Please sign in to post.

Back Doors to the Back Doors of Europe

Another thread made me think of this. There are RS's Country Back Doors; mostly Western European or EU countries (but not exclusively). With all the COVID issues in many of those countries maybe its time to look towards Europe’s Back Doors. Many of the lesser developed countries have had less restrictive and substantially more consistent COVID requirements making them a bit safer choices if you ware worried about things closing up before your plane lands.

But even the Back Door countries are growing in popularity, so it could be time to start looking at back door destinations to the back door countries.

Suggestions? A few to start (and as I have time I will post some videos or links for my ideas and yours, because there are places that just aren’t on a lot of radars (and there are a lot more):

Albania: Gjirokastra
Montenegro: Perast, Ulcinj
Bosnia & Herzegovina: Sarajevo (yes, the capital isn’t much of a backdoor to BiH, but it’s a great back door to Europe in general)
Romania: Sighisoara
Bulgaria: Plovdiv
Ukraine: Lviv
Moldova: ?
North Macedonia: ?
Georgia: ?
Armenia: ?
Belarus: ?
???

Posted by
20838 posts

Montenegro: Herceg-Novi and Cetinje. If you have a car, also check out Lovcen National Park (and others).

Romania: Timisoara, Cluj-Napoca, Sibiu, Brasov and the Maramures area. (RS got to some of these in his video).

Bulgaria: Veliko Trnovo

Serbia: Beograd and Novi Sad

Ukraine: Kyiv and Odesa. Beyond these two and the more-touristy L'viv, Ukraine is somewhat challenging.

Poland: Płock, Torun, Bydgoszcz and Tarnow

Hungary: Pécs, Győr, Szeged and Kecskemét

Czechia: Olomouc and Brno

Germany (former DDR): Görlitz and Quedlinburg (this one well-known to Europeans).

Posted by
3051 posts

Czech republic: Everywhere except Prague and Český Krumlov.
Estonia: Everywhere outside Tallinn.
Denmark: Jutland and Bornholm.

Posted by
2404 posts

Croatia - Šibenik, Pula, Kavlorac (as in the beer, where it is made). Too many islands to list, my SIL is from Olib, ferry from Zadar. Most tourists are from Europe. Not much to do but swim and lounge around.

Posted by
13412 posts

When I see 10 posts a day about getting into Italy or Germany or Spain or …. I have to ask myself do people even know these places exist.

Yes, a little tougher to get to, one way to get to many (or at least close) is WizzAir out of Budapest.

So, this is the Back Door to Europe list so far:

Slovakia
Banská Bystrica https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=Yr-xWBduu_A
Banská Štiavnica https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=6jvlAkr9g60

Albania
Gjirokastra https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SNGU7k2Hx_I

Romania:
Sighisoara https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ByrGZ4o6dk8 I was first here before the renovations. It has come a long way. Prince Charles keeps a home here.
Timisoara https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YIstkqusezA
Cluj-Napoca https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWKlOf0bhQs
Sibiu https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWyyVJPDR7Y
Brasov https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCg_wV5geFI
Maramures area https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-0R5wOCcCw

Bulgaria:
Plovdiv https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pR-2fa1ACsw This is hands down one of the most interesting cities I’ve ever visited. Bulgaria in general is pretty amazing.
Veliko Trnovo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G24mZ5yN7oY guarantee you wont forget your trip here.
Nessebar https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJFx7R4IgLY

Kosovo
Prizren https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRS57-wXZpA

Ukraine:
Lviv https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OyTDjn3reVo Yes, the principal Ukrainian tourist city. Unlike the East of Ukraine this city more Western; having been owned by the Polish and Hapsburgs over the centuries. Looks more like a small Hungarian or Austrian or Polish baroque city than Ukrainian.
Odesa https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_nPuNMkMKk My summer escape for culture and the beach and street parties.
Kyiv https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fN5VOkFNATQ Besides being beautiful and full of energy for those that travel for history, why not travel in the middle of history being made.

Serbia
Beograd (Belgrade) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkcHlmPWznA I a going to be honest. Informative, interesting but didn’t light my fire. But I understand a great party town for younger travelers.
Novi Sad https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03ftOkylwUw Now Novi Sad did light my fire. I have friends that live there and make excuses to visit.

Montenegro My favorite country after Hungary. I will just let the videos talk.
Herceg-Novi https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOqLXoeE_o4
Cetinje https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6RwWDPe9M8
Perast https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fd6ErEHPHmg
Uncinj https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LaPcThRQdi4
Fly Fishing https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MpnDIoqvfbo

Poland:
Płock https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87oGLBUfXRs
Torun https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVw-0WyQ8SI
Bydgoszcz https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6yQIwSp0O_0
Tarnow https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNvmudqg7rE

These Countries are now Front Door Countries to Europe, but yes, these are some of the back door towns and cities.

Hungary
Pécs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvqKi9JVDN4
Győr https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbH6u0J-Xos
Pannonhalma https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBYsexwEbPc
Szeged https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GoUtmJRDV40
Kecskemét https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M-LC-2U646g

Czechia
Olomouc
Brno

Croatia
Šibenik
Pula
Kavlorac (as in the beer, where it is made).

Ukraine
Lviv https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbogX4yvUCU
Kyiv https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fN5VOkFNATQ
Odesa https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-ZFmUFcf1Q
Kharkiv https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrwffmDL-W8

Posted by
2514 posts

I think Rick's "Back Door" philosophy is not totally tied in with one place (i.e where foreigner tourists don't go) where but rather is the mindset that travelers bring with them, the willingness to get out of their comfort zone, try new things, and become a "temporary European". Italy or Germany or Spain are still very much back door destinations.

Posted by
13412 posts

This is interesting: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/general-europe/back-doors-and-overcrowding-a-world-view

From the Man himself

A fundamental part of enjoying travel in Europe is finding places that I call "back doors." When I first started traveling, back doors
to me were Europe's undiscovered corners and untrampled towns that
had, for various reasons, missed the modern parade (like Dingle, on
Ireland's western edge, or Portugal's Salema, tucked away on the
southern coast). But now, with more sophisticated travelers — and more
travelers overall, now that so many more people around the world can
afford to travel — worthwhile places rarely go undiscovered. And
certain destinations that I've long raved about now suffer from
congestion.

This is a pretty Western Europe centered attitude. Or maybe better put "traditional country destinations" centered attitude.
Yes, as more travelers come worthwhile places in the traditional country destinations rarely go undiscovered and what were once Back Doors do now suffer from congestion. But to assume that is the case in ALL of Europe promotes a sort of narrow view of Europe.

So how, in today's Europe, do I still find back doors? These days, my approach is less about discovering the undiscovered and more about
using thoughtful travel to get beyond tourist traps, sidestep crowds,
broaden perspectives, and experience a part of Europe that most
travelers miss. Here are some ways you can still do that.

In other words, since the traditional country destinations have become so overly touristed (is that a word?), rather than expand your horizon beyond the common countries, we should redefine Back Door to help keep the traditional country destinations more attractive.

Remember when the Cinque Terre was Ricks great Back Door discovery for tourism? I haven't been there myself but the area was the source of a lot of press years back on how tourism negatively impacted the area. But rather than searching out new places of similar character RS redefined the definition to continue the theme with his tours. A lot of what made Cinque Terre so fascinating still exists along the Eastern Adriatic coastline. Then, what Cinque Terre was to Italy, Bulgaria is to Western Europe.

For those that got a lot out of small out of the way places where life still continued as it had for generations, and where tourists were few, where every street corner didn't have a Star Bucks or a McDonalds; the options still exist. But it takes a little wider world view to find them. BUT, nothing wrong with Italy or France. I love them too. This is an option not a criticism.

Posted by
218 posts

Re: Romania

  • Prince Charles has a home in Viscri, near one of the seven Saxon fortified churches of Transilvania. About 45-minute drive from Sighisoara...and definitely more accessible by car. He also has a great guesthouse and immersion experience in Zalan, about an hour north of Brasov...and really only accessible by car. Great spot for nature tourism and bears!

  • Sighisoara is fantastic and the seven Saxon fortified churches in Transilvania are excellent (near/between Brasov and Sighisoara). Easier by car.

  • One of my favorite European castles is Corvina Castle (near Hunedoara).

  • Alba Iulia; capital of early Romania; great citadel with Roman ruins and 13th century Catholic cathedral.

  • Salt mines in Turda.

An exceptional Romania itinerary includes Brasov, Sibiu, Cluj-Napoca, Sighisoara, with stops at Peles Castle/Palace (Sinaia), fortified churches, Alba Iulia citadel, Corvin Castle, and Turda.

  • Boat tour in the Danube Delta. Fantastic wildlife.
Posted by
453 posts

Thanks for the links. Romania looks really intresting. Love that whole Transylvania vibe of forests, hills and nice looking old town. Ties in with my obsession of the former AustroHungarian empire as an absolutely amazing architectural, landscape, linguistic cultural giant.

Posted by
20838 posts

Rick did shows on Romania and Bulgaria in 2014. There was a show on Poland all the way back in 2004. There are single-country tours to both Bulgaria and Poland. I think Romania is wonderful; I wonder why there's no tour yet.

Posted by
13412 posts

rob in cal; Its all fascinating (to me at least).

There is a another thread right now about changing with age and experience travel styles. I started out in awe of ancient history. And I still am, but then I began walking into places where what is going on right now will have as much impact on the lives of my children as anything that happened as the result of ancient Rome. So much to learn and understand. The problem for me is that at my age, the most I can do with it is take it to my grave with me. But if we could get 20 and 30 year old's to see and experience this I think they would be more informed in their decision making at home. How much different the world might be today if not for the Treaty of Trianon? 100 years later it is still the cause of division. The last tour guide I hired in Budapest was proud that her family was from Kolozsvár and I have seen a map of the pre treaty borders of Hungary in a government building. On the other hand Poland despite the Treaty of Warsaw has in recent years supported Ukraine. Is the Yugoslav War really over? Or just on a short term hold? ​Sarajevo, on the surface at least, what a remarkable culturally integrated city.

Okay that's the political view. How about the pure tourism view? There are castles in Slovakia and Ukraine that stand up against most of what you can find in Western Europe. There are mountains in Albania that you would marvel at. Canyons in Montenegro that are stunning, cities like Plovdiv that are part ancient Rome, part Ottoman and part soviet. All within a short walk (but Plovdiv does have a McDonalds G-d help us ---- but the sign ins Cyrillic).

Another thread right now; To See or to Be; also has profound meaning here as you cant do one without doing the other in so many places.

Enough rant.

Posted by
2007 posts

James, this is wonderful Lots to think about and research. Thank you!

Posted by
2212 posts

In 2019, we visited

Budapest
Pecs
Zagreb
Beograd
Timisuara
Oradea

Timisuara and Oradea were both very interesting. We lucked into a "Art Nouveau" tour of Oradea, which got us into many locked buildings to see things most could not.

Posted by
5329 posts

James,
Another great post by you.

I have visited some of these places and found them very worthwhile to visit.
Loved the Ukraine. Been there twice, once in the capitol Kiev, then on a cruise that stopped in Odessa and Sevastopol (Crimea).
The people were friendly, more so than we found on our Russian tour that included a river cruise. Bulgaria was nice, stopped there on a cruise that originated in Istanbul, which is not to be missed.

Also, have been to Croatia and Slovenia (former republics of Yugoslavia and I highly recommend them, especially Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Did the three Baltic counties (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) and especially liked those countries. Many people there brightened up when they found we were Americans. They thanked us for helping them get and keep their independence.

We would like to do a lower Danube river cruise from Budapest to Romania. We could visit Bosnia and Serbia as well.

Posted by
13412 posts

geovagriffith, Paul o.t.f.n. Thanks.

I discovered Eastern Europe almost by mistake and it was one of the best things that ever happened to me on a lot of levels. If I hadn't stumbled in when I did, I think I would have become a typical UK/France/Italy/Spain tourist like the majority (even here oddly enough). So I thought if I could inspire one person to try one thing new, then I would be sharing something special.

geovagriffith; you are correct about Ukraine. One of my favorite places for the last 6 years. After hearing about Maidan I had to see Kyiv and it wasn't a disappointment. Had an excellent week of peace and serenity (and pretty impressive 5 star treatment at 3 star prices) last August in Odesa. Great beach get away location.

Oh, and Bosnia & Herzegovina well worth the time to visit. One I would do sooner rather than later as things are heating up a bit. Prior to COVID, the majority of the places on that list above was accessible via Budapest on Wizz Air for less than $100 non-stop. Service has since been cut back a bit, but I suspect it will return this summer.

Posted by
90 posts

Back door is back door for Americans.
What about Crete? Sounds back door, to us. When you get there, it will be overrun with Brits. Not back door for them.
Back door for Brits is Mexico. Not for US.
Back door for us is Bali. Simply a regular place for Aussies.

Posted by
13412 posts

Good point. Makes it even more rewarding when you arrive and its amazing and the only tourists are from the surrounding region.

Posted by
2212 posts

We attempt on our travels to do some "back door" things. Sometimes this involves going to cheaper, less touristy restaurants. In Budapest, Sarajevo, and several other cities, we have found inexpensive cafeterias which serve local food that normal people eat. Not fancy, inexpensive, usually good.

Posted by
96 posts

All those central and Eastern European countries and poor Slovakia doesn’t even get an honorable mention? Let me right that wrong right now with Cicmany; an awesome folk art village set in beautiful countryside.
That said, I hope to explore Slovakia more in the future. It speaks to my love of nature hikes and spa experiences. Last October, I met a Slovakian woman in the sauna at the Grand Hotel Pupp in Karlovy Vary getting our sweat on discussing just that. I was absolutely intrigued by the wonderful spas and nature experiences in Slovakia she gushed about in and around the high Tatras. I had wanted to explore the area around Poprad for just that but had trouble connecting it to Zakopane Poland by public transit and had to skip it.

Let me add to the Poland list by recommending Wroclaw and Łódź! I loved Zakopane too though I think it’s been discovered by Europeans, if not Americans.

Posted by
14 posts
  • Ukraine: Lviv Polish and Jewish traces, but also the nearby castles, Transcarpathia (historical cities and castles of Mukhacevo and Uzhgorod) and Hutsul people area (Yasinia, Kosiv, Kolomyia).
  • Romania: Maramures (with the best preserved traditional life of Europe), Bucovina (the outside painted monasteries), Szekely people area (folk culture, nature, architecture), the last Saxons of Romania (Malancrav, Viscri) and the 150+ stunning fortified churches, Roma (Gypsy) enclaves from Southern Transylvania (coppersmiths and others), Apuseni and Banat mountains, Danube Delta (birdwatching)...
  • Slovakia: historical eastern cities of Kosice and Spis region (Levoca, Bardejov), Tatra mountains...
Posted by
289 posts

Really enjoyed Olomouc in the Czech republic, as well as the train ride to get there from Prague.

Posted by
1703 posts

North Macedonia: ?

Ohrid, beautifully situated historic town at lake Ohrid with a couple of interesting (post)byzantine churches, some of them in a mixed Greek-Serbian style. And for those interested in archaelogy: Heraclea Lyncestis, near Bitola. Great site, very few visitors; got a privatissime et gratis tour by the archaelogist on duty some years ago.