France, Spain, Italy, and the United Kingdom may be among the world’s most frequented vacation hubs – with France taking the global crown with a staggering 86.9 million international tourist arrivals annually – but these already popular places can only stand to grow so much year over year.
This leaves such lesser known destinations as the Republic of Moldova to jump farther faster. According to new data from the UN World Tourism Organisation, in 2017, for instance, French tourism grew by 5.1 per cent; its landlocked competitor-nestled between Ukraine and Romania-saw a visitation spike of 19.6 per cent when it welcomed 145,000 visitors last year.
“When you’re talking about these fast-growing destinations in Europe, there’s often a lack of name recognition, compared to more popular countries,” says Warren Chang, chief operating officer for bespoke travel outfitter Cox & Kings’ Americas division. “But so many of these places have robust histories and a really understated romantic feel-plus diversity of culture and beautiful nature.”
Another benefit, he says, is accessibility.
“Off-the-beaten-path travel is more comfortable in Europe, where English is more commonly spoken, and while it might take time for a place like Moldova to develop as a stand-alone destination, it’s easy for people to tack short explorations of these countries onto their existing itineraries,” Chang says.
For the well-travelled Europhile – and those whose definitions of Europe stretch beyond Western Europe to include, as UNWTO does, countries in Central Asia and the Middle East-these are the top 10 places to go next. They’re ranked by year-on-year growth.
10. Armenia – 18.65 per cent year-on-year growth
Among the destinations Chang expects to surge in 2019 is Armenia; in fact, Cox & Kings is slated to debut a new itinerary pairing the country with Georgia in the next few weeks. Among the outfitters already serving the destination are Abercrombie & Kent, Ker & Downey, and TCS World Travel, who collectively tout historical riches such as Mt. Ararat (where Noah’s Ark is said to have made landfall), the charming capital of Yerevan, and -yes – its most famous cultural descendants, the Kardashians. On trips with Abercrombie & Kent, guests also get in deep with local traditions: visiting brandy distilleries, meeting carpet makers, hearing spiritual chants in ancient monasteries, and learning to make lavash (a type of local flatbread) with an Armenian family.
9. Bosnia and Herzegovina – 18.66 per cent
If you can’t pinpoint the tiny republic of San Marino on a map, you’re probably not alone: The medieval micro-state sits in northern Italy, on a cluster of mountain peaks that lead down to the Adriatic city of Rimini. (Driving there from Florence is a straight, three-hour, eastward journey.) In 2017, San Marino claimed more than two visitors for each of its 33,000 residents, notching 78,000 arrivals in total. It’s not a lot, but for a microstate that’s just 62 square kilometres, it’s nothing to sneeze at, either.
Despite UNWTO figures, no company points to San Marino as a particularly burgeoning destination. Abercrombie & Kent, however, said it fields rare requests here, wrapping together visits to the three castles that are marvellously situated on Monte Titano. It’s especially popular with stamp and coin collectors, said Liam Dunch, the company’s product manager for Europe, since the local versions are rare and in high demand. Consider this an indicator of a slow-paced trip: here, you’ll probably spend your days – or, let’s be real, a day – looking at frescoes in the 15th century Church of San Francesco or surveying the landscape from San Marino’s funicular. Its main destination? The postal museum, of course.
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