Europe's top 5... unusual autumn destinations
A holiday to Europe usually conjures up images of a villa amid lavender fields in France, chic Italian seaside resorts or late night tapas meals in a hot, southern Spanish city – all idyllic summer getaways but nothing out of the ordinary. Because to get anywhere really unusual, surely you need to board a long-haul flight? Read on and you’ll realise that Europe remains as unfamiliar to you as any far-flung destination. Discover towns and cities that have seen centuries of civilisation, encounter friendly inhabitants who continue to practise age-old traditions and journey through majestic landscapes unscathed by man. All these destinations are best explored in the autumn when local holiday crowds have scattered and the summer heat has dissipated.
Moldova & Ukraine: A Journey to Europe’s Edge
Ranking high among Europe’s least-visited destinations, Moldova and Ukraine should be explored now before the rest of the world wakes up to what it’s missing.
Perfectly positioned in the centre of Moldova, the capital of Chisinau is a masterpiece of Soviet architecture, which may not be beautiful but is a fascinating relic of the communist era. From here it’s an easy drive out into unspoilt countryside to experience the impressive viticulture of this country. Of the many wineries, Cricova has to be top of the list. It features the world’s second largest wine cellar (the largest is Milestii Mici, also in Moldova) with a mind-boggling 120-kilometre-long network of tunnels and roadways used for wine storage. The self-proclaimed republic of Transnistria on the eastern border with the Ukraine is also worth visiting, simply to experience its eccentric Soviet character.
Nativity Cathedral, Chisinau, Moldova
Neighbouring Ukraine has, understandably, been avoided in recent years due to the ongoing conflict with Russia, but western Ukraine should not be ruled out. There’s the unexpectedly European streets of Lviv’s beautiful historical centre; Kiev, one of Eastern Europe’s oldest cities and now a trendy metropolis; the somewhat unkempt university town of Chernivtsi; and the picturesque pastoral scenes of the Carpathian mountains. There is also Chernobyl, where the world’s worst nuclear accident occurred in 1986. Possible as a day trip from Kiev, it makes for a haunting and thought-provoking excursion.
Haystacks in the Carpathian mountains, Ukraine
Our brand new group tour Moldova & Ukraine: A Journey to Europe’s Edge starts with three nights in Moldova visiting the capital and the republic of Transnistria, followed by six nights in Ukraine touring its historical cities with an optional excursion to Chernobyl.
If you’d like to focus more on Moldova’s wine-making industry then our private itinerary Viticulture of Moldova concentrates on the gastronomy of this country, with visits to Cricova winery, Kvint cognac factory and a sturgeon farm for caviar tasting.
Armenia & Georgia: Treasures of the Caucasus
Delicately balanced between the Caspian and Black seas, Georgia and Armenia occupy an approximate frontier with Asia, where the Greater Caucasus mountain range creates a natural boundary between the two continents. These lands are full of spellbinding scenery: Georgia features pristine high mountain regions, perfect for hikers and cyclists, while Armenia can compete with secluded gorges, canyons, lakes and forest reserves.
Gergeti Trinity Church below Mount Kazbegi, Georgia
Occupying such an important location on the world map has left an indelible mark on both countries. Multiple invasions have taken place here over the centuries, from the Mongols, Ottomans and Persians to the Russians and Soviet rule. The Armenian genocide during the First World War was a particularly harrowing period in history, yet such fragility belies a resilient and welcoming people with a strong Christian heritage. Georgians are equally generous and hospitable, which goes hand in hand with their claim to be the first wine-producing region in the world.
Haghartsin monastery, Dilijan, Armenia
Such a convoluted history makes it hard to get to the bottom of the culture of these two countries with just a guidebook in hand. Led by expert lecturer Dr William Taylor, Cox & Kings’ Arts & Culture group tour Armenia & Georgia: Treasures of the Caucasus aims to untangle the complexities of this fascinating region with exclusive access to important religious and cultural sights.
Russia's Golden Ring
Russia’s two major cities – Moscow and St Petersburg – attract tourists all year round. No wonder as they are jam packed with cultural sights, from 18th-century palaces to austere Soviet architecture, in addition to museums containing some of the largest art collections in the world.
Church of St Dimitri on the Blood, Uglich, Russia
But there is more to Russia than these two cultural capitals…so much more in fact that it can seem a little daunting; Russia tops the charts as the largest country in the world. But you don’t have to travel far to get a taste of a more rural Russia. Jump on a train and travel a short way north-east of Moscow to ‘The Golden Ring’, a smattering of towns and villages arranged more or less in a circle. Within these settlements some of the most important events in Russia’s history and in the formation of the Russian Orthodox Church took place. This is the romantic Russia that you read of in history books: fortress-like monasteries and convents, churches topped with golden onion domes, pastoral landscapes and villages of rickety wooden houses where locals still practise traditional crafts.
Cox & Kings’ non-exclusive group tour Russia’s Golden Ring visits three of these towns: Suzdal, Vladimir and Bogolyubovo. The tour is bookended with two nights in Moscow and three nights in St Petersburg and includes all rail travel.
Church of the Intercession on the Nerl, Bogolyubovo, Russia
Journey through the Baltic States
The beauty of travel in Europe is that there are so many countries packed into one relatively small continent, each with such a distinct history and culture. Travelling between each of them couldn’t be quicker and easier, and no more so than between the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Huddled together in a corner of Eastern Europe, these countries are often overlooked as a holiday destination but all three of them can be neatly combined into one trip.
Medieval street, Riga, Latvia
The Baltics were brothers in arms throughout the 20th century when all three suffered under German and Soviet occupations. Today they enjoy inter-governmental cooperation on numerous matters, but you will find clear-cut differences in their customs, languages and cultural sights. Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is one of Europe’s best-preserved medieval towns; Riga, the capital of Latvia, is renowned for its attractive art nouveau architecture; and Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania flaunts some showy baroque churches.
Cox & Kings’ group tour Journey through the Baltic States travels by road between the capital cities of Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius, with stops at castles, palaces and seaside resorts en route.
Panorama of Tallinn old town, Estonia
Romania is a fairy-tale land of high mountains and rolling green hills with cobbled villages, turreted castles and colourful, frescoed monasteries. Out in the countryside, people still travel by horse and cart and crafts such as pottery and weaving remain important skills.
This is a land where, at dusk, the cows make their own way home from the fields, rambling along the lanes to find their farmyard, where they wait patiently to be let in. There are few places left in Europe where you can still see a lifestyle that has remained as unchanged as this, unaffected by the fast pace of the modern world.
Cox & Kings’ group tour Timeless Romania reaches deep into Transylvania and Bucovina, two regions north of the Carpathian mountains, notable for their Saxon fortified churches, medieval towns, painted monasteries, royal palaces and castles.
If you are interested in a private itinerary then The Transylvanian Properties of the Prince of Wales offers an idyllic escape into the heart of the Transylvanian countryside, following in the footsteps of the Prince of Wales who has a longstanding affection for this beautiful country.
Bran castle, Transylvania, Romania
Many of our group tours can be taken on a private basis. Alternatively, if you are interested in a tailor-made itinerary, please either call one of our specialist Europe travel consultants or complete our tailor-made request form and one of our experts will get back to you to help you plan an itinerary.
- Tags: Armenia, Art & Architecture, Cox & Kings Staff, Culture & History, Estonia, Europe, Food & Wine, Georgia, Landscape, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Short Breaks, Ukraine