Europe is known throughout the world as a continent full of culture, history and a focus on the finer things. Whether citizens enjoy a full-bodied red in a French café or heading to a performance at an Austrian opera house, Europeans know how to enjoy the finer things, no matter the town. Read on to learn about some of the lesser-known, hidden gems of Europe.
In Germany’s Bavaria state, the town of Zeil stands out among the hidden gems of Europe for its surprising amount of historic buildings and monuments. At one point in its past, the town was located between the borders of two competing districts, making it a valuable hamlet. The Schmactenberg Castle once stood tall to protect the region from invaders, and its ruins can still be visited even today. The surrounding half-timbered houses and late Gothic-style buildings showcase centuries of Zeil’s history.
Like many villages in Bavaria, Zeil has thriving breweries. One even boasts the Zeiler beer in honor of the town. However, wine production is also important to the area and Zeil celebrates the conclusion of summer production with an annual wine festival. Take time to sample one of these beverages — or both! — before continuing to explore. Make your way up a forested hillside to the pilgrimage church, the Zeiler Käpelle. Witness astoundingly far-reaching views of the cozy German village before continuing on your journey.
Viviers, France, is a postcard-perfect town set along the Rhône River. This small, walled locale isn’t as widely known or celebrated as its Medieval-founded counterparts in other countries, yet still has a wealth of culture to be shared. A stroll down the peaceful town’s winding, cobblestone avenues will transport you to centuries past. It’s home to France’s oldest cathedral still in service, the 11th-century Viviers Cathedral — also known as the country’s smallest cathedral.
The town is a designated historic monument and is located in France’s Ardéche region, famed for its bountiful harvest of lavender. A quick, but scenic, car ride will bring you to the Musée de la lavande — Lavender Museum — where you can immerse in the sights and smells of this fragrant history. The museum has an on-site essential oil distillery where you can see the experts make use of this purple flower and purchase their wares to remember your time in Viviers and Ardéche.
We’ll be the first to admit that the capital city of Vienna is in no way “hidden.” As the largest city in Austria, Vienna has seen centuries of Europe’s feats, falls and everything in-between. However, an oft-hidden jewel of Vienna is its appreciation for waltz music and dancing continues even today. Amidst the city’s spired towers and tempting smells wafting from streetside cafés, the Austrians of Vienna still appreciate Lebenskunst — the art of living — which includes their love of this traditional dance.
During your time in Vienna, if you can tear your eyes from the myriads of splendid artwork and historic buildings, take the time to learn to waltz. Professional instructors at local studios often hold classes for locals and visitors who wish to learn this elegant art. Listen to the masterful works by Johann Strauss II as you step in time to the dance’s quick beats. You might even discover your own talent for this time-honored tradition.
Set along the Rhine in Braubach, Germany, the perfectly preserved Marksburg Castle offers a chance for explorers to travel through the centuries. This historic monument is more prominent in our list of hidden gems of Europe but is no less significant. It’s notable for being the only castle never destroyed or besieged by enemy forces. Travel up the hill setting by car or by foot to view this spectacularly conserved fortress. Marksburg Castle features fantastic sights of the Rhine and the town below, along with grand Gothic architecture. If you dare, brave the castle’s antique torture chamber to see gruesome, ancient torture devices (of course no longer in use). On a lighter note, learn about the Marksburg Castle’s role in hosting the German Castle Association, a group dedicated to the upkeep of Medieval castles across the country.
Are you ready to experience the hidden gems of Europe for yourself? The best way to approach all of these monuments is from the water. Travel by river cruise to see these gems in all of their glory. Not sure where to start? Viking River Cruises is a leader in providing luxury river cruises across Europe and across the globe. Speak to one of our experts today to learn more about river cruising.