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With doors to the world open again, the biggest question for many travelers is where to go. Lake Charles travel agent Tina Higgins is seeing a lot of interest in Europe. “The dollar and the Euro are equal now, so it’s a great time to visit,” says Higgins. Travelers can buy more with their dollar— from high-end meals and hotels to souvenirs. Of course, other travelers know this too. Want to avoid post-pandemic crowds? Instead of Paris and Rome, consider Europe’s lesser-known alternatives.
Southwest Germany’s Black Forest and Lake Constance
Bavarian beer halls and Christmas markets are top tourist attractions, but venture west to the Black Forest and you’ll find rolling green hills, hot springs and charming small towns, all without crowds. Time stands still at Hotel Hofgut Sternen whenever the massive cuckoo clock chimes. Magnificent hiking trails leading to waterfalls are right behind the hotel.
Winter brings its own magic. Instead of the Christmas market masses found in Rothenberg, Hotel Hofgut Sternen sets up wooden stalls selling mulled wine, handmade ornaments and toys, without the crowds. Nearby ski resorts make for another fun winter activity.
An hour east is Lake Constance, bordering Austria, Switzerland and the small country of Liechtenstein, 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. Take a tour of Meersburg Castle, one of the oldest inhabited castles in Germany, dating back to the 7th century.
From Meersburg take a 30-minute ferry (transporting your rental car if you have one) across Lake Constance and you’re in Switzerland. From there it’s a one-hour drive east to Austria. Liechtenstein is only 45 minutes south. Picturesque drives through adorable little towns make a visit to the Black Forest and Lake Constance region a great option for travelers who want an authentic experience and a break from the tourists.
To meet the unprecedented demand for travel following the pandemic, airlines opened new routes to lesser-known destinations in Europe. For the first time, the Spanish island of Mallorca has a direct flight to the U.S. out of Newark. 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 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.
Limestone cliffs line much of Mallorca’s 340-mile coastline, including the picturesque fishing village of Port de Soller. 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, dine on the terrace with its jaw-dropping views of the surrounding mountains, turquoise waters and tiny mountain village of Deia.
From Belmond La Residencia, head down the scenic coastal road towards 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. Step inside the immense Cathedral of Santa Maria, dating back to the 13th century, and be mesmerized by one of the tallest Gothic structures in Europe. Centrally located in Palma’s historic district, within easy walking distance of the harbor, historic landmarks and high-end shopping is the stylishly modern Sant Jaume Hotel. Opt for one of the suites with large terraces looking out over the city.
Going out 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.
Higgins was wowed by another city in Spain. She visited Alicante, on the Southeast coast, during the Bonfires of San Juan Festival, marking the beginning of summer. “Throughout the city there are hundreds of beautiful statues, each telling a different story. As a native Louisianian, the statues reminded me of the Mardi Gras floats in New Orleans – beautiful and elaborate.”