Is Albania at the top of your beach vacation wishlist this summer? Didn’t think so. Maybe that’s because you haven’t seen the beach at Ksamil, the jewel of the Albanian Riviera, with dazzling white sand, turquoise water, and three idyllic islands in the bay. Don’t forget your snorkel.
Lagos de Tristaina
These high-mountain lakes are your reward for taking on the Estanys de Tristaina hiking trail, a 3-mile route next to the French border in the north of this bite-sized principality. Free-grazing horses hang out up here, presumably for the killer combination of fresh water and awesome views. Take a picnic, and something to wear for your well-earned dip.
This 1,000-year-old monastery has endured a history almost as dramatic as its clifftop setting, with imperial invaders taking turns ransacking it and even the odd earthquake shaking things up. Legend has it that the name comes from the time an apprentice fell from the tower and called out for God to give him wings -- “Ta tev” in Armenian. Probably best not to check if that trick still works.
Alpbach’s been voted Austria’s most beautiful village by... all of the people in all of Austria (we chose Hallstatt, but maybe they know better). The area's lush green fields were reportedly a filming location for The Sound of Music and in the winter, the hills are even more alive as snow-caked ski runs.
This 16th-century castle was built in Gothic Belarussian style, before Baroque and Renaissance touches were added on by a later owner -- so really it’s a wonder it has turned out so pretty. Inside, it’s a treasure trove of history, from the castle’s aristocratic origins to its conversion to a Jewish ghetto during World War II.
This poppy field isn’t only beautiful; it's also deeply symbolic. After World War I, vivid red flowers sprung up on former battlefields like this one, and the image is now synonymous with the heavy burdens of war. Today, Flanders Fields is also a much-visited cemetery and memorial.
The River Pliva plunges into the River Vrbas right in center of Jajce, a pretty hillside town two-and-a-half hours from Sarajevo. The 60-foot wall of water is spectacular year-round, but come on the first weekend in August and you get the added thrill of seeing people far less sane than you compete in the annual jumping contest.
Seven Rila Lakes
Ask any Bulgarian, and they’ll tell you the Seven Rila Lakes is not to be missed. These seven glacial pools are rugged and majestic, sitting 8,200 feet above sea level in the country’s remote northwest. A day’s trek around this meandering region, and you'll understand the meaning of living free.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
You’ve seen these waterfalls before -- on Pinterest, or Instagram, or your dad’s desktop screensaver. It looks like something out of FernGully. While Plitvice’s waterfalls are undeniably the most beautiful, you might also try the nearby but lesser-known Krka National Park; it’s about 80% as scenic, but unlike at Plitvice you can actually go swimming.
Aphrodite's Rock (Petra tou Romiou)
Greek mythology says this boulder marks the spot where the Goddess of Love was born amid wild, churning water. Which makes sense, as the waves are rough and swimming is ill-advised (although local legend has it that anyone who does will be blessed with eternal beauty -- assuming, of course, that they survive).