5 Places to See Now (Before the Crowds Catch On)

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If you’re the kind of person who would rather skip the Colosseum than wait in the hot sun for an hour to get in, you may want to expand your travel horizons beyond fabled places like Rome or Paris. Up-and-coming summer travel destinations like beachy Tel Aviv and intriguing Zagreb are still pleasantly uncrowded – and increased flight routes from Canada have made them more accessible than ever. We’ve rounded up five of our favourite spots that fly under the tourism radar. Discover these cities before they top the next round of “must-see” lists.

Ronda, Spain

Clinging to the clifftop just a 90-minute drive from Malaga, Ronda (pictured above) is one of Spain’s most stunning towns. The old and new sections are perched on either side of the dramatic El Tajo gorge. (Watch your step as you take in the views off the three bridges that span the gap; it’s a 120-metre drop down in places.) Some people come to Ronda just to see the bridges: the Puente Viejo (old bridge) is the smallest of the three, while the Puente Nuevo isn’t “new” by most standards; it was completed in 1793. The Bridge of San Miguel is sometimes called the Roman bridge, though it was built by the Arabs.

Must see: You’ll want walking shoes to explore the Casa Del Rey Moro — a 14th-century fortress carved out of the stone cliff. And depending on your sympathies, you might need a strong stomach to contemplate the Plaza de Toros de Ronda — the oldest bullring in Spain, where countless bulls found themselves on the wrong end of a matador’s sword.

Foodie find: Staying fortified in this fortified city is easy, given the number of excellent tapas bars. Reserve a terrace seat at the Albacara Restaurant to dine with a view of the gorge (book after 9 p.m. so you can enjoy cooler evening weather). We also like Restaurante Bodega San Francisco (near Almocabar Gate), where Iberian hams hang from the low ceiling of a bar stocked with local wines.

 Travelzoo tip: Read “Death in the Afternoon,” Ernest Hemingway’s nonfiction masterpiece about bullfighting, before you go. It was inspired by the American author’s time in Ronda — Hemingway was so captivated by the mountain town that he arranged to have his ashes spread in the Plaza de Toros. (Director Orson Welles was also a Ronda obsessive; his ashes are buried in the town, too.)

Zagreb, Croatia

Croatia’s capital revolves around cafe culture. Start your day strolling through the red umbrella-lined aisles of Dolac Market (pictured), in the morning shade of the iconic Zagreb Cathedral, then join the locals for a coffee break. Our choice is Express Bar, just a five-minute walk from the open-air market. Don’t worry if you’re not comfortable ordering a bijela kava (latte) just yet; Express has a largely English-speaking staff.

Must see: There are only two outposts of the Museum of Broken Relationships — the newest is in Hollywood, but the original is in Zagreb. It’s filled with relationship rubble and the breakup stories they hold, like the squeaky toy hamburger captioned: “His dog left more traces behind than he did.” Visit on a Thursday so you can end your day with live jazz in the museum cafe.

Travelzoo tip: Strukli, a pastry filled with a mixture of fresh cottage cheese and sour cream, is the most Zagrebian dish out there. Try some at La Struk. The kitchen serves up flavours from apple cinnamon to truffle, but we recommend the traditional salty or sweet cheese versions.

 

Basel, Switzerland

On a midsummer day, Basel locals sunbathe along the Rhine before jumping in for a quick dip. Join them for a swim and a snack at one of the stands, or buvettes, that spring up along the river on sunny days. Our choice is the Rhyschanzli Buvette, which serves up beer and burgers, plus ice cream flavours like hazelnut and quince. After a day swimming alongside your Wickelfisch (an inflatable waterproof bag to hold your belongings), bite into a bratwurst while you watch the sun set over the water.

Must do: The city’s four famous ferries are all powered by the current alone. The dock for the Klingental ferry is right in front of the Rhyschänzli Buvette. Don’t worry about the fare — the Basel Card, given to every overnight guest in the city upon check-in, covers a ferry ride, plus all public transportation, Wi-Fi at 17 popular sites and half-off admission to museums.

Travelzoo tip: From June 14-17, 2018, the culture-drenched city will once again play host to the most important modern art fair in the world, Art Basel. If you can visit then, do it. Nearly 300 of the best galleries bring in pieces from over 4,000 artists, and each day is packed with art forums and events.

Nantes, France

The birthplace of Jules Verne celebrates the father of science fiction in style. You can learn about the author’s life at his museum, and across the Loire on the Isle of Nantes, where you’ll find Les Machines de l’île, a steampunk amusement park partially inspired by the author’s works. Giant animatronic animals — like the 48-ton walking elephant or the spider that can carry four people on its back — traverse the grounds. You can buy tickets on site, but if want to climb aboard the pachyderm, purchase your ticket online to ensure you get a seat.

Must see: The last duke of an independent Brittany constructed the Chateau des ducs de Bretagne in Nantes in the 15th century. It has since filled several roles: military barracks, a prison and the temporary home of kings. Most recently, German soldiers took it over during the World War II. It’s free to enter the grounds, but we think it’s worth it to pay the extra 8 euros for museum entry and 2 euros for an English audio guide.

Travelzoo tip: Grab a book and a bottle of local Muscadet and spend a few hours relaxing in the quirky botanical garden Jardin des Plantes (pictured). As well as natural treasures like the ancient Wollemi pine or a trio of century-old gingko trees, it also contains playful sculptures and hedges cut into the form of sleeping birds. Nantes has a long history when it comes to botany — in 1726, Louis XV ordered ship’s captains to bring plants and seeds back to Nantes from their journeys abroad.

Tel Aviv, Israel

Wade into the warm waters of the Mediterranean (pictured above) and sink your toes into the sand when you visit Jerusalem’s cosmopolitan cousin. Hilton Beach, in front of the eponymous hotel, tends to be less crowded than the city’s other beaches, as it’s not accessible by car.

Must see: Carmel Market is unmissable. Vendors lay out patchwork quilts of produce — purple figs, red strawberries and orange spices — next to rows of shining silver earrings, discounted T-shirts and sunglasses. Plan your visit for a Tuesday so you can check out the Nahalat Binyamin Pedestrian Mall just steps away. At this large outdoor market, street performers alternate with merchants hawking glass ornaments and bright, modern paintings. (Nahalat Binyamin is open on Fridays as well, but both markets are overflowing then with locals preparing for the next day’s Shabbat.)

Foodie find: After a long night out, locals love nothing more than a leisurely brunch. (Save the indulgence for a Saturday, when many restaurants are open but most stores and tourist attractions are closed.) Our favourite place is Dallal (it’s everyone’s favourite, so make a reservation before you go). Sit back with a glass of wine and a hot pastrami croissant with truffle mousse, then wander around the surrounding neighbourhood, Neve Tzedek, for a visual dessert of pastel-hued homes and mom-and-pop shops.


Promoted by: Air Transat. To search for flights to the above destinations and many more throughout Europe, visit airtransat.com.

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