What Central Europe lacks in glitz it more than makes up for in scenery and adventure. And in these parts – from Poland to Slovenia – your money will go further, too
Friendly farm stay
The hamlet of Kupljenik is only an hour’s drive from Slovenia’s Ljubljana airport but it feels a world away. Surrounded by meadows, Dolinar farmhouse offers simple double rooms with rustic wooden furnishings as well as larger apartments. Outside, crickets chirp at sunset, the Sava river is full of trout and guests can help milk the goats should they wish (they make the farm’s organic goat’s cheese and curd), or even join in with haymaking. On Lake Bled, a 10-minute drive away, anglers can try their luck for pike, carp and lake trout.
One of the joys of cycling around Slovenia’s north-west is having the craggy limestone backdrop of the Julian Alps. Inntravel has a new self-guided cycling tour here this summer, staying in three- and four-star hotels (one with a spa) and taking in Lake Bled and Vintgar gorge and finishing up in Radovljica, which has a beekeeping museum. Local beekeeping traditions are a focus, tying in with the recent UN declaration, on Slovenia’s initiative, of an annual World Bee Day (20 May).
In Slovenia’s rural areas nearly everything that comes out of the kitchen is “local”. At Urška Eco Farm, a 40-minute drive from Maribor, the focus is on slow food. In the kitchen, Vilma, the cook, turns out strudels and pies, dairy products decorated with edible flowers and homemade cottage cheese. Vegetarians and vegans are particularly well catered for. Wellness is also a focus here, with Turkish baths, a Jacuzzi and a hay bath. The bedrooms are simply decorated with solid wooden furniture and little touches like felt slippers.
Kayak, hike, bike
Sea kayaking in the Elaphiti archipelago, cycling in Krka River national parkand hiking in the Plitvice Lakes national park all go into making Croatia one of Europe’s best outdoor destinations. Huck Finn Adventures, a local outfit who abide by their motto “see them as they are, leave them as they were,” has a summery Best of Croatia multisport trip, packing in all of the above, and more, over eight days.
Families who want to mix some urban exploration into a rural getaway might like Families Worldwide’s eight-day Prague and Tatras Adventure (for children aged 8 and over). It starts in the Czech capital before heading on an overnight train to the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia, then on to the castle of Spis, a cycle ride to historic Kezmarok and rafting through Dunajec gorge. Crossing the Polish border, it takes in Niedzica castle and rafting in the Dunajec gorge.
The spa town of Karlovy Vary in western Bohemia, full of hot springs and grand colonnades, has lured luminaries such as Beethoven and Goethe over the years. There has been a building boom in recent years, but there are good hiking trails in surrounding pine forests, and the promise of revitalising spring waters on your return. Be sure to stop at the Soviet-era Hot Spring Colonnade, once named after cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, to see the impressive spurting geyser in its lobby.