Yes, you could see Lanzarote - it’s beautiful, laid-back and well worth a visit - but wouldn’t it be nice to try somewhere new this year? Seek some early spring sunshine in a sparkling Mediterranean destination that you’ve yet to really get to know?
Travel Department has a range of small group holidays across the Mediterranean that promise to unearth some of the region’s best-kept secrets with expert local guides, while still giving you the chance to do your own thing and take it all in at your own pace. Read on for our list of inspiring Mediterranean destinations - a guide on where to go, what to do and how to ‘see more’ on your next holiday.
Cyprus, the birthplace of Aphrodite, is blessed with a wealth of history, culture and sunshine and is far more than its beach parties and package holiday reputation. Nicosia, the only divided capital city in the world, is currently undergoing a renaissance with new cultural venues, a world-class art gallery plus top-notch bars and restaurants serving seasonal Greek and Cypriot classics.
In the Laiki Geitonia neighbourhood, you’ll find streets lined with cafes and art studios. From the Shacolas Tower, you’ll see views of the “Green Line”, which has divided Cyprus since 1974, into Turkish North Nicosia.
Down south in Limassol, you’ll see colourful meadows and laid-back beaches. Situated between two important archaeological sites, the ancient kingdoms of Amathous and Kourion, Limassol is also the heart of Cyprus’ burgeoning wine industry. There are many vineyards in the region, as well as a buzzy bar and restaurant scene.
Meanwhile, Cyprus’ romantic harbour town of Paphos is steeped in ancient mythology and some of the most spectacular churches in the Mediterranean, 10 of which have been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status.
Seven-night half-board tour includes flights, hotels, excursions and guides.
2. Slovenia and the Gulf of Trieste
Europe’s best kept secret, Slovenia is small and easy to get around. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in beauty and attractions. Squeezed between Italy and Croatia, the Slovenian coast is full of charming fishing villages, olive groves and crystal-clear waters. It's a great place to visit for a taste of Mediterranean sunshine, and with more than half of the country covered in forest, it’s one of the greenest countries in the world.
Slovenia’s most famous sight, Lake Bled, is skiing territory in winter but shines like a postcard from The Sound of Music come spring. It’s a popular spot for boating and swimming, thanks to the mild thermal springs that warm the cobalt blue waters. Capital Ljubljana is like Prague without the tourists. Its narrow streets are filled with trendy cafes, galleries and bars and from Slovenia it’s easy to travel to the Italian port of Trieste.
Tucked inside the Slovenian border, Trieste is the Italian town you never thought to visit but it has an important literary history and is inextricably linked to Irish writer James Joyce, as it’s the place he called home for nearly 16 years.
Seven-night half-board tour includes flights, excursions and guides.
Croatia has been suffering somewhat from mass tourism in recent years so if you’re planning a visit to the Adriatic country, and you don’t want to spend your time butting elbows with other tourists, you might consider a visit to some of its more under-the-radar zones. Capital Zagreb is, of course, well worth a visit but places like Opatija, Rijeka and Pula are also worth exploring.
Pula is renowned for its well-preserved Roman amphitheatre while Opatija, which was once the playground for the Viennese elite, is filled with graceful 19th century villas, small cafés and elegant bars. Meanwhile, Rijeka - Croatia’s third-largest city - will be European Capital of Culture in 2020 and is establishing itself as a destination for those seeking an alternative travel experience with a bustling arts and music scene.
Seven-night tour includes flights, transfers, hotels, excursions and guides.
Goethe said that Sicily was “the key to Italy” – and a visit here will quickly prove his point. The largest island in the Mediterranean, Sicily has garnered a reputation for its sweeping volcanic landscapes, beautiful Greek churches, Byzantine mosaics and aubergine-topped pastas. Its year-round mild climate makes it a great destination at any time of the year.
The Etna region produces some of Italy’s best wine thanks to its fertile, volcanic ground, while the fourth century clifftop town of Taormina, with its famous Greek theatre, is a popular spot for sunseekers and history buffs. Thanks to influxes of different nationalities over many centuries, Sicilian food is a real mixed bag and every market is a delight, making the Italian island an ideal spot for foodies.
Seven-night tour includes flights, transfers, hotels, excursions and guides.
The land where civilisation began holds many gems. In Athens, one of the world’s oldest cities, the big-hitters like the Acropolis, the Pantheon and Delphi need to be experienced in this lifetime. The Byzantine fortress of Mystras, which overlooks ancient Sparta, is a UNESCO world heritage site and should be included in any Greek itinerary. Other places worth seeing include the seaside town of Nafplio, the first capital of modern Greece and one of the most stunning towns in the Peloponnese.
Greece is a country that could easily overwhelm first-time visitors thanks to its sheer volume of historic or archaeological sites and there are so many places to see and experience. It’s a country that needs to be seen at least once in a lifetime and if you’re fortunate enough to return, there’s always something new to take your breath away.
Seven-night tour includes flights, transfers, hotels, sea taxi excursion, three excursions and guides.
6. Malta and Gozo
It’s hard to believe that places as small as Malta and her little sister Gozo could be packed with so much to see and do but a holiday to these glittering Mediterranean islands appeals to all sorts of tastes. Gozo’s sun-baked streets, ancient citadels and neolithic sites have lured Hollywood location scouts in recent years (Game of Thrones, Troy, Gladiator) and it’s also home to Ggantija Temples at Xaghra – the oldest freestanding structures in the world, dating back to 3600 BC.
Meanwhile, Malta has a wealth of historic gems such as Casa Rocca Piccola, a 16th Century grand palazzo and the UNESCO listed St John’s Cathedral in the capital of Valletta. It’s not all churches and historic charm - Malta has a golden coastline with sandy beaches and warm, clear waters.
Seven-night half-board tour includes flights, transfers, excursions and guides.
7. Montenegro Riviera
Move over France and Italy - there’s a new Mediterranean Riviera in town. Montenegro ticks a lot of boxes but has surprisingly fewer sun-seekers than its neighbours in Croatia. It has become a magnet for the yachting elite in recent years but it’s still laid-back and creative.
Its cuisine draws upon Italian, Greek and Balkan influences and you can find a konoba restaurant where a bottle of vranac (a type of local wine) won’t set you back more than a fiver. Active travellers will enjoy the water sports and fantastic hiking trails through its dramatic limestone mountains, while history buffs will be love the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kotor and the medieval streets of Budva. Sun-seekers have everything they need, with blue-flag beaches dotted with sun loungers and nearby beachside bars.
Seven-night all inclusive tour with flights, transfers, excursions and guides.
This blog post has been edited from an original article which appeared in the Irish Independent on February 26th 2019.