The Up & Comers - Off The Beaten Tourist Path These Countries Are Big On Celebration
Croatia & Her Neighbours
Along the eastern Adriatic shores sit Slovenia (touching the Gulf of Venice), Croatia’s long, diverse coastline, Montenegro and Albania. Bosnia & Hercegovina, without ocean access but with interesting historical and cultural stops, miss out on sun-seeking beach-lovers.
Croatia’s archipelago is a sailor’s delight, especially between the Roman town of Split and Dubrovnik. One of the prettiest islands is lavender-scented Hvar, site of an acclaimed Easter “Following the Cross” procession. In Saint Helena (Zagreb Country) the lively International Knights Tournament May 16 and 17 re-enacts a 1557 battle between Croats and Turks, offering the chance to try out archery and horsemanship. Other events are listed at http://croatia.hr
Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, boasts an opulent blend of history, architecture, culture and entertainment. In Novi Sad’s fortress, the huge music festival EXIT runs from July 7 to 10, gaining a reputation with young people as THE place to congregate. Different music is heard at the Guca Trumpet Festival (August 8 to 14) rooted in folk tradition and the picturesque village is worth a visit with or without the brass. More about Serbia from www.serbia.travel
Small Islands Big On Vacation Value
Possibly the only thing Cyprus and Malta have in common is sharing the Mediterranean, so we hope they forgive us for grouping them together. Both islands are packed with history and legend and both offer good vacation value.
Cyprus remains partitioned with Turkish Cypriots occupying the northern third and Greek Cypriots the majority south, where most vacationers head.
The place is filled with romance and legend from its 10,000-year-old history, and UNESCO World Heritage sites abound. A Flower Festival on May 7 and 8 (with chariot races), a Shakespeare Festival in June and a Wine Festival from September 2 to 11 are part of a full events calendar. More from www.visitcyprus.com
In the central Mediterranean, Malta and its islands are veiled with mystique. Baroque and Renaissance cathedrals and palaces crowd narrow, meandering lanes. Here, too, are some of the world’s oldest man-made structures.
Noteworthy events include the International Fireworks Festival, April 29 and 30, and Notte Bianca (September 9), a night-long event in Valletta with music, dance, theatre and free access to monuments and public buildings. More from www.visitmalta.com/events
How to tell of the many Eastern European countries in such a small space? A Danube river cruise covers many and several companies offer these voyages; check with your preferred suppliers. A typical itinerary departs from Vienna, calling into Hungarian ports at Budapest, Kalocsa, and Pecs, and in Serbia at Novi Sad and Belgrade before passing through the Iron Gates Gorge between Serbia and Romania. The river flows on past Bulgaria (celebrating its Cultural Tourism Year), Silistri near the Romanian border and Varna on the Black Sea. Along the way, fortresses, castles, villages and towns are complemented by the lovely Danube scenery. (In Bucharest the George Enescu International Festival celebrates – from September 1 to 25 – the 130th anniversary of the Romanian composer’s birth.)
Other countries under the Eastern European banner include Estonia, whose capital Tallinn shares European Capital of Culture with Turku (Finland) and where more than 250 celebratory events are planned. (www.tallinn2011.ee).
Latvia (www.latvia.travel) has serious cultural events through 2011 but who could resist the May 28 and 29 Go Blonde Festival in Riga? The fun is in a good cause: raising funds for disabled children.
The sociable Poles love to party and Poland (www.poland.travel/en) has an abundance of events all over the country, like the Warsaw Autumn Festival (August 17 to 25) featuring contemporary, classical and international music.
Kaunus, Lithuana, hosts the Hansa 2011 celebrations from May 19 to 22. Since 1980 when some cities from the medieval Hanseatic League regrouped to form the New Hansa Union, the lively annual festival has become a major attraction. More from www.tourism.lt
Russia, of course, has events in St. Petersburg and Moscow too numerous to mention, so check www.russia-travel.com for information. And for Belarus, visit www.eng.belarustourism.by (Visas are required for these countries.)
Straddling Asia and Europe, Turkey offers a wealth of experiences and more than 3,000 years of history.
Its Mediterranean coastline draws vacationers to sunny, colourful villages and towns. Istanbul, on the Sea of Marmara, has a “must see” list to comfortably occupy four or five days. (To whit, Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sofia, The Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market.)
On the Aegean coast, Kusadasi is a favourite port with sailors and is close to Ephesus, a Roman city built over a Greek one, where Cleopatra walked and where the Virgin Mary is said to have lived.
Turkey has more than 2,000 ancient sites, but just as importantly, it’s a country with genuinely friendly people. Most speak English (it’s taught from primary school), and most are keen to show off their homeland. Hospitality is a time-honoured tradition. They’re also keen to sell you a carpet, but just say “I’ve already bought one, thank you,” and hassling will stop. More from www.tourismturkey.org
More Than Chocolate & Waffles
Belgium could be described as underrated, touristically speaking. Yes, Brussels is a European Union headquarters, but there’s much more to this compact country than bureaucracy, world famous chocolate and waffles.
Brussels, with its lively main square (Grand Place), is a must-see. And through April and May the greenhouses at the Royal Palace in Laeken are open to the public.
Throughout May, the streets of Namur become a huge fairground showcasing the Festival of Travelling Arts. Jazz resounds from May 27 to 29 in the Brussels Jazz Marathon – free concerts in the big squares and small bands in bars and taverns – and in Leige at the International Jazz Festival May 6 and 7. Beer lovers enjoy the Belgian Beer Weekend (Brussels, September 2 to 4) in the Grand Place run by the Belgian Brewers’ association.
In Antwerp, a new museum – MAS (Museum on the River) – opens May 17 with collections from the National Maritime and ethnological museums. More about Belgium from www.visitbelgium.com
• If you rent a car and plan to drive to multiple countries, check the rental company’s policy on international driving.
• If you want to know who’s in the European Union and who’s not, which country uses the Euro and which doesn’t, check the EU’s website www.europa.eu.