Aug. 15, 2012 at 9:59 AM ET
Far from the fairy-tale castles of Bavaria and the Schlager-amped beer gardens of Munich sits a small German island called Sylt. Dangling off the border of Germany and Denmark in the North Sea, it is known as Germany’s Hamptons, long a summer sanctuary for Berlin’s beau monde and the summer stomping grounds of Teutonic millionaires. But thanks to its difficult accessibility and lack of historic UNESCO sites, Sylt remains off the radar for most foreign tourists — and that’s precisely how many want it to stay.
As travelers continue to swarm Europe every summer—crowding the Michelin-starred restaurants of Paris and Copenhagen, stuffing into Tuscan villas for gnocchi-making classes and partying on the beaches of Saint-Tropez, Capri and Ibiza — many locals have found secret hideaways that allow them to avoid the crowds at all costs.
Unlike Americans (and, increasingly, Asians and South Americans), many Europeans don’t view sightseeing, culture and history as essential components of a summer holiday, since they often have those experiences year-round in their hometowns and cities. “Europeans are usually more concerned with quality hotel accommodations, good food and one-of-a-kind shopping,” says Chrismar Kuhn, a Basel-based luxury travel agent and fan of Sylt.
This year Olympics-fleeing Brits are renting out their homes in record numbers, heading for greener, less-crowded pastures in the bucolic cider country of Somerset and to hidden villages like Cheltenham and Stow-on-the-Wold in the Cotswolds. As hordes of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy fans descend on Stockholm, Swedes escape to the western “crime-fiction coast,” where they hole up in remote towns like Fiskebäckskil, the former summer destination of Ingrid Bergman.
And those in the Mediterranean have been dodging tourists for centuries. Many chic Romans travel to the breezy hush-hush island of Panarea, the smallest and poshest of the Aeolian Islands, off the coast of Sicily; the French — who try harder than anyone to avoid tourists — hike in the Drôme, sail in Vannes or go “glamping” in Loire-Atlantique.
Follow their lead and pay a visit to one of these 10 lesser-known European destinations this summer.
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