Are you planning on taking a break and “getting away from it all” this summer? Increasingly, some of the most enduring holiday destinations are overcrowded, reducing the quality of your downtime, while pushing up the price.
Here we take four popular holiday destinations — Venice, Reykjavik, Prague and The Serengeti — and present four lesser-known alternatives, enabling you to avoid the crowds and make the most of your time off.
Don’t go to Venice — try Treviso
The historic – and peaceful – marketplace in Treviso
Few cities have such history, such a setting — or such a misleading nickname as Venice. These days, the 55,000 residents of La Serinissima are deluged by almost 3m tourists per year and the city has been in the vanguard of protests about “over tourism”.
Bypass its standing room-only piazzas and instead explore Treviso which, despite being just 20 minutes away by train and having its own airport, remains blissfully overlooked by mass tourism.
The diminutive walled city has canals, a 12th century cathedral, an array of fashion boutiques — it is the home of Bennetton — as well as numerous cobbled squares in which to sip your spritz al bitter (which, unlike in Venice, will arrive with free nibbles).
Work up an appetite with a stroll along the Buranelli canal, then head for lunch at Le Beccherie, a fixture in the town for almost 80 years, though it has changed ownership and premises, and was apparently where tiramisu was invented. Make time too for a visit to Toni del Spin, a classic Italian trattoria with wood-panelled walls and red-checked tablecloths that is a firm favourite with locals.
This is Prosecco country, so rent a car and drive through the vineyards along La Strada del Prosecco in the hills just to the north, stopping at small producers en route. You could still strike out to Venice by train of course, or, better still, sail there: rent a motorboat at Casale (just outside Treviso) then sail down the pretty Sile river into the Lagoon. Explore the minor islands, then head to San Marco to marvel at the architecture (and the crowds).
For general information see comune.treviso.it and italia.it. Both Ryanair and Wizz Air fly direct to Treviso from numerous European cities. For boat rental at Casale, see leboat.co.uk; instruction is given and the boats have cabins so you can moor for the night at numerous spots around Venice and the Lagoon.
Don’t go to Reykjavik — try Akureyri
Akureryi, Akureyri lies on the shores of Iceland’s longest fiord
Helped by its role in television’s Game of Thrones, its dramatic volcanic scenery and the musical success of Sigur Rós and Bjork, Iceland is witnessing an unprecedented tourism boom. Visitors numbers have soared from 489,000 in 2010 to 2.2m last year.
Such a sudden rise has prompted consternation, particularly as almost all those tourists are concentrated in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, and the surrounding “golden triangle” area.
Bypass that and fly instead to Akureryi, on the shores of Iceland’s longest fiord, in the far north. The country’s second city (though it has fewer than 20,000 residents), Akureryi has much to offer. There’s a pretty downtown area, several museums, some lively bars (it’s a university town), a celebrated modernist church and a geothermal outdoor pool.
It’s also an ideal base for exploring Iceland’s wild north — hiking or horseriding in the mountains of the Troll peninsula, whale watching, or driving through the bizarre landscapes of Myvatn, stopping to wander past bubbling mud pools and steaming fumaroles. In winter, there’s the country’s best ski area, and in summer, the chance to play the world’s most northerly 18-hole golf courses.
Akureyri is a 45-minute flight from Reykjavik on Air Iceland Connect (airicelandconnect.com), and there are direct charter flights from several UK regional airports with Superbreak (superbreak.com). For general visitor information see visitakureyri.is and northiceland.is
Don’t go to the Serengeti — try western Tanzania
Katavi National Park is home to flamingoes, as well as big game
The great wildebeest migration through Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park is one of the world’s most awe-inspiring natural spectacles, but as well as attracting big cats and other predators, it now draws hundreds of thousands of tourists.
In-the-know safari enthusiasts are instead turning to the country’s far west — accepting the long (and expensive) journey to get there in return for a complete absence of lion-chasing minibuses.
Covering 4,471 square km, Katavi National Park is Tanzania’s third-largest, and has large populations of lions, buffaloes, elephants, hippos and more, yet it receives only 1,500 foreign visitors each year. There are just four permanent camps, the largest with fewer than a dozen rooms, all offering a real sense of remote adventure.
Close by, Mahale Mountains National Park gets even fewer visitors but is home to around 1,000 chimpanzees, including one group that have been habituated by researchers and so can often be watched at close-quarters in their natural forest habitat. The park is also home to Greystoke Mahale, a supremely elegant six-room lodge on a white sand beach on Lake Tanganyika.
Katavi and Mahale Mountains are a four to five hours flight by light aircraft from Dar es Salaam or Arusha (see flysal.com or zantasair.com); tour operators include Expert Africa (expertafrica.com) and Natural High Safaris (naturalhighsafaris.com).
Don’t go to Prague — try Brno
Brno represents a low-key alternative to crowded Prague
A popular destination for stag and hen parties, the Czech Republic’s capital may not be your idea of a relaxing weekend away.
Instead look east to Brno which, after enduring Nazi occupation, communism and the break-up of Czechoslovakia, has blossomed, drawing significant inward investment and becoming a hub for high-tech industries and research.
In tourism terms, however, the historic capital of Moravia has remained decidedly in the shadow of Prague and Vienna.
A city break here offers a blend of art, architecture, history — and food and wine that is noticeably good value. Key sites include the Gothic church of St James, the cathedral of Saint Peter and Paul, which sits on Petrov hill and whose soaring 84m-high spires are a city landmark, the medieval castles of Spilberk and Ververi and the 13th century Old Town Hall.
Altogether different is Villa Tugendhat, built between 1928 and 1930 by Mies van der Rohe (before he moved to the US to escape the Nazis) and now regarded as one of Europe’s most important examples of early Modernism.
Afterwards, explore the little known wines of Moravia at Petit Cru (petit-cru.cz), or head for cocktails at the award-winning Super Panda Circus.