The undiscovered Mediterranean
There’s more to the Med than Majorca – here are three lesser-known but spectacular tourist destinations.
Northern Morocco has long been favoured as a holiday destination by the French for its mix of unspoilt sandy beaches and the dramatic Rif mountains. It's popular with Spanish visitors too, for whom it's just a short hop across the Mediterranean Sea, says Annabelle Thorpe in The Times. Now British operators are starting to discover it too.
Chefchaouen is a good place for explorers to start. Founded in the 15th century as a fortress against Portuguese invasions, it became a Jewish stronghold during Spain's Reconquista, and was part of Spanish Morocco from 1920. Chefchaouen has a strong sense of Riffian culture, with many older women wearing traditional mountain dress. Around 20 years ago the villagers painted the old town a vibrant shade of cobalt blue, making it one of the most photogenic places in the world. It is spectacular: "The winding alleyways of the old town shimmer ice-blue in the sunlight, the quiet streets dotted with galleries and restaurants... give it the feel of an Arabic St-Paul-de-Vence. There's something magical about the place."
The main square comes alive at night, with buskers playing beside the fairy-light-illuminated mosque and the clutch of restaurants. Sofia's is a small, strip-lit kitchen opening onto a handful of tables off the beaten track. Sofia herself works the stove, while her husband runs the orders and their daughter whirls between tables with drinks. Crispy filo rolls filled with spicy chicken, smoky aubergines and sizzling merguez, accompanied by piles of salad and homemade bread, are excellent.
Despite its beauty, the Unesco world heritage site of Dubrovnik is not known as a must-see destination for food lovers. "I've always wondered if Dubrovnik's inability to keep pace with culinary trends has roots in the communist period, when Croatia was part of Yugoslavia," says David Farley in National Geographic Traveler, or whether it has to do with the war that ravaged the Balkan region 25 years ago. Either way, the good news is "Dubrovnik's dining landscape is changing quickly", welcoming its first artisanal coffee spots, serious cocktail bars and its inaugural craft beer brewery. Dubrovnik and the surrounding Dalmatian coast could be on the verge of becoming Europe's next great dining destination.
As you walk down the main thoroughfare of the Old Town, the scent of sausages mingle with briny oysters and Croatian folk tunes. Pantarul, opened by food writer Ana-Marija Bujic in the Lapad area of the city, serves up fava bean and octopus risotto with a wild-herb flatbread that hails from the nearby island of Vis. There's so much focus on tourists here, but "that's now changing", says Bujic. For "our weekend brunch, for example, [it's] almost all locals".
That's true throughout the region, notes Farley. "Tourists will benefit from the changes happening in the Dubrovnik food scene, but Dalmatians themselves will be the biggest beneficiaries. In eating well, they are also connecting with a forgotten heritage."
Situated among the Dinaric Alps in northern Greece, the Pindus National Park protects a spectacular landscape of steep gorges, mountain lakes and snow-capped peaks, says Maud Vidal-Naquet in Le Figaro. In this forested region of Zagori, there is a path that leads to a monastery built in 1665 on a rocky promontory. Because Aristi Mountain Resort & Villas, in the village of Aristi, contributed to its restoration, and remains its guardian, you can collect the key from reception and open the doors to this "paradise", exploring its monastic cells built into the rock, and a small, haunting chapel.
The hotel exudes a chalet-like warmth, and in the spa you will find a pool with views over the mountains. "I was spurred on by a desire to share the natural beauty of this unique... region," says the hotel's owner, Vasilis Iosifidis.
(From £915 for a three-night package Aristi.eu/en).