Mapping Out That Post-Pandemic Vacation to Europe

Now is a great time to go to Europe, if you can avoid running into everyone else with the same idea. Here are some amazing destinations with fewer crowds.

Port de Sóller, Mallorca, Spain (photo courtesy Pure Salt Port de Sóller)

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It’s the moment eager travelers have been waiting for. Countries around the globe are easing or entirely eliminating pandemic-related travel restrictions. Equally good news came in June when the United States lifted its negative COVID testing requirement for inbound travelers. With doors to the world open again, the biggest question for many travelers is where to go.

Many are preparing their passports for Europe. For the first time in twenty years, the euro is equal to the dollar. That’s great news for Americans heading to Europe because everything will cost  less. Of course, other travelers know this too. Travel’s “Great Comeback,” as it’s been called, brings with it lots of tourists. If you want to avoid the post-pandemic crowds, instead of Paris, Berlin and Rome, consider some of Europe’s off-the-radar alternatives

Southwest Germany’s Black Forest and Lake Constance

Bavarian beer halls and Christmas markets are top tourist attractions, but if you venture west to the Black Forest region, you’ll find rolling green hills, hot springs, and charming small towns, all without the crowds. The traditions of the region come to life at Hotel Hofgut Sternen, where guests marvel at the skill of the resident glassblower, and time stands still whenever the massive cuckoo clock chimes and guests gather to see its dancers spin around. Magnificent hiking trails leading to waterfalls are located right behind the hotel.

Traditional home in Germany’s Black Forest region (photo courtesy Black Forest Tourism Board)

Winter brings its own magic to the Black Forest. Instead of the Christmas market masses that flock to Rothenberg, here you’ll find classic mulled wine and seasonal specialties without the crowds. Wooden stalls selling handmade ornaments and toys are set up under a snow-covered, centuries-old stone viaduct located right behind Hotel Hofgut Sternen, a Christmas fantasy come to life. Nearby ski resorts make for another fun winter activity. It’s not the Alps, but it’s more affordable, and fewer skiers makes for a peaceful day on the slopes.

An hour east is Lake Constance (known as the Bodensee in German), which borders Austria, Switzerland, and the small country of Liechtenstein. This is one of the few places in the world where you could visit three or four countries in one day. Start off your visit to the Lake Constance region in the well-preserved medieval town of Meersburg. Meersburg Castle is considered to be one of the oldest inhabited castles in Germany, dating back to the 7th century. After your tour, enjoy an afternoon coffee, beer or local wine at the castle’s Burg-Café with breathtaking views of the harbor. Another wonderful dining choice is Restaurant Gutsschänke Meersburg, with its equally scenic views of Lake Constance and the nearby vineyards.

Meersburg, Germany  (photo courtesy Tourism Board of Baden-Wuerttemberg)

From Meersburg you can take a 30-minute ferry (transporting your rental car if you have one) across Lake Constance and arrive in Switzerland. From there it’s a one-hour drive east to Austria. The tiny country of Liechtenstein is only 45 minutes south.

Mallorca, Spain

To meet the unprecedented demand for travel following the pandemic, airlines have started new routes to lesser-known destinations in Europe. For the first time, the U.S. has a direct flight (out of Newark) to the Spanish island of Mallorca. 125 miles off the coast of the mainland, Spain’s largest island has long been popular with Europeans seeking sun and beautiful Mediterranean beaches, but who also appreciate Mallorca’s rich history.

Rent a car to reach rural mountain villages like Valldemossa or the ancient town of Pollensa on the northern coast. A 45-minute drive from the international airport, Pollensa’s old world charm is found in the narrow streets, ruins, and magnificent church. An impressive main square is lined with cafés, restaurants, and unique shops. Stay at Pollensa’s newly opened Can Auli, a 17th century mansion recently converted into an adults-only boutique hotel. Exposed stone walls, elegant architectural details, and a peaceful swim on the patio make this an oasis after a day of sightseeing.

Port de Sóller, Mallorca, Spain (photo courtesy Pure Salt Port de Sóller)

Limestone cliffs line much of Mallorca’s 340-mile coastline, including the picturesque fishing village of Port de Sóller. You can enjoy an afternoon sangria and drink in the views of the lovely beach from the terrace of the hotel Pure Salt Port de Sóller. If you’re comfortable driving cliffside serpentine roads, join the one-percenters who stay at Belmond La Residencia for a leisurely lunch or dinner. Tucked between the Tramuntana Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, the terrace offers jaw-dropping views of the surrounding mountains, turquoise waters, and tiny mountain village of Deia.

Belmond La Residencia (photo by Richard James Taylor)

From Belmond La Residencia, head down along the scenic coastal road toward the capital city of Palma. Make sure and spend a day or two exploring this ancient city’s cultural, architectural, and culinary offerings before flying back home. The immense Cathedral of Santa Maria, dating back to the 13th century, is one of the tallest Gothic structures in Europe. The stylishly modern Sant Jaume Hotel is centrally located in Palma’s historic district, within easy walking distance of the harbor, historic landmarks, and high-end shopping. Opt for one of the suites with large terraces looking out over the city.

Live like the locals by signing up for a cooking class at Deborah’s Culinary Island. You’ll accompany her to the massive indoor food market, Mercat de l’Olivar, where you’ll see stalls selling local handicrafts as well as Iberico ham and Mallorca’s signature sausage, soppressata.

Then head back to Deborah’s exquisite kitchen to learn how to make a traditional Mallorcan dish.

Going out one night for tapas is a must. A great choice for experiencing Spain’s iconic meal of small plates is De Tokio a Lima, right down the street from Sant Jaume Hotel. Ask for a table on the terrace overlooking elegant Paseo de Borne, Palma’s version of Rodeo Drive. This would make for an unforgettable ending to a Mallorcan vacation.

Bergen and the Norwegian Fjords

The fjords and glaciers of this remote region have led some to label it the Alaska of Europe. Like Alaska, a popular way to experience the area’s stunning scenery is via ship. Holland America’s newest ship, Rotterdam, journeys from Amsterdam deep into Norway’s fjords throughout the warmer months, part of a fleet that makes this Nordic journey. Imagine relaxing on a deck chair as cascading waterfalls and glaciers glide by. Disembark into tiny villages like Geiranger, where you can hike, bike or kayak through the stunning landscape. These waterfront hamlets are considered some of the most beautiful spots in Scandinavia.

Norwegian fjords (courtesy Holland America Line)

The gateway to the fjords is Bergen, Norway’s second largest city and biggest port, one of the most popular cruise destinations in Northern Europe. Though it’s been a popular port for hundreds of years, direct flights between the U.S. and Bergen have been rare. But a new direct service on United from Newark arrived in May of 2022, making it easier than ever to explore this city on Norway’s southwestern coast.

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