Hidden Corners of Europe

By Nicholas DeRenzo, with additional reporting by Andrew Ferren
July 13, 2010
Amanda Marsalis
Leave Paris and Vienna to the first-timers. Instead, escape to one of these five storybook retreats, where bell tolls replace alarm clocks and the big city feels far, far away.

Serra da Estrela

Thirty minutes west of the Spanish border, the Serra da Estrela has long been known as Portugal's answer to the Pyrenees for its ragged peaks, fortified towns, and medieval schist villages. Lately, however, the 600-square-mile region has received a makeover from Lisbon and Porto natives who have begun weekending here in place of the more popular coast. Minimalist hotels and high-toned spas sit just up the road from terraced vineyards and olive groves, making for that perfect marriage between old and new.

Where to Stay
The Casa das Penhas Douradas is a 21st-century take on a traditional Portuguese mountain house.

Done in a clean-lined Scandinavian style, the 17-room hotel has timber-paneled walls, an indoor pool, and floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the surrounding peaks. In the evenings, guests gather by the fire for local Dão wine or assemble at a communal dinner table, where owner João Tomás is known to hold court (casadaspenhasdouradas.pt, rooms from $128, includes breakfast).

Local Flavor
At the Pousada Convento de Belmonte, a refurbished 13th-century convent, Brazilian chef Valdir Lubave blends New World and Old World cuisines in creations like fragrant pea soup with basil ice cream or guava soufflé (conventodebelmonte.pt, entrées from $14).


Like Prague and Dubrovnik before it, this lakeside town just north of Greece has all the makings of Europe's next affordable hotspot. Built at the edge of Lake Ohrid, in Macedonia's southwest corner, the city pairs the charm of the Dalmatian Coast (terra-cotta-roofed homes tumble down hillsides to boat slips on the water) with reminders of its Ottoman past. In the Old Bazaar, a warren of labyrinthine streets, merchants hawk silver jewelry and "pearls" made from fish scales. Around town, Byzantine churches sit silently in narrow alleys and on limestone cliffs. During the day, visitors row boats to secluded pebble beaches, while at night, they gather at the waterfront promenade to sip coffee and watch partygoers stream into the dance clubs lining the shore.

Where to Stay
Opened in 2008, the Grebnos Stone-House Apartments are just two blocks from the shore, and each room comes with a sun-drenched terrace. For the true (if slightly primitive) Lake Ohrid experience, guests can also stay in owner Pavel Pop Stefanija's tiny cabin on a private beach in the nearby village of Trpejca (grebnos.com, rooms from $45, cabin-stay included).

Local Flavor
Within the Old Bazaar, vendors set up daily to peddle Macedonian street food like leblebija (roasted chickpeas), shopska salata (veggies and sirenje cheese), and greena rakija (spiced brandy).


On the banks of the Danube, in the shadow of a castle from the Middle Ages, Dürnstein is one of those impossibly quaint towns where everything, from the baroque clock tower to the cobblestoned alleys, seems lifted straight from the Brothers Grimm. Just an hour downriver from Vienna, Dürnstein is an under-explored retreat and a gateway to the surrounding Wachau valley, a grape region prized for crisp Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners. To experience the area like a local, take a seat inside a Heuriger, a cozy tavern that sells only indigenous wines, namely those from the most recent harvest. Authentic establishments hang fir branches above their doorways to welcome the thirsty, while Schrammelmusik (traditional fiddle-and-accordion folk music) plays from within.

Where to Stay
Open from March to November, the 16-room Hotel Restaurant Sänger Blondel, which is named after Richard the Lionheart's legendary minstrel, is located squarely under Dürnstein's clock tower. The Schendl family has owned the house since 1729 and hosts Thursday-evening zither concerts, often under the shade of the chestnut trees out back (saengerblondel.at, from $61).

Local Flavor
Although the Wachau is known for its grapes, it is the Marille (apricot) that sets the region apart. In early April, the valley erupts in pale-pink blossoms, and the fruit begins showing up in strudels, pork dishes, and Marillenknödel (apricot dumplings rolled in butter-toasted bread crumbs). Wieser Wachau Shop & Café, with locations throughout the valley, sells apricot soap, schnapps, and marmalade (wieser-wachau.at).


Life moves slowly in the village of Binn—and that's by design. Years ago, the residents of this tiny Alpine town (pop. 150, two and a half hours from Bern) decided to stave off development by preserving the surrounding valley as a park. Today, Binn remains a time capsule of village life. Gravel lanes wind between neat pine chalets. Flower boxes filled with geraniums hang from every window. Up the Binna River, visitors will find even smaller hamlets and picture-perfect meadows, where they can spread out a picnic of local wine and raclette cheese and listen to the cowbells ring down from the high pastures.

Where to Stay
Built in 1883, the 35-room Hotel Ofenhorn embraces its history. Its four Nostalgic Rooms have original hardwood floors, antique furniture, and art nouveau wallpaper, all of which recall the days when a young Winston Churchill stopped through while on a painting tour of the Alps (ofenhorn.ch, from $108, includes breakfast).

Local Flavor
About a mile from Binn, the riverside Restaurant Imfeld is a thoroughly traditional establishment with a menu that includes fresh trout and Valais air-dried beef—prepared by rubbing salt, herbs, and spices into raw beef and leaving it to dry in a wooden barn for at least six weeks (011-41/27-971-4596, entrées from $9).

Pèrigord Noir

While provence is justifiably famous for its rosé and rustic gîtes (holiday rental homes), that celebrity comes at a high price. Nearly a straight shot across the country, close to Bordeaux, the cluster of market towns known as Périgord Noir offers weekly cottage rentals at nearly half the cost—and the small-town experience is no less picturesque. Cut through by the sweeping arc of the Dordogne River, the area is best known for its dark oak forests, hillside vineyards, medieval châteaux, truffle-infused cuisine, and, of course, the prehistoric cave paintings at Lascaux.

Where to Stay
A 20-minute walk from the town of Trémolat (pop. 600), Les Volets Bleus is a restored 300-year-old farmhouse and converted barn with exposed-wood beams, a stone fireplace, and room enough for 12. Guests are free to explore with rental bikes (delivered to your doorstep), paddle a canoe along the Dordogne, dine on duck and crepes at the night market in nearby Cadouin, and stroll the surrounding acres of peach, fig, and walnut trees—the latter used throughout the region to make vin de noix, or walnut wine (myfrenchfarmhouse.com, from $1,596 per week).

Local flavor
At Les Truffières, a farm-to-table restaurant in Trémolat, Yanick Le Goff serves everything from barbecued duck and lavender-tinged aperitifs to a house-made foie gras (011-33/5-53-27-30-44, six-course family-style meal with wine $34, reservations required).

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5 Surefire Ways to Offend the Locals

GREECEDON'T: Thrust your palm, fingers extended, toward someone in a downward swat.THE MESSAGE: Called the moutza, this crude hand signal is a holdover from the Byzantine era, when judges ridiculed guilty people by wiping ash on their faces. Nowadays, it means "Screw off!" or "That's ridiculous!" The message comes across as serious and offensive, not playful.DANGER ZONE: You may instinctively make this gesture when refusing something, such as a shot of ouzo in a bar.WORK-AROUND: Say óchi ("no") and efharistó ("thank you") or make a blocking motion instead. If you are declining the offer of a drink, for instance, cover your glass with a hand. And if you're really trying to make friends, just accept the drink. SOUTHERN ITALYDON'T: Point your two hands toward the ground as if you're holding two pistols, with the back of your hands visible to the other person.THE MESSAGE: You're threatening to beat the person up—or saying you could beat them up if you wanted to.DANGER ZONE: Gesturing toward a spot in front of you, such as a place where you want a bellhop to drop your luggage.WORK-AROUND: Wave your hands toward the spot instead. THAILANDDON'T: Point your foot at a person (especially someone older than you) or at a religious icon, such as a statue of the Buddha.THE MESSAGE: Feet are the "lowest" part of the body, according to the spiritual hierarchy of Thai Buddhism, so you're basically insulting someone or something as the lowest of the low.DANGER ZONE: At a temple, where visitors often pause and sit on the floor, you may be tempted to stretch your feet outward after a long day.WORK-AROUND: Sit cross-legged, you farang. UNITED KINGDOMDON'T: Create a V shape with your index and middle fingers, with the back of your hand directed at the other person.THE MESSAGE: Winston Churchill may have popularized the "V for Victory" symbol worldwide, but this gesture, performed in reverse in England, Scotland, or Wales, is similar to giving someone the finger in the U.S.DANGER ZONE: Requesting a table for two at a restaurant or ordering two drinks at a bar, you may unconsciously flash two fingers this way.WORK-AROUND: Say "two" instead, or remember to raise two fingers "peacefully," in the palm-outward way a hippie would flash the peace sign. BANGLADESH AND IRANDON'T: Flash the thumbs-up sign.THE MESSAGE: It means about the same thing as flipping the bird in the U.S.DANGER ZONE: Without thinking, you may give someone a thumbs-up when you're eager to show your approval but don't know how to speak the local tongue.WORK-AROUND: Learn how to say "yes" in the native language instead.

Larry Swingen

We are Larry and Barb Swingen from Malta, Mont. I teach vocal music, and Barb teaches kindergarten in the public schools. We have loved to travel since starting with our kids early on during our summer vacations. When they were young, we would load up the minivan with the tent and gradually go for longer and longer summer road trips. Eventually, we had visited each of the 48 contiguous states in America and were traveling for as much as two months for a trip. Each summer, we would hone our skills of packing so that we had what we needed and wanted (within reason) but left as much other stuff at home. We found ourselves practicing our packing on an annual time frame, just as I would practice piano and voice myself and with my students daily. Now that our kids are adults, we have started to travel overseas (without them!) and find ourselves continuing to hone our skills of frugal packing. Barb is the organizer in the family and loves thinking things through, preplanning, and then planning for our travels. We are finding more and more that we need less and less as we travel. Our souvenir choices have adapted as we've practiced, from objects to consumables, and now mainly to photos, which, besides being compact and easy to carry, bring great memories of our travel encounters. We love teaching; we both feel strongly about being lifelong learners ourselves. We find that we carefully think through what to bring on our travels based on the reasons we have carefully come up with to travel. Traveling light lets us meet our goals to be with people in their own cultures. Thanks, Budget Travel for this opportunity to share our packing style.

Summer Lake Towns 2010

Chelan, Wash., on Lake Chelan Photo 1 of 3 Everywhere you look in Chelan, some ruddy-cheeked soul is kayaking, swimming, fishing, or windsurfing on the 50-mile-long glacier-fed lake (kayak rental, lakeridersports.com, from $40). The Stillwater Inn, a butter-yellow 1906 house just a block from the beach, makes an ideal home base, thanks in part to the fortifying breakfasts of fresh-baked goods and fruit served each day (509/682-3500, thestillwaterinn.com, from $135). Two miles down the road, in downtown, the one-screen Ruby Theatre has been entertaining families since 1914, and these days it doubles as a community meeting place that hosts benefit concerts, dance recitals, and school plays (509/682-5016, rubytheatre.com, $8). Don't leave without taking a ferry up the lake—the fjord-like gorges make for stunning scenery, with the slopes of the North Cascades dropping dramatically into the deep-blue water. Most ferries make a stop in Stehekin, population 95, where the local organic garden sells fresh vegetables, goat cheese, and yogurt for an off-the-beaten-path afternoon picnic. (ladyofthelake.com, round trip from $39). Grand Marais, Minn., on Lake Superior Photo 1 of 3 Lake Superior begins at the edge of town, and the Boundary Waters—a series of connecting lakes that offer 1,500 miles of canoe routes—is just 25 miles southwest. Fishing for prime trout and salmon has improved in recent years owing to a massive restocking program. Before you set out for a day of activities on the lake (try Bear Track Outfitting Co., 800/795-8068, bear-track.com, rentals from $35), fuel up at World's Best Donuts. The name sounds like hyperbole until you taste the confections: The simple cake doughnut, with a dense, chewy inside and a golden, just-crisp-enough outside, is a thing of beauty (worldsbestdonutsmn.com, from 70¢). For dinner, head to the Angry Trout Cafe at sunset and ask for a table outside. The combination of simply prepared, freshly caught fish, a light evening breeze, and sunlight reflecting off the lake is enough to make you consider investing in a summer cabin (218/387-1265, angrytroutcafe.com, entrées from $10). East Bay Suites has rooms with lake views, kitchenettes, and balconies (21 Wisconsin St., 800/414-2807, eastbaysuites.com, from $129). Dillon, Colo., on Lake Dillon Photo 1 of 3 Lake adventures in this Summit County town—within 15 miles of ski-season hotspots Breckenridge, Keystone, and Copper Mountain—start at the Dillon Marina, with weekend sailing regattas, boat rentals, and meet-ups for guided Saturday-morning hikes and kid-friendly wildflower walks (boat/kayak rental from $105, nature hikes free). Find locals at the Tiki Bar, an island-inspired lakeside watering hole where the signature drink, the rum runner, is so popular (and so potent) that the owners instituted a two-rum-runner limit per person (151 Marina Dr., 970/262-6309). From the marina, head two blocks to downtown for the Friday farmers market, where more than 90 vendors sell fresh produce and folk-rock musicians entertain the crowd (Buffalo St., June 11–Sept. 24, 9 a.m.–2 p.m.). For some good old-fashioned fun, spend an afternoon at 18-lane Lakeside Bowl, the only bowling alley in the county (970/468-6257, $3.50 per game). The rooms at the Best Western Ptarmigan Lodge are nothing to write home about, but the lakeside location just a block from the marina is hard to beat. Rooms with decks and lake views are available (ptarmiganlodge.com, from $85). Forest Grove, Ore., near Hagg Lake Photo 1 of 2 Just 25 miles west of Portland, Forest Grove is quintessential Oregon: laid-back and outdoorsy with a healthy dose of quirk. The historic downtown is lined with old-fashioned ironwork street lamps, sophisticated wine bars, and boutique gift shops. Institutions like Joe's Ice Cream & Deli will take you back to an America you thought was long gone—get the black-licorice ice cream, a townie favorite (2001 Main St., 503/357-3077). The 1,100-acre Hagg Lake is an easy nine miles away and sits at the base of Oregon's coastal mountain range, surrounded by picnic areas, two boat launches, and 15 miles of hiking trails. Serious fishermen appreciate that the lake is well-stocked with rainbow trout, largemouth and smallmouth bass, and yellow perch, and waterskiing and kayaking opportunities are easy to find, too (503/927-5489, $10 per hour/$40 per day). The area's most unique lodging option comes from the McMenamin brothers, famous in the Northwest for converting old buildings into hotels and bars. In 2000, they restored a late 20th-century Masonic home and opened McMenamins Grand Lodge, a 77-room hotel. On rainy days, hang out at the lodge and watch a second-run movie at the Compass Room Theater with a burger and fries; there's also a heated outdoor saltwater soaking pool for post-waterskiing recuperation (mcmenamins.com, king with private bath $115). Rangeley, Maine, on Rangeley Lakes Photo 1 of 3 Maine is home to more undeveloped land than any other state in the country, so keep an eye peeled for herons, eagles, and, of course, moose—maybe while sailing Rangeley Lake on a guided boat tour led by Sam-O-Set Four Seasons and Dockside Sports Center. The company can also set you up with anything from a basic canoe to a 20-foot speedboat (207/864-5137, samosetfourseasons.com, tours $25 per person, canoe rental from $25, speedboat from $200). Back in town, browse the quilt and antiques shops downtown, like Threads Galore, a quilter's paradise with close to 1,000 bolts of fabric, plus classes where you can meet locals (27 Pleasant St., threadsgalore.com, classes from $20). Then head south about five miles to Edelheid Road, where you'll find the Maine Mountain Maple plantation. Take a tour of the sugar shack, where locally tapped sticky sap is made into sugary syrup, and one free taste later, you'll never buy the generic stuff again (50 Edelheid Rd., mainemountainmaple.com). Rest your head at North Country Inn Bed & Breakfast. It's a bit like visiting your favorite great-aunt—if she served you quiche or pancakes topped with fresh fruit every morning (northcountrybb.com, from $99). Leland, Mich., on Lake Michigan and Lake Leelanau Photo 1 of 3 Leland rests on a peninsula between Lake Michigan and petite Lake Leelanau. Families who've been spending the summer here for generations often arrive by boat and never set foot in a car during their stay. The town's roots as a fishing village aren't hard to spot—the main attraction here is Fishtown, a cluster of old shanties converted into shops and restaurants, now a lakeside historic district. Locals love the pretzel-bread sandwiches at the Village Cheese Shanty (199 E. River Rd., villagecheeseshanty.com), and kids never let parents walk by the Dam Candy Store without stopping for an ice cream cone or chocolate-covered cherries (197 W. River Rd.). The 107-year-old Riverside Inn and Restaurant, one block from downtown, has a homey feel but is classy enough to offer an extensive international wine list and dining on the deck with views of the Leland River (302 River St., theriverside231/256-9971, 231/256-9971, 231/256-9971, -inn.com, from $100). If you do bring a car, make time to explore the wineries of northern Michigan. The pinot noir from Chateau Fontaine, just three miles outside Leland, has a vibrant berry flavor—it's the perfect summer wine (2290 S. French Rd., 231/256-0000, chateaufontaine.com). Truckee, Calif., near Donner Lake Photo 1 of 2 This year, skip Lake Tahoe and head 16 miles north to Donner Lake's warmer water temperatures and small-town atmosphere. Originally an Old West town (you can still visit the original 1875 jailhouse), Truckee is a great base for exploring the lake's many outdoor activities—lately, stand-up paddleboarding is the sport of choice (Truckee Sports Exchange, 530/582-4510, truckeesportsexchange.com, boards $60 per day, kayaks $40 per day). Truckee also has a growing local art scene—a slew of new galleries has opened recently, including Riverside Studios, which sells pottery, jewelry, and clothing made by a collective of area artists (10374 Donner Pass Rd., 530/587-3789, riversideartstudios.com), and Carmel Gallery, home to Olof and Elizabeth Carmel's impressionistic prints and photographs (9940 Donner Pass Rd., 888/482-4632, thecarmelgallery.com). Whatever your plans, carb up first with the All Day Addiction, a concoction of hash browns, avocado, Canadian bacon, and two eggs, at 1940s-style diner Jax at the Tracks (10144 W. River St., 530/550-7450, jaxtruckee.com, Addiction $10). Later, you can relive your adventures over a Base Camp Golden Ale at Fifty Fifty Brewing Co., where all the beers are brewed in-house (530/587-2337, fiftyfiftybrewing.com, beers from $4.50), and watch the sun set over the water from the redwood deck at Loch Leven Lodge (lochlevenlodge.com, rooms from $120). Oakland, Md., on Deep Creek Lake Photo 1 of 2 At the southern end of Deep Creek Lake, Oakland is home to Lakeside Creamery, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor dishing out 90 flavors to flocks of visitors. The peach ice cream, made from fresh local fruit and milk sourced from area dairy farms, is a perennial summer favorite. Right next door, Copper Kettle Popcorn sells the standard sweet-salty version and regional specialties like popcorn sprinkled with Old Bay, plus homemade fudge and chocolate-dipped pretzels (both shops at 20282 Garrett Hwy., 301/387-5655, ice cream from $2, popcorn from $5). You can get to both by car, but it's more fun to arrive by water and pull up to the boat slips. Deep Creek Marina rents everything from canoes to powerboats, plus kid-friendly toys like water trampolines (301/387-0732, trampoline rentals from $150). If it's swimming you're after, try the mile of shoreline at Deep Creek Lake State Park. Naturalists often lead free nature hikes and evening campfire talks centered around the area's black bear population (Discovery Center, 301/387-7067). Rest your head at the Lodges at Sunset Village, tucked deep in the woods about eight miles from Oakland. The cabins sleep four to 10 people and have working fireplaces, rustic knotty-pine furniture, and kitchenettes (rentals.deepcreek.com, two-bedroom cabins from $185). Want more lake towns? See the 2009 or 2008 edition of this list.

Koreatown, New York City

Barbecue is what brings people to Madangsui, the city's most critically acclaimed Korean restaurant. The long spartan room fills with diners who brown thin cuts of pork belly and boneless and butterflied beef short ribs on the tableside gas grill, and then wrap the meat in crisp lettuce. Every order comes with unlimited refills of banchan (kimchi, bean sprouts, and other side dishes). Seafood pancakes and traditional entrées like yook-hwe (shredded raw beef in sesame oil with egg yolk) round out the menu. 35 W. 35th St., 212/564-9333, madangsui.com, entrées from $11, lunch items all under $14. Smaller and cozier than many of its peers, Kunjip emphasizes barbecue but presents worthy alternatives, such as soothing sulungtang (beef soup) and budae chigae, a casserole of beef, sausage, bacon, vegetables, and a spicy red sauce. Waitresses hustle between closely situated tables to deliver steaming bowls of food. Bibimbob—a bowl of sticky rice, steamed vegetables, and ground beef topped with a fried egg—makes a great lunch deal, accompanied with a side of deonjang chige (bean curd casserole), for $13. 9 W. 32nd St., 212/216-9487, kunjip.net, entrées from $6, open 24/7. In Korean, mandoo means dumplings, and they're the main attraction at Mandoo Bar, a friendly little café that draws big lunchtime crowds. One wall is painted lime green, a vibrant touch in an otherwise understated room with wood tables and waiters dressed all in black. Steamed or fried multicolored dumplings (about $1 each) are stuffed with savory fillings, including pickled radish and cabbage, vegetables, and pork. Through the glass front of the restaurant, you can watch one or two women as they craft the mandoo by hand. 2 W. 32nd St., 212/279-3075. An oasis hidden on the fifth floor of a nondescript building, Juvenex Spa wows arrivals with its ginseng-and-sake-filled soaking ponds and detoxifying igloo-shaped sauna made of semiprecious jade. A Basic Purification Program includes the vigorous Korean Salt Glow Scrub, plus access to the sauna and soaking tubs, and nourishing treatments for the hair, face, and body ($115). Open around the clock, Juvenex has been known to attract Broadway performers in need of a postshow rubdown. 25 W. 32nd St., 5th Fl., 646/733-1330, juvenexspa.com, women-only 7 a.m.–5 p.m., couples 5 p.m.–7 a.m. Nearly all of the novels, cookbooks, and magazines are in Korean at Koryo Books, but the well-lit space is a fun place to browse, and it offers a quiet respite from the action outside. You'll also come across Korean-English dictionaries, cookbooks, and a quirky selection of gifts and souvenirs, such as small statues, vases, and colorful toys. 35 W. 32nd St., 212/564-1844. Chic young professionals flock to Third Floor Café for Tuesday-night happy hour, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., when $18 buys unlimited beer and food—not a high price to satisfy a craving for fried chicken or Korean specialties like flat fish cake and rice cake casserole smothered in spicy red sauce. A second wave crowds the lounge's plush banquettes come late night, when the views of twinkling 5th Avenue and the dim blue lighting above the bar create an alluring vibe. 315 5th Ave., 3rd Fl., 212/481-3669, open daily from 5 p.m. In typical Koreatown karaoke style, Grand Music Studio opens early and closes early—the next day. Enter from the street at WonJo, a Korean-Japanese restaurant, and head up to the third floor. Private rooms can accommodate large parties and are outfitted comfortably with couches, tables, colorful lights, and TV screens scrolling lyrics. Songbooks stocked with Korean and English pop tunes please casual crowds of 20-somethings looking to unwind after work and on weekends. A few rounds of soju, a Korean liquor similar to vodka, will bring out the karaoke in just about anyone. 23 W. 32nd St., 212/629-7171, open from 2 p.m. daily, $30 per hour for a group of up to four people, plus $5 for each additional person. TRENDINGKorean-style fried chicken—twice-fried with a choice of spicy glazes—is heating up. Two specialty fast-food joints opened in early 2010: Kyochon, a sleek franchise in the heart of K-town (319 5th Ave., from $7); and, about a 10-minute walk north, Bonchon, more of a lunch spot that draws mostly Midtown workers (207 W. 38th St., from $8).