Ten of the best European regions you've never heard of

TOKAJ, HUNGARY

Splendid aerial view about castle of Fuzer built on a volcanic hill named Nagy-Milic. Zemplen mountains at the background. Autumn sunrise landscape. credit: istock
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Brian Johnston Traveller 10
Europe's most underrated regions

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The sweet wines of the Tokaj region (often spelled Tokay in English) are so loved by the Hungarians they're even mentioned in the national anthem. On a continent filled with famous wine regions, this one goes less trampled and yet is a lovely combination of vineyards, venerable farming towns, fresco-covered medieval churches and suitably romantic-looking castles, of which whitewashed Fuzer Castle atop a volcanic plug is the most dramatic. See visithungary.com

LAKELAND, FINLAND

Savonlinna, Finland - September 22, 2019: City Savonlinna bird's eye view, view of the castle Olavinlinna. credit: istock
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Europe's most underrated regions

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Eastern Finland is a pointillist wonderland of blue lakes, meandering waterways and shimmering birch forest dotted with holiday cabins. Paddle, hike, sail, swim, fish and immerse yourself in the Finnish country lifestyle. Attractions include national parks, island castles such as Olavinlinna, and pretty water-girt towns such as Savonlinna, from which a ferry ride as far as Kuopio unfolds romantic scenery that has inspired generations of Finnish painters. See visitfinland.com

ALENTEJO, PORTUGAL

Street view with beautiful old residential buildings in Evora city in Portugal credit: istock
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Europe's most underrated regions

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Despite being Portugal's largest region, this south-central destination of rippling wheat fields and olive groves remains sleepily indifferent to development and coastal tourist hordes. Relatively poor and peeling, it nonetheless features whitewashed villages, fortified towns topped by castles, Roman ruins and World Heritage-listed Évora, which erupts in Moorish and baroque architecture. It even has its own stretch of coast whose plump white-sand beaches are often deserted. See visitalentejo.pt

WACHAU, AUSTRIA

Beautiful landscape with Aggstein castle ruin and Danube river at sunset in Wachau, Austria. credit: istock
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Europe's most underrated regions

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The lazy sweep of the Danube River through this region has been called the smile on the face of Austria. It isn't one of the nation's big drawcards, but its downsized landscapes, vineyards, orchards and fortified old towns create a lovely destination best appreciated by bicycle. Pretty riverside Dürnstein village and the flamboyant baroque abbey of Melk are two key attractions, while wine-trading town Krems is crammed with medieval architecture. See lower-austria.info

WALLONIA, BELGIUM

View of picturesque Dinant town, Dinant Citadel and Collegiate Church of Notre Dame de Dinant over the Meuse river. Belgian province of Namur, Blegium credit: istock
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Europe's most underrated regions

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Belgium's French-speaking south gets none of Flanders' attention but provides more everyday Belgian life away from the tourist crowds. Mons, which was European Capital of Culture in 2015, has the requisite old town and a great contemporary art museum, while Namur features a whopping fortress behind mighty battlements. Ecclesiastical centre Tournai, eighteenth-century wellness retreat Spa and the rugged Ardennes for hiking and biking are other enticements. See walloniabelgiumtourism.co.uk

ARAGON, SPAIN

Aerial cityscape view on the roofs and spires of basilica of Our Lady in Zaragoza city in Spain credit: istock
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Brian Johnston Traveller 10
Europe's most underrated regions

Aerial cityscape view on the roofs and spires of basilica of Our Lady in Zaragoza city in Spain credit: istock one time use for Traveller only Brian Johnston Traveller 10 Europe's most underrated regions Photo: RossHelen

If you've heard of Aragon, it's probably only because of Henry VIII's first wife. But this inland region stretching from the Pyrenees provides great trekking in canyons, national parks and mountains dotted with spectacularly sited villages. Mudejar is World Heritage-listed for its medieval churches and mansions, and the capital Zaragoza has a remarkable Islamic-era palace. Aragon's relative isolation has produced a distinct cuisine and preserved traditional culture. See spain.info

HIGH TATRAS, SLOVAKIA

2F9M9XP Aerial view of mountain and rock landscape in High Tatras Credit: Alamy
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Europe's most underrated regions

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Why aren't these jagged mountains along the Polish border better known? The scenery of peaks and lakes is gobsmacking, and alpine villages of painted houses, church steeples and gnarly castles would inspire fairy-tale illustrations. Go in summer to hike 600 kilometres of trails, or in winter to ski (there are three resorts), all at half the price of western Europe's more famous alpine getaways. See slovakia.com

TAUBER VALLEY, GERMANY

2A16AD0 Tauber river and secluded houses in Tauber Valley, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Bavaria, Germany Credit: Alamy
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Europe's most underrated regions

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Medieval Rothenburg is one of the Germany's most tourist-crammed towns, yet the Tauber Valley it overlooks is… well, overlooked. This gentle fold in the landscape takes you through attractive, unassuming towns with a dense legacy of castles, monasteries, cobbled squares and a Renaissance palace. All around are vineyard-clad hills that produce fresh, fruity Silvaner wines. Eventually you pop out on the Main River south of Frankfurt. See romantischestrasse.de

EMILIA-ROMAGNA, ITALY

Aerial cityscape view from the tower on Bologna old town center with Maggiore square in Italy credit: istock
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Europe's most underrated regions

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Just north of Florence, south of Venice and packed with sumptuous small cities and former powerful duchies such as Ferrara, Modena and Parma, you'd think this region ought to be more visited. It's notable for opera, high-end motorcars and iconic foods such as Parma ham, Parmesan, balsamic vinegar and tortellini. Enjoy touring farm doors, car factories and Renaissance squares without the tourist crush that overwhelms neighbouring Tuscany. See emiliaromagnaturismo.it

ENGADIN, SWITZERLAND

HDBX1P Tarasp Castle, Tarasp, Lower Engadin, Graubunden, Grisons, Switzerland Credit: Alamy
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Europe's most underrated regions

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Okay, the place where the Inn River rises (En in Romansch) does have one world-famous destination, the chic ski resort of St Moritz. But few foreigners go much further in this southeast corner of Switzerland, least of all in summer, despite its wild alpine scenery, quirky Romansch culture and gorgeous villages with their decorated facades. Swiss National Park has excellent hiking trails and glorious scenery. See engadin.ch

The writer has travelled as a guest of numerous tourism offices and at his own expense.

See also: See these 10 tourist destinations now before they're gone

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