While it doesn’t have the panache or cache of other headline grabbing location on the continent, Eastern Europe offers off the beaten path adventure seekers and unique luxury travel aficionados more than you would expect. In fact, these lands that separate the Adriatic from the Black Sea hide a wealth of sumptuous spots, gateways to some of Europe’s most beautiful and unexplored places.
Behind each door in this region hides a Land of Narnia packed with memories and treasures from another time. Winding paved streets, rustic traditions, history and architecture have inspired many great artists and left many unique opportunities for those who want to design their own private haven.
From the stunning shores of Dalmatia to the crystalline waters of Montenegro and landlocked elite spas in Hungary, here are Tranio’s top five secret luxury locations in Eastern Europe.
1. Hungary – Lake Balaton
- Rent: $300 per night
- Buy: $400,000
According to legend, the Huns, a nomadic tribe from Central Asia, raided westwards until they got to Hungary. Upon reaching this oasis of rolling green hills, volcanic earth and rich healing waters, the similarity with their homeland was such that they believed the Gods had delivered them home. Closed for years behind an Iron Curtain, Hungary has maintained an aura of mystery behind the dancing steam spirals of its renowned spas.
Lake Balaton, in Hungary’s west, is a rich patchwork of history dating back to Roman times. The Western tip is dominated by a stunning 18th century baroque palace in the town of Keszthely, where aristocrats sipped wines among the garden statues after a relaxing day at Hévíz, Europe’s largest natural thermal springs. Hévíz is a magnificent example of the underground energy that bubbles under 80% of Hungary’s territory. The lake simmers at a constant 38.5ºC creating a unique Mediterranean microclimate.
A luxury villa with a swimming pool or private beach accommodating up to 10 people costs $300 per night. Property in Hungary is redundantly cheap to buy at $400,000 but offers a wide range of opportunities for renovation and design.
2. Greece – Kastellorizo
- Rent: $112 – $200 per night
- Buy: $500,000 – $1.0 million
This remote island of the Greek archipelago is popular with many artists and poets including rock icons Pink Floyd. It’s so far off course that it gets its own little box on the map of Greece. Life on the island is quasi-idyllic, indulging restless city dwellers looking to escape the rat race and plunge into a moment unadultered tranquility and homemade feta.
The unfettered wilderness that surrounds Kastellorizo is tempered by the quaint port at the heart of the town. Sunrise breakfasts by waterfront terraces come drizzled with honey and topped with nuts from the local orchard. Evenings are no less spectacular as the sun sets over grills draped with octopus, freshly caught that day. On a high ridge above the bay stands an ancient windmill and castle, keeping watch over the Aegean sea.
A room in a boutique hotel can cost up to $200 per night for ground floor, waterfront views. Property on the island is cheap and starts at approximately $400,000 for a large sea-front property in need of renovation.
3. Slovenia – Kobarid
- Rent: $150 – $200 per night
- Buy: $950,000
Kobarid is a settlement cradled by the Julian Alps in Slovenia, just across the border with Italy. The scenery here dates back to the Pleistocene period, nearly 2 million years ago when the Ice Age and melting glaciers shaped Kobarid into a place of legends. Even now, this area would not be out of place in a King Arthur tale. Crisp, cold alpine streams have created magnificent waterfalls that can only be accessed on foot through the thick canopy of vegetation.
The town is also home to a Michelin star restaurant and another eatery that specialises in the local “slow food” trend. Located on the Šoca River, it is a famous destination for fly-fishing and white water sports like canoeing and rafting. There are also some adrenaline-fuelled options like paragliding. Its central border location means that Venice and the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana, are just a day trip away.
A luxury lodge in a central location accommodating 6–8 people costs up $900 per week. A large luxury Alpine villa with a swimming pool costs about $950,000.
4. Croatia – Orebić
- Rent: $200 – $1,800 per night
- Buy: $1.0 million +
Were you to arrive to Orebić by sea, you would be greeted by a dazzling display of colourful sails – for Orebić is Croatia’s town of “sea captains”. Orebić is located on the Pelješac peninsula north of Dubrovnik, within easy reach of the Makarska Riviera and Dalmatian archipelago islands of Mljet and Korčula. Orebić and the surrounding towns are dotted with beautiful examples of traditional architecture, some dating back to the 14th century.
There are many activities for landlubbers and sea captains alike, if you can escape the hypnotic gaze of the azure Adriatic. The area has some famous local vineyards like Korta Katarina, among the best of Croatia’s 300 wine regions. There are plenty of day tours to neighbouring island, Korčula, known as the birthplace of Marco Polo, and its medieval towns.
A luxury rental accommodating up to 10 people with a private pool, sea views, lush gardens, chef and security services can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $2,500 – hotel rooms rent for $200 in high season. Fully equipped luxury seafront property with a pool sells for $1–2.5M.
5. Montenegro – Sveti Stefan
- Rent: $2,700 – $4,700 per night
- Buy: $2.8 million +
Sveti Stefan is a habitable version of Mont St Michel in France, just with better views, better weather and better neighbours. It was founded back in the 15th century as a magnificent sandstone fortress to protect Montenegro’s Kotor coast from Turkish attacks. This fairy tale island just off the coast is now an exclusive resort with red-tiled roofs and pink sand beaches managed by the award-winning Aman Group.
Swimming, snorkelling and yachting are top activities along the short Montenegrin coast and Sveti Stefan is just 6 km away from Montenegro’s Budva Riviera. Local restaurants are a steal for culinary aficionados, matching Italian-inspired local dishes of cheese, seafood, homemade breads and cured meats with great prices and excellent vintage wine.
A deluxe suite on Sveti Stefan can cost up $4,700 per night with a private pool. A luxury villa on the coast just opposite with views over the island and a pool costs upwards of $2.8 million.