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5 European Summer Holiday Hidden Gems

14 APR 2015 - BY LUKE WYATT

With summer fast approaching now is the perfect time to start thinking about where to go for your summer holidays.

Europe holds many exciting options and as well as the incredible destinations known worldwide, it is also full of hundreds of hidden treasures all offering something different and exciting.

Below are our choices of just 5 of these to get you inspired...

5. Monopoli, Italy

Monopoli, at the heart of Italy's Puglia region (the heel of Italy) is the perfect base with which to explore this enchanting region of ancient olive trees, endless sapphire beaches, spectacular towns and almost year round sunshine.

The small town is dominated by its fortified sea-front walls that shelter a winding maze of small streets leading to the buzzing piazza or cathedral with its elegant 17th century bell tower. Monopoli is a bustling and charming place full of excellent restaurants, beaches to suit all types and a vibrant nightlife.

Puglia is packed with interesting day trips, with Polignano a Mare and its uniquely stunning bay, the towering white city of Ostuni and the UNESCO world heritage site of Alberobello and its mass of Trulli (the traditional dwellings of the region) just some of the must see sights of the region.

Temperatures soar in the summer, so the best times to go are either side of high season, May to June or September to October.

The beaches of Puglia

4. Hanko, Finland

Finland may not be many people's first thought for a summer holiday destination but with a lovely coastline, tranquil lakes and the buzzing city of Helsinki it boasts many exciting destinations.

The historic seaside town of Hanko, sat on a long sandy peninsula that leads to Finland's most Southerly point is full of opulent seaside villas, left over from its days as a swanky Russian spa town, they still make it the destination of choice for Helsinki's rich and famous.

Catch some rays or build a sandcastle on one of the many sandy beaches, then heat things up with a relaxing steam in a traditional Finnish sauna, before taking an invigorating dip in the sea. Finally, round off the day with a sumptuous seafood feast in one of the many excellent restaurants that look out over the harbour.

Hanko is well and truly a summer destination and the small town virtually shuts down over the winter months. The perfect time to visit is for the mid-summers Hanko Regatta, but be warned visitors flock here for the sun, sand and party atmosphere so book well in advance.

Hanko

3. Dordogne Region, France

For a summer holiday with a difference take a trip down the meandering Dordogne River, stopping off along the way to enjoy the stunning medieval castles, historical villages and the famous prehistoric caves of the UNESCO listed Vezere Valley.

Whether, travelling by canoe, bicycle or even car, delightful surprises await around every bend of the river, from quaint riverside restaurants serving delicious regional dishes to the breathtaking Rocamadour, a pilgrim site climbing up the cliff-side above the river where this imposingly beautiful mass of monastic architecture sits.

You can't help but be charmed by the Dordogne's blend of laid back beauty, gastronomic delights and hidden gems that will keep you coming back time and time again.

Canoeing down the Dordogne River

2. Kotor, Montenegro

This spectacular town sits into the mountains overlooking the bay below, which is perfect for swimming, sunbathing and boat trips along the coast. Head back to the town in the evening though and enjoy how the sturdy town walls, that date back as far as the 9th century, climb up the steep slopes behind the town merging it with the mountain and creating a spectacular vista when they're lit up at night.

As you wander around the maze of old cobbled lanes, past small churches and stumbling across many piazzas full of vibrant bars, shops and restaurants, it's easy to see why Montenegro is fast becoming the next must visit country in Europe.

The other great draw of Montenegro is its size. This small country is packed with extraordinary azure beaches, carpets of wild flowers, dramatic mountains and vibrant small towns, all just a short trip away from your Kotor base.

Kotor Bay

1. Taormina, Sicily

Perched on the top of a cliff, looking out over the crystal clear waters of the Gulf of Naxos and in the shadow of Mount Etna, Taormina is Sicily's most popular summer destination.

In the main town don't let the touristy boutiques that line the main street fool you, this Sicilian jewel perfectly blends, chic bars, bustling cafe's and delicious restaurants with medieval churches, and even a Greek amphitheatre.

Then, when you want to escape the vibrant town scene, just hop on the cable car down to the picture perfect bay with wonderful beaches stretching along the coast in both directions.

The best time to visit, to miss the crowds, is either side of high season, April to May or September to October.

Toarmina's Greek theatre
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