Eastern Europe is the latest hot spot for Australian travellers.
An online poll of 5,067 people run by Expedia.com.au, discovered that almost a third picked Eastern Europe as their preferred emerging holiday destination in 2008.
The results inspired the online travel site to conjure up its top 10 hidden corners of that part of the world.
They have included unusual and diverse locations and activities, saying it’s an untapped part of Europe.
Plus, it’s a highly cost-effective and uncrowded alternative to its more conventional Western counterpart, they said.
Marketing director for the Australian wing of Expedia, Kristi Barrow, said the survey found Australians were tired of the tried-and-tested, mature tourist destinations.
“Many (are) now seeking a completely new and different holiday experience,” Barrow said.
“It seems Eastern Europe has it all – centuries of history, unspoiled natural environments, uncrowded facilities for popular past-times, even Black Sea coastal resorts that rival their Mediterranean counterparts.”
The Expedia.com.au top 10 hidden corners of Eastern Europe are:
1. The old town of Tallinn, Estonia:
The capital of the Baltic state of Estonia, Tallinn is a hub for architectural enthusiasts.
With a unique geographical and historical position, the town showcases a variety of styles from medieval times, as well as the Tsarist and Soviet eras.
Get walking and explore the web of winding cobblestone streets lined with preserved churches and museums.
As the home of online phone connection company Skype, the town is also emerging beyond its historical richness into a place at the forefront of modern technology.
2. The resorts of the Black Sea Coast:
The Black Sea Coast washes up on the shores of Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine.
The warm climate, sandy beaches, historical monuments, vineyards and luxurious resorts make this a coveted corner of Eastern Europe.
Entertainment facilities and wildlife sanctuaries line the coast, and food and accommodation aren’t too pricey.
Worthwhile Black Sea resorts include Varna (Bulgaria), Constanta (Romania) and Yalta and Sochi in Russia.
3. Transylvania, Romania:
Explore the castles and fortresses dotted around the Transylvania region, the most famous belonging to Dracula.
The vampire’s home, Bran Castle, as it is known to locals, was built in 1377 and overlooks the village of Bran.
Time your trip to take in one of the masked balls and candlelit banquets which are often held in this quaint medieval town.
Its remote location and the howls of wolves in the night will give even the bravest of souls a shake up.
The locals are big on myths and superstitions, and are keen to share tales of ghosts, apparitions, witches and werewolves with anyone who will listen.
4. Ski resorts of Bulgaria:
Bulgaria is home to over 200 ski resorts, all of which boast the bells and whistles of the Western slopes, but without the same
hefty price tag.
The taverns possess charm and style and offer Bulgarian cuisine, a vast selection of local wines and live folk music.
Discos and night clubs carry on well into the night, making it a popular destination for party-goers.
Bansko is situated in the Pirin National Park, which has been included in the UNESCO list for cultural and natural sightseeing.
5. The Vodka Museum, Moscow, Russia:
With over 3,000 brands of Russian vodka available on the market today, vodka is an important component of Russian life and an essential element of national identity and culture.
The history of this national drink can be experienced at the Vodka Museum in Moscow, the birth-place of vodka.
Visitors to the museum will discover that the process of wine distillation (the original name for vodka production) was way ahead of its time. They will also have the unique opportunity to see a Russian monk operate the first distillation unit.
Following the story of vodka from the early centuries, the museum halls lead visitors into 21st century Russia telling them about the current state of production and consumption of vodka.
Below the museum is a cosy Tractir (Restaurant), re-created to depict the atmosphere of the late-19th century.
In this Tractir, guests can taste the best vodkas currently produced in Russia, compare their qualities and enjoy a traditional Russian meal prepared from a recipe book published in 1887.
6. Ice fishing in Lithuania:
The Curonian lagoon is an example of the natural beauty of the Baltic state of Lithuania.
Holiday makers can enjoy night and day ice fishing without forking out the coin asked for the experience in Scandinavia and the US.
The lagoon is situated in Nida, on the western edge of Lithuania, a few kilometres from the Russian border.
Cast a line on the frozen lagoon under an oil lamp, and listen out for the hypnotic orchestra, created when locals tap sticks under the water to lull passing fish into their nets.
Fishers can expect to catch tens, if not hundreds of fish, all of which can be cooked on the ice and washed down with a glass of local vodka.
7. Mineral spas of Macedonia:
The Balkan state of Macedonia caters to those who want some pampering on their holiday.
Lap up the thermal mineral spas in the Debar region, host to a bevy of of spa resorts, which will not only have you chilled out, but the mud from the natural spas has been proven to provide medicinal benefits.
8. The wine regions of Hungary:
Hungary has twenty-two designated wine regions.
Visitors can wind their way through several of the winemaking towns in the course of a week, either by travelling around or making day trips from Budapest.
The area of Tokaj was famously dubbed the king of wines and the wine of kings by Louis XIV of France and connoisseurs consider the red wines from Szekszard and Villany in southern Hungary to be the cream of the crop.
9. The forests of Poland:
When it comes to size, plant diversity and a variety of wildlife – Poland’s got it. Boasting some of the best forests in Europe, nature loves will be delighted.
Check out the Piasek Forest, situated in the Odra Valley at the western fringes of the Mysliborz Lake District, and the Notecka Forest – made up of 100,000 hectares of pine forests, this is one of the best places in Poland to check out wild mushrooms.
10. The Castle Caves district, Hungary:
If you’re feeling adventurous, go caving on the southern foothills of the Carpathian mountains.
Sitting on the international border between southern Slovakia and north-eastern Hungary, more than 700 caves have been identified so far, many of which are accessible to the public.
The experience will leave you with tales about how some of the halls were used as emergency hospital rooms and some of the corridors as an escape route during war.
The Baradla-Domica cave system is a popular one, spanning 21 kilometres and connecting Hungary with Slovakia.
It has a cavern capable of holding 1,000 people, a 13 metre-long stalactite and an underground river.
The caves are also noted for having the world’s highest stalagmite at 32.7 metres, aragonite and sinter formations.