If you ever find yourself in Slovenia’s Vintgar Gorge, don’t stop at the end. When you reach the picturesque chalet providing temptingly cold beers and a picnic bench with a view, turn left and keep walking. Within two minutes, you will be completely alone.
Until recently, I didn’t appreciate my own continent. As the travel bug bit, I spent my twenties on long haul flights under the impression that a destination’s distance from Britain was directly proportional to its exoticism. Of course, that isn’t true.
However without experiencing those far flung destinations, I would have never reached the following conclusion: Europe is extremely easy to travel through and for its size, is arguably the most diverse continent in terms of landscape, language, history, architecture and religion. My only problem: The rest of the world had already realised.
Europe is busy. This is how I attempt to avoid the crowds:
Visit in the off-season
Peak season means higher prices, less availability and daytime temperatures that might not be conducive to sightseeing. I visited Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro in early May: I often had hostel dorms to myself for 10 euros, the weather was warm but bearable and even the coastal cities hadn’t yet become bottle-necked with day-trippers and tour guide touts.
Get up early
In my normal routine I rarely see dawn, but when travelling it’s one of my favourite times of day. The highlight of a recent jaunt to France was the sunrise over Provence as I made my way to the Monaco Grand Prix, which brings me to the next benefit: Early risers avoid the queues, get better views and generally have a less stressful time when visiting popular attractions!
Don’t have meals at mealtimes
A personal indulgence when I’m abroad is eating when I’m actually hungry. Not when the rest of the office is taking a break, or because it’s dinnertime and I have to cook. Luckily, European restaurants are conducive to my culinary whims. Not only does this mean I’m embracing their more relaxed cultures, but I’m also visiting famous buildings, UNESCO sites and national parks when everyone else is having lunch – perfect.
Seek an alternative
Generally, places have become popular with travellers because there’s something worth seeing and I’m the first to admit that I can’t resist famous historical sites. However, I also research different ways to visit busy areas. If there’s a cable car, could I walk there? If there’s a park trail, which way do most people walk it so I can go in reverse?
Choose a unique reason
I recently visited Porquerolles Island because it held happy childhood memories for me. Where is it? That’s exactly my point. Choosing a specific reason to visit a place, whether it’s for a religious holiday, a sport event or because you have a friend who lives there, usually makes for a more authentic experience. As a rough rule, the more unique the reason for visiting, the less likelihood that many others will be going there!
Walk past the café
Like most tourist trails, I’m back to where I started. Sure, those beers in the Gorge would have tasted wonderful. Who doesn’t enjoy a cold drink at the end of a hot walk? Sadly though, the snack bar was designed to trap me. I had an inkling it was holding me back from an adventure just around the corner…and it was.
My advice? Take the back streets, turn the corner and unless you’re absolutely desperate for that overpriced cappuccino, keep walking past that café.