Anyone who’s been struck by the wanderlust bug knows the universal truth of travel: It’s damn expensive…especially in Europe. Enter: Caroline Makepeace, one half of the couple behind the Y Travel Blog, who clued us into their favorite European travel destinations where your dollar goes a lot further. The one caveat? You have to get there on the cheap. So ladies and gents, it’s time set your flight alerts for these seven incredible places.
Sea, mountains and cider. It’s basically the battle cry of this coastal community in northwest Spain (say what?). Sunbathe (with SPF) on the Costa Verde’s nearly 200 beaches, drink from the sacred fountain at the Covadonga Sanctuary, hike through the Picos de Europa National Park and eat the freshest seafood you’ve ever tasted. Oh, and always try the cider.
The region stretching from Salzburg to the Dachstein Mountains is so dang picturesque, it’s no wonder it’s been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Stay in the village of Hallstatt, which sits on the drop-dead gorgeous Lake Hallstatt. Because you’re literally in a fairy tale, get around by bike or rowboat and then hop on a railway car to check out the sublime views of the salt caves (aka the world’s first salt mines).
THE AZORES, PORTUGAL
Remote, tranquil and volcanically active, the “Hawaii of Europe” is an archipelago off the coast of Portugal, filled with crater lakes, geysers, waterfalls, thermal springs and lush green surroundings. Since traveling between islands can be pricey, make your one island stop to São Miguel, where you can taste cozido das Furnas, a stew cooked by volcanic steam…yep.
THE PELION PENINSULA, GREECE
Crystal-clear water surrounded by green mountainsides—some would argue that this is where Greece’s most beautiful beaches are (take that, Santorini). Plus, you don’t have to leave the mainland to get here. If it’s the outdoors you’re after, visit the dozens of hilltop villages throughout the extensive mountain paths. If it’s culture, hit up the Athanasakeion for a taste of archeology. And if it’s uninterrupted serenity, get yourself to the car-free hamlet of Damouchari, where Mama Mia! was filmed. No Abba singing required (but maybe a little encouraged).
This former Venetian port town sits on the steep slopes of the Bay of Kotor. There may be only one main street, but don’t worry, there are plenty of churches (16) and palazzos (17) if you’re in need of some sightseeing. But the best thing to do in this quiet town? Nothing. Well, nothing with a glass of wine and a gorgeous sunset. Ahhh.
PAG ISLAND, CROATIA
Connected by bridge to the mainland, Pag is about an hour’s drive from Zadar. Known for its lace and sheep’s cheese production, this rocky island surrounded by steely blue sea has sort of become Croatia’s Ibiza—hey, that’s what too much lace and cheese will do to you. Specifically, Zrce Beach is a nightlife hot spot in the summer. But if it’s quiet you’re after, there are plenty of white sand beaches around to relax on without another soul in sight.
SAAREMAA ISLAND, ESTONIA
“Quaint” barely begins to describe this Baltic island. Think: lighthouses, windmills and 12th-century castles galore. Since Soviet-era red tape stopped any and all development on the island, things are pretty much as they were in World War II. And deciding on what to do will be pretty easy since Kuressaare is the island’s only town. Climb to the top of the Kuressaare Castle walls for unbeatable views of the Baltic Sea. Then relax in one of the many spas with some local craft beer—the island is famous for both.