenegro?
- The contrast in terrain was unique since one minute I found myself on miles of pristine beaches and the next minute in heavily wooded hills.
- The remoteness at that time made for a vacation way off the beaten path. I never ran into any of my fellow countrymen and found myself often having to dust off my German vocabulary from my Exchange Student days.
- It was very informal but elegant. Water sports were really impromptu. As I lounged on the beach, a stranger dashed by in a power boat. He shouted out: “You water ski? I teach you how!” I never caught his name but gamely jumped in and had a wildly fast spin around a neighboring island.
- The small nearby island are an added attraction for a day trip. I found myself spending a day at a small island, ironically named “California”.
- The main hotel at that time was located on a small island and was made up of quaint, individual fishermen’s cottages only accessible by a pedestrian causeway. Dinner was served overlooking the sea just in time for sunset.The entire Although tourists have started to discover Montenegro, it is still a “hidden” gem among the world’s great destinations.