Travel's Hidden Treasures: Europe

There is no doubt that traveling the world is a very common desire for many of us. I mean, how could it not be? We constantly see pictures of fascinating destinations pasted on magazine pages, hung on the walls of cafés and other public buildings, and often even shown to by our friends. However, which photos do we see the most? Which places are the most popular? Among those that come to mind for many would be places such as London or Paris. Cities such as those are undoubtedly some of the most popular tourist destinations. However, traveling internationally isn't just limited to the most popular and touristy places. When I was studying abroad last year in Southern France, I had an incredible opportunity to travel to different countries and cities around Europe and North Africa. While I was there, I noticed a particular pattern among the places I visited; many of those that I didn't know much about, turned out to be my favorite. Whether they were vibrant, intriguing, culturally or historically rich, these destinations satisfied my inner wanderlust and I came back feeling a sense of growth just having been there. I like to call these places "hidden treasures," since they are not popular places, and are rather hidden compared to Paris or London. Nevertheless, here are my 10 favorite “hidden treasures.” 

1. Provence, France 

Provence is a beautiful region in the south of France with dynamic landscapes that make it an extraordinary place to visit. And yes, I am clearly biased since I spent my academic year there, however, I would be lying if I said it wasn't one of the coolest places I've been to! Provence is home to colorful cities and towns, world famous lavender fields and vineyards, olive groves, pine forests, Roman monuments, and castles among many other sights. It is also located between the Mediterranean Sea and the foothills of the Alps, so there is always plenty to do! Fun fact: famous painters such as Van Gogh sought out the Provençal landscape as the subject of their masterpieces! I mean, c'mon, you know a place has got to be pretty if Van Gogh paints it! 

Gordes is a lavish hilltop town in the Provençal countryside where some celebrities have homes! 

Rosé is produced in this region! You literally can live the quote "rosé all day" in Provence! How lit!

(Note:drinking ages in Europe are lower and regulations involving alcohol consumption are less strict than in the United States.)

2. The Andalusian Triangle (Granada, Cordoba and Sevilla), Spain

This trio of cities in Southern Spain (that geographically form a triangle hence the name: Andalusian Triangle) is full of breathtaking sites, and I mean it! Wow! I was overwhelmed with the distinct beauty and culture found in these three cities. This particular area in Spain was once ruled by the Moors and remained under Islamic control until the Christian Reconquista. Thus, the fascinating blend of Spanish and North African cultures is evident anywhere you go!

The Alhambra palace and fortress in Granada is decorated with arches, and intricate designs encrypted with verses from the Qur'an.

The Arabic markets in Granada are a one-of-a-kind experience!  A scene in Star Wars was filmed at the Plaza de España in Seville! Not to mention- it is a pretty attractive looking complex! 

The Mezquita in Cordoba was once a mosque but was turned into a church during the Reconquista! It is essentially a fusion of the Islamic and Christian religions under one roof!

3. Morocco (YES! The entire country!)

Okay first, let me start off by addressing the fact that I KNOW Morocco is in Africa and not Europe, however, it's so close to Spain that it's a very accessible and worth-it destination for anyone traveling in Europe! Next I'd like to also add that it is without a doubt one of my favorite places I’ve ever traveled to! This is mostly because Morocco is so different than any other country I've been to! First of all, The Moroccan culture is lively and vibrant not to mention the delicious food. The Souks (covered markets) that maze through the main part of most Moroccan cities and towns offer an endless variety of traditional products that you can barter for. Morocco is located on the Atlantic coast, the Sahara Desert is found on the East, and the Atlas Mountain range runs through the country as well- so needless to say, the entire country is a pretty fascinating destination! Morocco is also Muslim-majority country which is evident by the countless mosques, and colorful and intricate Islamic tile work and architecture that are found throughout the country. As part of Islamic practice, the call to prayer would resound from the mosques five times per day indicating that it is time for one of the daily prayers- It was totally epic! Most importantly, however, I think it is so important for American students to travel to Morocco because it really changes your perspective- and I don't mean that lightly! It is not entirely uncommon for Americans to have a misconception of Muslim- majority countries, and traveling really opens our minds to things we'd never know otherwise. When I traveled to this country for the first time, I didn't know what to expect, then I left having experienced a beautiful new culture and having met some of the kindest most generous people I've ever known in my life! It was an absolutely incredible experience to travel there and I'd highly recommend it for anyone! Here are some pictures in the various cities I've traveled to in Morocco! 

At the Majorelle Gardens in Marrakesh! Don't let our purposeful mugging faces fool you, we were having one of the best days! Fun fact: fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent is buried in this garden! 

Fun fact: You can ride camels in Morocco too! And guess what? It's even cooler than riding horses! 

 

This is no ordinary door in Rabat! Really though, #doorgoals! 

Fes is one of the Imperial cities in Morocco! It is like a desert dream vacation spot. That's the best way I can describe it! 

The Hassan Mosque in Casablanca is one of the biggest Mosques in the world, and one (if not, the only) Mosque in Morocco that permits non-Muslim visitors to enter! 

The Souks in Marrakesh are poppin' (even at night)!

4. Prague, Czech Republic 

Before traveling to Europe, I had barely ever heard of Prague let alone considered it a place I wanted to travel to. But wow I am extremely glad I went! The entire city looks as though it came straight out of a fairytale. I'm not even exaggerating! The mysterious looking castles and churches, the pastel colored buildings with red roofs and the big and elegant bridges give you a medieval fantasy-like impression. There is quite honestly no other place in Europe like Prague! 

View of one of the biggest bridges in the city and one of the castles up on the hill on the other side of a river! This could really be the location for the next Disney princess film! 

A Czech dessert called Trdelnik with ice cream in the middle!

 

5. Copenhagen, Denmark

The whole city of Copenhagen has a very vintage Maritime feel with a modern twist. Canals run through the city which is home to many natural spaces and parks. There are traditional Scandinavian designed boats on the water and parked in front of the colorful streets. The city is very environmentally friendly- and just friendly in general! There are many restaurants, bars and cafés squeezed right next to each other along the river making Copenhagen the perfect city to go bar or café- hopping while enjoying the sights!  

6. Lisbon, Portugal

 Lisbon is definitely one of the more popular destinations on my list, however it is still underrated in my opinion! The whole city is artsy AF! The clever street art and stunning tile work found on nearly every corner of the city, gives the whole place character! Lisbon is also full of al fesco restaurants and cafés that make every dining experience an incredible one! 

City view from a hilltop park! 

A plate of Pastels de Nata- a traditional Portuguese dessert made of egg and cinnamon! I definitely ate all three of these after taking this photo! 

7. Krakow, Poland.

Before studying abroad, the only thing I knew about Krakow was that it was a city in Poland. I was pleasantly surprised by its quaint charm. The cobblestone roads and majestic architecture make it a great setting for a romance film. Krakow is rich in history as well. Auschwitz-Birkenau, the deadliest concentration camp in World War II, is just an hour drive away from the city. I also came at the end of November when their annual Christmas market was set up (as shown in the picture above)

Touring the concentration camp was an absolutely humbling and eye-opening experience. As tragic as that time in history was, I believe it is important to visit sights such as Auschwitz in order to remind ourselves of this tragedy and to pay homage to the lives lost. I felt the eerie sorrow while walking through the camp.   

8. Florence, Italy 

Florence is also one of the more popular destinations on this list, however, I HAD to include it! For all you history-lovers like me, Florence is an incredibly fascinating place! It was the birthplace of the Renaissance- a time period that marked an era of creativity and culture that introduced the world to many new artistic masterpieces and neat inventions. Among the many works on display in Florence's art museums, is Michelangelo's world-renowned sculpture of David. The entire city is rich in history and culture, why not travel there?

Yet another reason to go to Florence would be the food! Italian food is a gift to this Earth. According to my Airbnb host, while in Florence, Selena Gomez ate at the restaurant where my friends and I ordered the dishes photographed above! 

9. Graz, Austria 

Graz is a cute little city in Austria! It is a UNESCO world heritage sight as well as a major place for students! 

10. Stockholm, Sweden 

Stockholm is another city on water! It is a very friendly city full of bakeries to enjoy fika- a Swedish word that usually means a coffee break with a snack! The architecture and design of the town is a mixture of traditional Swedish buildings and modern designs. The interior of many buildings look straight out of an IKEA catalogue! Stockholm is also home to many unique museums such as the Pippi Longstocking (A Swedish childrens book) museum, the Vasa Museum, and the Nobel Prize Museum which contains an archive of all the awards given out!  

Hope you enjoyed my list! Happy Travels! HCXO

All photos in this document were taken by me!