This is the setting of one of the world’s most stunning overland hikes: the 106-mile trail known as the Tour du Mont Blanc, which encircles the namesake peak coursing through glacier-carved valleys in France, Italy, and Switzerland. Along the route are rustic mountain huts, or rifugios, where hikers fuel up with frosty mugs of beer and hearty bowls of soup as they swap tales from the trail at communal tables.
The Azores, Portugal
Located just a five-hour plane ride east of New York City—smack dab in the heart of the Atlantic Ocean—the Azores’ location is baffling to most Americans. This archipelago of nine volcanic islands belongs to Portugal, despite floating roughly 1,000 miles off the coast of mainland Europe.
São Miguel, the Azores’ largest island, is where many visitors spend the bulk of their time, and understandably so, as most planes touch down in Ponta Delgada, the regional capital. The entire island is pitted with hollowed-out volcanic craters, hissing geysers, and natural hot springs. Rent a car to make your way around the island’s perimeter and prepare to stop often. Lagoa das Sete Cidades boasts twin lakes in its massive crater—one electric blue and one a shocking shade of green. And in the center of the island, Lagoa do Fogo’s crater is arguably the most photogenic.
Sicily, Southern Italy
Nestled in the Mediterranean Sea, like a soccer ball perched on the toe of Italy, Sicily is often overlooked by travelers who mostly flock to the country’s more famous northern counterparts.
Smaller than the state of Massachusetts, Sicily punches above its weight as a melting pot of European and African culture, with a palpable influence from the civilizations that ruled over it the last 2,500 years: Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, and Spaniards. Here, you’ll find the most active volcano in Europe as well as the continent’s most important ancient Greek sites outside of Greece, like the Valley of the Temples.
Imagine a quaint mountain village plucked out from a snow globe and seemingly brought to life. The closest thing we’ve got is Hallstatt, nestled in Austria’s famed Salzkammergut lakes region. Located a little over an hour outside of Salzburg, this fairytale village is perched on the shores of Hallstätter See, a dark, brooding lake. A ferry, conveniently timed to the local train schedule, whisks visitors across the water to the sleepy alpine town.
One of Hallstatt’s focal points is easy to see as you approach: the pointy Gothic steeple of the town’s Lutheran church. Timber-framed houses and candy-colored shops huddle together, a pleasant jumble scattered up the town’s steep hillside. A fast-flowing waterfall plunges over a cliff at the very heart of town.
Surrounded by the Julian Alps, Lake Bled is home to the country’s most photogenic landmark: a gorgeous church plopped on an island in the middle of an alpine lake. Board a traditional wooden pletna boat to row out to The Church of Mary the Queen (also known, fittingly, as Our Lady of the Lake), and ask to ring the bell inside. (According to local superstition, if you ring this bell three times and make a wish, it will come true.)