Seeking budget travel to Europe? Not only will you save money, but you’ll connect with the local population on a whole new level. Several countries haven’t yet been touched by en-masse tourism and are still affordable for budget travelers.
When planning a trip with a budget in mind, consider regions and sites that are not yet popular, and think about alternative accommodations. Some Central European countries, especially their countrysides, offer unspoiled landscapes, and varied scenery which enhances the experience. The three countries mentioned below use the Euro and are easy to travel to. They are safe and slowly opening to foreign tourism.
While Bratislava, the charmingly small capital of Slovakia, is well worth a visit, let’s focus on the pastoral charm of the countryside.
The High Tatras Mountains welcome more and more tourists every year, both in winter and summer for winter sports, hiking, horse riding and cycling. Trails are well marked everywhere and easy to follow. A ski vacation here is a lot cheaper than in Western Europe and Slovakia has more than 30 resorts to accommodate skiers.
Some of the national parks have magnificent and diverse landscapes, and hiking isn’t necessarily long or difficult. Waterfalls, forests, quaint villages, canyons await visitors in beautiful Prosiecka Valley. Farther to the East in the Tatra Biosphere Reserve, verdant trails of various lengths and difficulties lead hikers to clear lakes and views of the mountains, which now appear like vertical walls of rock.
Spas at Piešt’any, Františkovy Lázně (Franzensbad), Mariánské Lázně (Marienbad), Karlovy Vary (Karlsbad) have been welcoming visitors for centuries. Don’t expect modern facilities everywhere as some places have kept the rustic authenticity of their Soviet past, mixed with neoclassical architecture. Other facilities offer modern accommodations, like Aqua Park Tatralandia.
Escapade in Southern Slovakia
The soft hills rolling along the Danube and the border with Hungary offer a green and quiet vacation. Here, cultivated fields share the countryside with beech and pine forests. Farms are clustered in small villages. Some ancient farms have been tastefully restored and now welcome guests. One really steps back in time when renting a simple cottage house in the cute village of Dolné Strháre: fruits and vegetables grow in the yard, a few hens peck at seeds and insects on the ground around the old farm buildings. Sharing the “Friendship Glass” with our hosts was the beginning of a glorious stay indeed! Lodging here for 7 guests is really cheap: the entire cottage rents for 50 euros.
Hearty dishes characterize Central European cuisine. Small restaurants and pastry shops serve typical food. Why not do like the Slovaks and order two or three slices of cake for dessert? Indeed, it is the best way to try as many delicious pies and puddings as possible, along with a cup of sweetbrier tea.
Slovakia has a long wine tradition, thanks to vineyards in the Lesser Carpathian Mountains, around Nitra and around Košice. In the mountains, locals produce hard alcohols from juniper and plum.
It’s already too late to enjoy the Adriatic Coast resorts quietly. While Kotor and Dubrovnik rightfully attract many visitors, for budget travel to Europe, the treasures of the mountainous interior are undeniably worth a visit. Neither Montenegro nor Slovenia suffered war that engulfed ex-Yugoslavian nations trying to free themselves from Serbian influence. While communist architecture is present in some cities (especially in Montenegro), cultural heritage has been preserved in many places. Cetinje, Kotor, Ljubljana and Ptuj reveal the rich heritage of both countries.
Adventurers may rent rafts to go down pristine rivers surrounded by deep canyons in the North of Montenegro. Others dare try the cold and blue waters of high altitude lakes. Mountain peaks soar high around quiet villages, where sheep graze peacefully alongside the meandering roads. Here, the air is pure; landscapes invite to fun activities such as horse-back riding, bicycling and hiking.
While the Adriatic coast has been influenced by Venetian commerce for centuries near the coast and by the Habsburgs in the North, the rest of the country has deep rural roots where traditions are still alive. Many festivals, especially Shrovetide Carnival, enliven the entire country.
Gruesome legends haunt medieval castles, recounting sad love stories or chivalrous tales. A few dragons still sit on a bridge in Ljubljana reminding visitors that Jason killed one of these fearsome creatures here on his way back from the Golden Fleece quest. Strolling through small cities like Ptuj or Maribor, tourists can enjoy various architectural styles that reflect the history of the country: from Roman ruins (Ptuj), 18th-century plague columns (Maribor), to baroque churches and buildings (Ljubljana).
Because of the complicated history of the country, Slovenian food has been influenced by many cuisines: Austrian and Hungarian in the North, Italian in the South, Croatian in the East, with a few Turkish additions here and there. Hearty soups, boiled potatoes served with cottage cheese and grilled meats will satisfy any appetite. Keep room for dessert of course: prekmurska Gibanica is a must. It can differ from one shop to another, as the fillings vary from poppy seed to apple, walnut or cottage cheese.
For more details on Slovenia, read: Detour through Slovenia.
For more tips on accommodations, restaurants and transportation, please refer to Read: Travel on a Budget Like a Pro.
Budget travel to Europe sets you up for a fantastic adventure and you will gain a new sense of freedom. While everyone knows Western European countries and their famous landmarks, many gorgeous places are left to explore and enjoy before the crowds arrive. In Central Europe, it’s still possible to visit new places, taste new flavors, learn about new cultures and meet new people. The experience will undeniably enrich the trip. To make things better, most accommodations are still cheap, as are restaurants.
One simple plate. One beautiful result.
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