Eastern promise: Ten European hot spots

You'd be a sucker not to visit Dracula's castle in Transylvania. Photo / Thinkstock
You'd be a sucker not to visit Dracula's castle in Transylvania. Photo / Thinkstock

Once upon a time intrepid travellers from Down Under off to Europe were all bound for traditional tourist hotspots in as London, Paris or Rome.

No longer. An online poll by travel site expedia.com has found more and more of us are opting for the untapped - and often cheaper - treasures of eastern Europe.

Here's the website's suggestions for the top ten things to do in eastern Europe.

1. Tallinn, Estonia

This capital is a hub for architectural enthusiasts. With a unique geographical and historical position, the town showcases a variety of styles from medieval times, as well as the Tsarist and Soviet eras. Get walking and explore the web of winding cobblestone streets lined with churches and museums.

2. Resorts of the Black Sea Coast

This area covers the shores of Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Turkey and the Ukraine.

The warm climate, sandy beaches, historical monuments, vineyards and luxurious resorts make this a coveted corner of eastern Europe. Entertainment facilities and wildlife sanctuaries line the coast, and food and accommodation aren't too pricey. Worthwhile Black Sea resorts include Varna (Bulgaria), Constanta (Romania) and Yalta and Sochi in Russia.

3. Transylvania, Romania

Explore the castles and fortresses dotted around the Transylvania region, the most famous belonging to Dracula, overlooking the village of Bran. Time your trip to take in one of the masked balls and candlelit banquets which are often held in this quaint medieval town. Its remote location and the howls of wolves in the night will give even the bravest of souls a shake up.

4. Ski resorts of Bulgaria

There are more than 200 ski resorts here, all of which boast the bells and whistles of the Western slopes, but without the same hefty price tag. The taverns possess charm and style and offer Bulgarian cuisine, a vast selection of local wines and live folk music. Bansko is situated in the Pirin National Park, which has been included in the Unesco list for cultural and natural sightseeing.

5. The Vodka Museum, Moscow, Russia

With more than 3000 brands of Russian vodka available on the market today, vodka is an important component of Russian life, and an essential element of national identity and culture. Below the museum is a cosy restaurant, recreated to depict the atmosphere of the late-19th century, where guests can taste the best vodkas produced in Russia.

6. Ice fishing in Lithuania

The Curonian lagoon is an example of the natural beauty of this Baltic state. Holidaymakers can enjoy night and day ice fishing without forking out the coin asked in Scandinavia and the US. The lagoon is situated in Nida, near the Russian border. Fisherfolk can expect to catch tens, if not hundreds of fish which can be cooked on the ice and washed down with a glass of local vodka.

7. Mineral spas of Macedonia

The Balkan state of Macedonia caters to those who want some pampering on their holiday. Lap up the thermal mineral spas in the Debar region, host to a bevy of resorts.

8. The wine regions of Hungary

Hungary has 22 designated wine regions. Visitors can wind their way through several of the winemaking towns in the course of a week, either by travelling around or making day trips from Budapest.

9. The forests of Poland

This country boasts some of the best forests in Europe. Check out the Piasek Forest, situated in the Odra Valley at the western fringes of the Mysliborz Lake District, or the Notecka Forest - made up of 100,000ha of pine forests. It's also one of the best places in Poland to hunt for wild mushrooms.

10. The Castle Caves district, Hungary

Sitting on the international border between southern Slovakia and north-eastern Hungary, more than 700 caves have been identified in the Carpathian Mountains, many of which are accessible to the public. The Baradla-Dominica cave system is a popular one, spanning 21km, connecting Hungary with Slovakia.


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