Tourism does the world a lot of good.
Not only does it support jobs, and bring economic security to some fragile parts of the world, it also gives people a chance to visit some of the most amazing places on Earth.
However, those amazing places tend to be the same ones, over and over again. Name a country, and you can probably also name its crowded tourist hotspots: Italy = Venice, Spain = Barcelona or Costa Blanca, Sweden = Stockholm, and so on.
We’re also setting off on our travels a lot more often than we once were. In 1950, for example, there were around 25 million global tourists. That already sounds like a large number, until we fast-forward to 2030, in which that number is predicted to reach 1.8 billion (the coronavirus pandemic notwithstanding). With an exhausted Venice receiving around 30 million new visitors every year, there is a clear argument to start putting the brakes on over-tourism.
One solution could be to swap those well-trodden holiday destinations for something a little further away from the beaten track. This has lots of advantages: not only will visiting somewhere lesser known give you the chance to uncover a hidden gem, there’ll also be less risk of your friends’ eyes glazing over as you tell them about your travels!
To help you on your way, here are some of our favourite holiday swaps – with some quirky places to stay thrown in for good measure.
We know. Szczecin is harder to say than Krakow (it’s pronounced “shche-cheen”, if you’re interested).
But the city’s beautiful position next to the Baltic Sea, and its convenient proximity to Berlin, make this picturesque, culture-packed location a must-visit.
Take your favourite people (from 15 to 40 of them, in fact!) to an elegant, historic palace set on the shore of the Szczecin Lagoon, surrounded by vast, soothing woodland.
Dating back to the early 1900s, this outrageously ornate palace includes the services of a dedicated butler throughout your stay, as you rest your heads in stylish en-suite bedrooms with antique furnishings.
There’s even an indulgent bio-sauna to relax in, while outside, the lagoon’s private shore is the perfect spot to roll out that beach towel and get lost in a good book.
Swap: Venice for Abruzzo
Venice may have its canals, but Abruzzo, nestled in the centre of Italy, isn’t known as the “greenest region in Europe” for nothing.
There are close to 200 vineyards here, along with three national parks and 38 protected nature reserves, all strewn with whispering olive trees.
The 19th century Italian diplomat and journalist Primo Levi described the beauty of Abruzzo, and the character of its people, as “forte e gentile” (strong and kind). These words soon became the region’s motto… and really, what more could you want from a relaxing holiday?
Stay at: Cerchio Del Desiderio
Meaning ‘Circle of Desire’ in English, Cerchio Del Desiderio is home to Italy’s first geodomes – two of which boast a stargazing outdoor bath – and a cosy canvas yurt.
Set amongst 10 acres of rural heaven, you can savour gentle views of the Gran Sasso Mountains in the distance. The site is also home to an organic garden, a cooling splash pool, a botanical breakfast room, and decks for yoga and meditation.
(With Rome airports in easy reach, getting away from city hustle and bustle is ridiculously simple here).
Swap: Costa Blanca for Navarra
A northern region that was once the heartland of the Basques, Navarra is perfect for those looking for an authentic taste of Spain.
Though the capital, Pamplona, is famous for its running of the bulls, it’s the region’s charmingly scenic towns and villages, and breath-takingly diverse landscapes (think high sierras, peppered with arid plains and lush vineyards) that promise to capture your heart.
Stay at: Cuevas de Bardenas
Located right next to the Bardenas Reales National Park, Cuevas de Bardenas is a stunning selection of bioclimatic cave houses.
Each cave is individually styled and furnished to modern perfection, whilst remaining true to its ancient origins. There’s a relaxing lounge area with a TV, kitchen facilities, and a barbecue-equipped garden (one of which features a beautiful centenary olive tree).
There’s even a Cave Bar on site – ideal for sun-soaked afternoon cocktails, and delicious breakfasts alike!
Swap: The Algarve for Alentejo Region
Covering a sweeping third of the country, Alentejo is Portugal’s largest region. Characterised by rich colour, you can expect to encounter golden plains, lime-green vines, whitewashed villages, and a rolling blue sea.
Local crafts and traditions are abundant here, and you can feast on many a mouth-watering delicacy… in between traversing the many natureful walking routes you’ll discover.
Stay at: CorkShack Marvão Ecolodges
Featuring amazing views of the Monte Roxo hills, and surrounded by sweet-scented fruit trees, your CorkShack is a modern take on a traditional Portuguese roundhouse (known as a choça).
Created from natural materials, the walls are covered in 100% cork, with a thatched conical roof, and a private deck for enjoying the lazy sunshine.
There’s a chlorine-free swimming pool for afternoon dips, or why not wander into the sleepy, walled town of Marvão, just a few minutes away? Its spectacular castle is worth the visit alone.
Swap: Stockholm for Dalarna
When you picture traditional Swedish scenery – enchanting mountains, pine-strewn forests, red-painted cottages, and happy locals dancing around a maypole – you’re probably picturing Dalarna.
The historic central region borders Norway on its Western edge, and its rural imagery has been the inspiration for many Swedish artists, including Anders Zorn and Carl Larsson.
Stay at: Näsets Marcusgård
Originally founded in 1910, Näsets Marcusgård is a family farm in a rural Dalarna village, surrounded by pine-covered, wildlife-steeped forest land that’s fresh from a Scandinavian fairytale.
Off-grid accommodation includes The Supermåne (‘supermoon’), a bespoke-crafted treehouse, and Oddis Öga (‘eye of the oddity’ – pictured above) a hillside bolthole that cleverly manages to resemble both an aircraft cabin and a spaceship.
Swap: Amsterdam for Harlingen
Set on the coast of Wadden Sea, just over an hour away from Amsterdam, the historic northern city of Harlingen is an Instagrammer’s dream.
Boasting pretty 16th and 18th century canal-side houses, and immaculate, hollyhock-strewn gardens in riots of colour, the city’s lighthouse and old town hall are iconic, must-see buildings.
Stay at: Harbour Crane
A 1967 shipyard crane that stands 17 metres above the pier, and with a jib that stretches 45 metres into the air, Harbour Crane is a retreat for living the high life!
Your cosy accommodation is set inside the crane itself, with a lift to take you effortlessly up into the belly of the machine room.
Furnished with super stylish Eames chairs, a downy double bed… and a control stick with 360-degree rotation, those glistening sea views have never looked better.
We hope you’ve found some original inspiration for your next holiday here. But if you need more, no problem!
Simply grab a cuppa and browse our many unusual categories (warning: you may be some time).