If you are an avid traveller like me you have likely travelled to Europe more times than you can remember. It is after all a continent that offers a lot - cultures and languages vary from one region to the next, the history is unparalled and for an active vacation in comfortable surrounds it is hard to beat the old continent.
So I am going to challenging you a bit. Have a read through this list of ten fabulous regions in Europe you have never heard of and let me know how many are new to you?
Friesland - The Netherlands
Yes, there is such a place. And no, it is not where fries originate *. It is a region with a fabulous history - the Romans knew and feared the Frisian people - but nowadays Friesland refers to a province in the north of The Netherlands. It is your archetypical Dutch landscape - wide-open spaces dotted with traditional farm houses, the horizon punctured by ancient villages centred around a church. Along the coast old fishing villages abound, while inland you will find massive lakes and even the odd forest. It is a fabulous area for a cycling holiday as roads are quiet and bike paths criss-cross the farm fields.
Suggested tour: Cycling The Netherlands
Vestland - Norway
Vestland - literally translated it means West Country - is a county in western Norway, centered on the city of Bergen. Several long and beautiful fjords disect the county, among them Sognefjorden, and Hardangerfjorden. It is a region of spectacular mountains, high waterfalls and glistening glaciers, a land for outdoor enthusiasts, nature lovers and hisotry buffs alike.
Discovery: Scandinavian Adventure
Hiking: Trails of the Norwegian Fjords
Cruise tour: Best of Norway
Moravia - Czech Republic
Rolling hills, pretty landscapes covered in vineyards and old castles mark what once was one of the richest posessions of the Habsburg Family. Capital of the region is the beautiful city of Brno, a lively university town with some great museums and churches. Deep in the south of the region lies Moravské Toskánsko, Moravian Tuscany, named for its resemblance with that Italian region. Best appreciated slowly, we recommend a bike tour.
Suggested tour: Cycle Central Europe
Asturias - Spain
The only part of Spain that was never conquered by the Muslims, Asturia lies claim to being the 'real Spain". It is a land of dramatic coastlines and colourful fishing ports, of beaches and spectacular mountains, while lush green valleys are home to picturesque villages and hamlets. Several of the Camino routes to Santiago run through the region and a hiking holiday is a great way to discover the area.
Suggested tour: Hiking in the Picos de Europa
Aosta - Italy
High up in the Alpine Aosta Valley, against the border with France, Gran Paradiso, Italy's oldest national park, feels like a true wilderness. Encounters with ibex and chamois are common on your trek and the views of Mont Blanc and as far over as Matterhorn are simply stupendous. Glacial lakes, valleys carpeted in wildflowers and snow-covered mountains set the back-drop for a week of fantastic hiking. Nights are spent in atmospheric mountain refuges, adding to the alpine experience.
Off-the-beaten-track: Trails of the italian Alps
Classic hike: Tour du Mont Blanc
Alto Adige - Italy
It's a region with an Italian name, where a majority of people speak German, and the culture feels distinctivly. Austrian. Not surprising perhaps as the regions was part of the Austrian empire for many centuries. The region is home to the Dolomites, craggy peaks that tower up to the sky, where wooden farmhouses dot the orchard-clad valleys, and hiking trails lead you from mountain huts to spa resorts to glorious vistas.
Suggested tour: Hiking the Dolomites
Emilia-Romagna - Italy
Emilia-Romagna may not be a household name but who hasn't heard of Parmigiano cheese, Parma ham, mortadella from Bologna or Balsamic vinegar from Modena. All these originate in this underrated region in the country is the home of the slow food movement; Emilia-Romagna is certainly a region that should be savoured slowly.
Small group: Food adventures in Italy
Tailor-made: Gastronomic Journey to the home of Slow Food
Istria - Croatia
The Croatian region of Istria, in the far north of the country, is one of rolling hills and hilltop towns, known for its cruisine: the freshest seafood, white truffles, award-winning wines and highly-rated olive oils. Summers get busy here but fall is a great time to explore the area, including the pretty town town of Rovinj, a maze of cobbled streets and squares, centred on the old fishing harbour, where early mornings are abuzz with fishermen landing their catch.
Suggested tour: Croatia & Lake Bled Adventure
Maramureș - Romania
In a far corner of Romania, nestled within the Carpathian mountains, Romania's most traditional region: Maramureș. This is an area where time truly stood still for centuries and where you might feel you have stepped into a fairy tale. Colourfully-clothed farmers steer their horse-drawn carts down sandy tracks, while black-clad women make their way to one of the many wooden, steepled churches. Change is coming to the region, so don't delay your visit.
Suggested tour: Best of Romania
Wachau - Austria
The picturesque Wachau Valley in Austria is one of the Danube's most scenic stretches. Quaint villages line the river banks, while vineyards cling to steep slopes rising up to ancient castles. It is the country’s best wine-making region and famous for apricot jams as well as liqueurs.
River cruise: Danube cruise
Cycling: Self-guided Passau to Vienna
Klaipėda - Lithuania
The Klaipėda region of Lithuania was once part of Prussia and there is a distinctly German feel to some of the towns in the area. The beautiful Curonian Spit points like a finger to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. Here, forests are inhabited by moose, wild boar and many bird species, while endless beaches and rows of dunes allow for hours of exploration.
Suggested tour: Explore the Baltic Republics
* They come from France, don't they? Or were those Freedom Fries?
Maramureș image courtesy of Mihai Lucîț, Baia Mare, Romania, via Wikimedia Commons