Europe's Hidden Holiday Gems You Need To Visit

Dune de Pyla, France

I LOVE this place, but I’ve only ever met one other person who’s been, so it seems it’s still off the radar for many Brit’s visiting France. Why’s it so special? It’s the biggest sand dune you’ll probably ever see (it’s actually the largest in Europe, fact). One hundred and seven metres of golden sand towers above sparkling ocean and bright green pine forests in the Bay of Arcachon (about 60kms from Bordeaux). Climb to the summit and then roll all the way down, have a picnic, build a sandcastle, heck, you can even paraglide off the top. It’s one of nature’s wonders of the world and everyone should stand on it, barefoot, at least once in their life. As luck would have it, you can now stay in style nearby too, as Philippe Starck-designed, super sleek La Co(o)rniche has now opened, rooms from €380 per night.

Carmona, Spain

I discovered this sleepy hilltop town during a long weekend in Seville. Thirty minutes’ drive from the city, through fields of sunflowers, it has an amazing amount of sightseeing for such a small place. In the old town there’s a castle, palace ruins (this was once the capital of Spain, who knew?), stunning churches (including a Catholic church with a Mosque, one of only three in the world) and tapas restaurant-lined main square. In the new town you’ll find more restaurants and smart clothing and shoe boutiques, plus a playground (handy if you’ve got kids). Explore the Roman necropolis and climb the castle, go for ice creams on the terrace of Parador for jaw-dropping views of Andalucia, indulge in late-night tapas at Bar Goya and check in to restored 16th century palace Casa de Carmona, an historic hotel which still manages to feel like a home-from-home, from £80 per night.

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Norcia, Italy

I know, where?!  This little-known escape is a two-hour drive from Rome, through the glorious countryside of Perugia, in southeastern Umbria.  Ringed by 14th Century walls and positioned in the foothills of the Sibillini Mountains, it offers spectacular views. The location also means there are SO many unexpected things to do on holiday – horse riding, mountain biking, truffle hunting, rafting –  you can easily spend a week here and not get bored. The best hotel in town is the Palazzo Seneca, a beautifully restored mansion with plush rooms, spa and Vespasia restaurant, where the egg pasta and bread is made by hand, black truffle is foraged nearby, Pecorino cheese matured in the cellar and meat sourced locally. Rooms from £122.

Arrieta, Lanzarote

You probably know the Canary Islands and may well have visited Lanzarote, but have you heard of Arrieta? Situated in the north of the island, far away from hot spots Puerto Del Carmen and Costa Teguise in the south, this peaceful fishing village only has 400 inhabitants who occupy the pretty historic houses which line tiny alleyways. Playa de la Garita is the village’s glorious long beach, a great place to try surfing, body boarding, or plain old swimming. On the outskirts lies Finca De Arrieta, part of Lanzarote Retreats and the most unique accommodation in Lanzarote. Guests can choose from a variety of quirky self-catering accommodation (think Mongolian yurt and restored stone water mill) and they're all off-grid (yes, your ‘leccy is generated by solar and wind power). It was an instant love affair for me, from the solar-heated pool to the chill out area and honesty shop, where you can pick up pretty much everything you forgot to buy in the supermarket earlier. There's also an honesty fridge stocked with Lanzarote wine (who knew?) and beer and you're invited to collect hens eggs fresh from the coop (the sign on the wire door reads 'Cluckingham Palace'). From €175 per night.