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The route less travelled

Looking for off-the-beaten-track holiday inspiration for this summer? Imogen Lepere has found lesser-known locales that bring character, fine weather and great food in spades

Andros Greece

There must be something in the water on the Cyclades’ most northerly island, because it has produced many of Greece’s most notable explorers and shipping dynasties. These mercenary moguls have worked hard to keep this idyllic isle to themselves and it remains off most tourists’ maps, despite the fact that it is a mere two-hour hop from Athens and its shoreline is scalloped with 70 talcum-soft beaches. However, a team of local volunteers is working hard to change this by restoring 300km of walking trails and encouraging small producers to set up stalls along the way. Inland from the sparkling blue and whitewashed chapels of the coast, a lush network of chestnut forests and sleepy farms is waiting to be discovered. The Andros Route runs from the north coast to the south and usually takes walkers ten days, while the Vori wetlands echo with the cry of rare Eleonora’s falcons. In July, the Goulandris Museum of Contemporary Art in Chora is hosting a major exhibition of Dimitris Mytaras’s paintings.

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Travel Details

Eat at Stamatis Taverna, 00 30 22820 41283 and stay at Onar (doubles from £200). The nearest airport is Athens (108km). The ferry departs from Rafina, Athens; the crossing takes two hours.

Brač Croatia

Sandwiched between the more accessible Split with its international airport and glitzier Hvar, this gentle Dalmatian island is steeped in reminders of its storied past. There are the rocks heaved into neat heaps by farm workers to make room for sour-cherry orchards, the once-grand columns of milky stone in Pucisca, whose quarries have been plundered to carve everything from Roman palaces to Washington DC’s White House, and the vertiginous vineyards introduced by the Venetians, which are reinventing themselves with light, fruity rosés such as Spoza. It’s impossible to talk about Brač without referencing Zlatni Rat beach. Shaped like a fang, it stretches 634m into the ocean, slicing the waves and harnessing swift breezes which make the surrounding waters a windsurfer’s paradise. Right now, the pound has a favourable rate of exchange to the Croatian kuna (1GBP is 8.5HRK at time of printing), making Brač a more affordable choice than euro-using destinations this month.

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Travel Details

Eat at Konoba Kapetanovo, 00 385 98 995 0781 and stay at Svpetrvs Waterman (doubles from £74). The nearest airport is Split (28km). The ferry departsfrom Split Port; the crossing takes 50 minutes.

Tirana Albania

Under Communism, Albania was an isolated state, with ‘journalists, Americans and men with long hair’ all banned from entering, according to a government notice. A strict strain of Communism continued until 1992, keeping the destination from many people’s ‘must-visit’ lists, but an emerging food scene, good hotels and a more Westerly outlook have seen this rapidly change. The capital, Tirana, is a sprawl of Soviet-era towers painted in jubilant colours by long-suffering residents, who now embrace every opportunity to express themselves. Get a sense of life under the regime by descending into BunkArt, a subterranean hideout built by dictator Enver Hoxha in case of nuclear war, or browse the National Gallery for propaganda. The country’s isolation has created a culture of self-sufficiency when it comes to food production, and a wave of young chefs who have trained abroad are returning to reimagine indigenous cuisine. Head to Blloku, a dozen or so streets once the sole preserve of party officials, and now the heart of the city’s food scene. Catch the Dajti Express Cable Car to the Mount Dajti National Park for fabulous views and hiking trails. North of the city, Lake Bovilla is an azure expanse of water where elderly folk from the surrounding villages go to play dominoes in the shade.

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Travel Details

Eat at Mullixhiu, and stay at Padam Boutique Hotel (doubles from £61). The nearest airport is Tirana (17km). The drive into the centre takes around 30 minutes; a single bus ticket costs £1.75pp.

Lake Hallstatt Austria

Not much happens in Hallstatt and that’s the very reason we’re tipping it as one of our top escapes this summer. In an age where we are constantly stimulated by smartphones and city crowds, what could be more relaxing than a bracing swim in an Alpine lake followed by apple strudel and schnapps in a snug café? With half-timbered buildings and pedestrian lanes so narrow you can reach out and touch the houses on either side, the jewel of the Salzkammergut region is quintessentially quaint. There’s plenty to do and see: St Michael’s Chapel is home to 600 painted skulls, resting here because the graveyard was full; Lake Hallstatt is where local fishermen net Alpine char; and a creaky funicular leads 360m up to the oldest salt mine in the world, from where you can contemplate staggering views of the glassy water and towering mountains beyond.

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Travel Details

Eat at Rudolfsturm, and stay at Seehotel Grüner Baum (doubles from £217). The nearest airport is Salzburg (75km). The drive to Hallstatt takes a little over one hour.

Kas Turkey

With Turkey’s political situation increasingly stable after 2016’s failed military coup and Dalaman airport’s new international terminal due to open this summer, the Turquoise Coast’s many resorts are dusting off their sun loungers and raising the awnings in anticipation. After the lull of the last few summers you’re guaranteed a welcome even warmer than usual in Kaş. From the sun-wizened women hawking cheese rolled in fresh parsley at the Friday market to the smiling proprietor of the town’s refreshment rooms, where you can sip rosehip tea in a courtyard shaded by eucalyptus trees, the locals will make you feel like part of the family. This coastline is the most magnificent in Turkey, so explore it with a trip on a Turkish gulet over to the Greek island of Kastellorizo, or by diving down to the ghost of a Dakota DC3 aeroplane near the lighthouse, a favourite haunt of sea turtles.

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Travel Details

Eat at Bi Lokma, and stay at Deniz Feneri Lighthouse (doubles from £101). The nearest airport is Dalaman (146km). The drive to Kaştakes around two and a half hours.

Kotor Montenegro

An enormous expanse of peacock-blue water guarded by brooding black mountains, the bay of Kotor is a fairy-tale setting for a summer break. Dream-like villages tenuously strung together by hairpin roads cling to the crags, but by far the most beautiful is Kotor, a Unesco-listed tangle of streets right on the water’s edge. In the 12 years since it gained independence from Serbia, Montenegro has seen an increase in tourist numbers but many never make it past the buzzing, beachfront city of Budva. As you admire the view from St John’s Castle, an epic medieval fortress 1,350 steps above the town, you’ll realise that their loss is your gain. Cheerful cafés in historic squares and stone archways draped in papery clouds of bougainvillea make the red-roofed old town just as charming as Croatia’s Dubrovnik, but far less busy. On the road to Risan there are plenty of stony inlets along the way where you can plunge into the icy water before fortifying yourself with a shot of raki and slab of ripe goat’s cheese from one of the many farmers’ stalls. Catch a boat from the pretty village of Perast to Our Lady of the Rocks, an island considered lucky by sailors because a painting of the Madonna was found here in centuries past. It’s home to a church dating back to the 15th century with the original painting on the altar, as well as other curios such as a tapestry stitched from human hair.

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Travel Details

Eat at Restoran Bastion, and stay at Hotel Cattaro (doubles from £112). The nearest airport is Tivat (8km). The drive to Kotor takes a little over 15 minutes.

Skagen Denmark

So you survived The Killing and thrilled as Sofia Helin raced across the Øresund in The Bridge, but for the first time in what feels like years, there is a hiatus in cult Scandinavian TV shows. Get your fix in Skagen, the moody village at the most northerly tip of the country, which has such a unique light in summer it was once home to Denmark’s answer to the Bloomsbury Set. Explore Skagens Museum to see their ethereal paintings before renting a bike and cycling past the red and yellow clapboard houses to Grenen, the sand spit where the Baltic and the North Sea meet; you can actually see the waves meeting head to head. Don’t miss the taxidermy-filled Odde Nature Centre, designed by Jørn Utzon, who is better known for the Sydney Opera House.

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Travel Details

Eat at Pakhuset Skagen, and stay at Ruth’s Hotel (doubles from £409). The nearest airport is Gothenburg (83km). The ferry to Frederikshavn takes 3 hours; Skagen is a 25-minute drive.

Matera Italy

On a plateau above a jagged gorge overlooking the Murgia National Park, the ancient city of Matera is so deep within Basilicata’s spiny heartland it was essentially forgotten about until the 1950s, when its residents, who were until then dwelling in Paleolithic-era caves without electricity or running water, were relocated. Today these very rock houses (known as The Sassi) are its main draw, although the remote location still protects it from the tour groups that are as common in much of Italy as lemon trees on the Amalfi Coast. This could be set to change next year, however, as Matera has been named European Capital of Culture 2019. Go now to have its atmospheric alleys and the deserted caves of the Sasso Caveoso district to yourself.

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Travel Details

Eat at Ristorante del Caveoso 00 39 0835 312374 and stay at Sextantio le Grotte della Civita (doubles from £307). The nearest airport is Bari (64km). The drive to Matera takes around one hour.

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