Mediterranean’s hidden gems

THE Mediterranean is a huge area, much larger than the crystal clear seas of Greece and Italy that we usually think of when this region is mentioned. Anastasia Prikhodko uncovers some of the hidden gems in these sparkling waters.

he Mediterranean encompasses so much.There’s the Levant in the east, the European countries in the north, and the Northern African countries in the southern part of the Mediterranean Sea. The largest of the Mediterranean countries such as France, Italy, Spain, Croatia and Greece traditionally have held the title of most popular. But in the last few years the likes of Cyprus, Slovenia and Albania have been experiencing impressive growth.

CYPRUS

The island of Cyprus, divided into a Greek southern side and a Turkish northern side, has been getting recognition for its pristine beaches as well as for its history. Paphos, located in the southwest, is a designated UNESCO Heritage site which features Roman mosaics, discovered in 1942 by British soldiers digging an air raid shelter, along with the Pafos Odeon theatre which lies in the tourist area of Kato Pafos.

Another region worth noting is Akamas Peninsula, home to Baths of Aphrodite which contains a natural pool and shower, Akamas Nature Trails, Blue Lagoon and Lara Beach.

Positioned nearly 2,000 meters above sea level, Troodos is the largest mountain range in Cyprus. The island also includes a range of museums such as the Painter Frangoulides museum, the Folk Art Museum and Arsos Icon Champer.

When visiting the island nation, make sure you visit these must-see sights:

  • Kykkos Monastery, believed to have a portrait of the Virgin Mary painted by St Luke the Evangelist;
  • Kourion, an ancient Greek archaeological site that overlooks the Mediterranean;
  • Ayia Napa & Protaras, beachside towns with a multitude of restaurants and some of the most beautiful beaches;
  • Limassol Castle, where Richard the Lionheart stopped on his way to the Crusades; and
  • Tombs of the Kings; and the Paphos Archaeological site. 

“More people are enquiring about Cyprus than ever; cleverly combining it with Malta given Emirates operates direct flights between the two islands,” said Sun Island Tours General Manager Paul Polyviou. “The favourite day tours in Cyprus include Treasure of Troodos and Kourion & Paphos.”

SLOVENIA

Bordering with Italy, Austria, Croatia and Hungary is Slovenia, traditionally known for its beautiful mountains and lakes. The destination also has a thriving brewery, literature and food scene.

In Zalec, perhaps a dream come true for some, travellers will find a fountain that provides different varieties of beer. Parched visitors are invited to pour themselves their choice of beer for an instant refreshment. Other breweries worth noting include Thirsty River Brewing in Bovec, which is also a small 14-person hostel; and HumanFish Brewery in Vrhnika, which offers a tasting tour of various ales including pale ale, stout and India pale ale, along with seasonal beers such as German doppelbock, Belgian white and Irish red ale.

Ljubljana known as the “City of Literature” since December 2015, when it was awarded the title by UNESCO, is big on recognising and celebrating Slovenia’s cultural heritage. Bookworms should take note of the Slovene Book Fair held in November, along with the annual World Book Day on 23 April. Ljubljana also hosts book gatherings such as the Library Under the Treetops, where travellers can read, create, and socialise. The event provides free reading and book browsing underneath the canopies of trees.

Slovenia’s neighbouring countries have contributed significantly to its cuisine, including the typically heavy German food, along with Austrian dishes such as klobasa (a type of sausage), and breaded and pastry items such as borek. Hungarian influences are also evident including goulash, paprika chicken, beef stew, and palacinke, which are pancakes filled with nuts or jam and topped with chocolate. Italy has also left its mark with Italian pastas, gnocchi and risotto all part of the Slovene diet.

 

ALBANIA

Albania, on southeastern Europe’s Balkan Peninsula, is a small country with Adriatic and Ionian coastlines and a staggering rural landscape. Across the nation travellers will find concrete bunkers which were built during the communist government of Enver Hoxha from the 1960s to the 1980s. By 1983 around 173,371 bunkers were constructed across the country. However now, with not much use for them, several have been given new lives as restaurants, beach huts, cafs, and even museums.

In Albania’s capital, Tirana, two bunkers were transformed into a museum. Bunk’Art is a history museum and contemporary art gallery and features rooms staged as they would have been in Hoxha’s time. The old bunker theatre is also used for concerts, lectures, and other events. About a 20-minute drive away is Bunk’Art 2 which served as the Interior Ministry’s atomic shelter.

In Northern Albania, travellers will find the valleys of Valbona, Theth and Vermosh, which is where the “Alps” of Albania form. This is one of the most isolated places in Albania, offering access to pristine landscape along with a rich history of the highlands that has remained uninfluenced by outsiders.

Nearby is the expansive Lake Koman, where a ferry service can be caught to the Valbona valley, the heart of the Albanian Alps. One of the most popular walks is Theth to Valbona.covering 17km and takes six to eight hours.

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