10 reasons why central and Eastern Europe is having a moment

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1. The revamped Hotel Excelsior in Dubrovnik, Croatia
Dubrovnik’s grand dame—the c. 1913 waterfront Hotel Excelsior—reopened in June 2017 following a seven-month renovation, in which interiors were modernised with reclaimed woods and understated earth-tone furnishings while the exterior was impeccably restored to its century old original form. (Over the years, the hotel has hosted the likes of Queen Elizabeth II, Elizabeth Taylor, and Princess Caroline of Monaco.) Don’t miss a daytime cocktail at Abakus Piano Bar and Terrace, which overlooks the Adriatic Sea and Dubrovnik’s majestic old city walls (easily recognisable from Game of Thrones).

2. Cruising the Lower Danube
The upper reaches of the Danube River, which begins in Germany and flows through 10 countries before ultimately spilling into the Black Sea, has long been one of the most popular river cruise routes in the world. Now, thanks to high demand from curious cruise-goers and ease in access to a host of Eastern European countries, the Lower Danube is opening up to tourism. To experience as much of the region as possible, consider a seven-day sailing on the Scenic Black Sea Explorer, which cruises between Bucharest, Romania, and Budapest, Hungary—stopping at off-the-beaten path port cities in Bulgaria, Serbia, and eastern Croatia along the way.

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3. The ice cream florets
Trending now in Budapest: flower art crafted from gelato that’s as tasty as it looks (and arguably the most photo-worthy ice cream you’ll see). At Gelarto Rosa, ice cream is scooped and sculpted into tiny rose petals, creating a single rose comprising up to three flavours of the house-made good stuff.

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4. The party scene in Belgrade, Serbia, one of Europe’s nightlife capitals
Belgrade’s Studio-54 moment is happening in real time, with a nightlife scene that easily rivals Berlin and Ibiza. Hit up some of the 200-plus floating barges known assplavovi (or splav, for short) anchored along the Danube and Sava rivers—the party rages all night long.

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5. The markets of Skopje, Macedonia
For those who are more than familiar with the bazaars of Istanbul and Marrakech, head to the colourful markets and Old Bazaar of Skopje, which reflect the myriad of Christian and Muslim cultures that call this city home. You’ll find vast blocks of cheese selling for pennies, jars of ajvar (a savory red pepper and eggplant spread) lining shop walls, and old-fashioned barbershops giving $1 hot shaves. Food vendors here are more likely to give you a free sample than hassle you to make a buck, so get here before everyone else does.

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6. Sveti Stefan, Montenegro
A natural crossroads of mountain and sea, Montenegro’s seaboard combines medieval fortresses and Roman ruins with picturesque villages, pink-sand beaches, and sparkling blue water. Make a beeline for the most exquisite swathe of Montenegrin coastline, Sveti Stefan, and live like a modern-day royal at the former royal residence of Queen Marija Karadordevic, Villa Milocer at Aman Sveti Stefan resort. (Alternatively, head past the water’s edge and cross the bridge to stay on the resort’s namesake island, a stunning 50 rooms built in the existing houses of a 15th-century fishing village.) In either case, eat like a king or queen in the bona fide, lost-in-time fishing village, Pržno, due south of the greater Aman estate. Here, half-dozen waterfront restaurants serve daily catch for dinner—typically in the form of massive calamari rings, langoustines, mussels, and tuna. (You can even watch the fishing boats reeling in these fruits of the sea.) Book ahead at our favorite, no-frills seafood house, Restaurant Konoba Langust.

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7. Romania’s Corvin Castle
Transylvania gets its fair share of tourists in search of ‘Dracula’s Castle’, but the real gem of this region is lesser known—and infrequently visited—Castelul Corvinilor or Corvin Castle in Hunedoara. Foreboding and mystical, this c. 1446 Gothic fortress was built by regent-governor of the time John Hunyadi, and today stands at the surrealistic edge of fantasy and nightmare (feeding into all our medieval day dreams). Ogle at the exterior of double-thick impenetrable walls, a colossal drawbridge, and countless rectangular and circular towers used to keep watch and house prisoners. Inside, view the ceremonial marble-lined Diet Hall, a massive dungeon and torture chamber, and the remains of the ‘bear pit’, where human remains were fed to the castle’s resident bears.

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8. Waterfalls in Bosnia-Herzegovina
The waterfall-stacked Skradinski buk section of Croatia’s Krka National Park is so popular that the country is limiting how many people can visit. Thankfully, neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina has plenty of gorgeous waterfalls, too, and often you’ll have these magnificent waterworks all to yourself. Visit the wide expanse of falls and emerald pools of Kravica waterfalls in the south, or venture to Una National Park in the country’s northwest reaches to witness the power and beauty of the country’s largest waterfalls, Štrbački buk.

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9. The rakia revolution in Belgrade
Much like [the] craft beer and artisanal gin and rum movements in the US, fruit brandy is getting an upgrade throughout Serbia. Rakia, the country’s national drink (and known all across Eastern Europe under different guises), is served in its best and purest form—double distilled and aged in an oak cask—at Rakia Bar in central Belgrade.

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10. Edgy art in Shkodër, Albania
Admittedly, Albania has a tumultuous and violent past. But instead of ignoring this dark chapter in history, the country’s second-largest city has developed inspiring, larger-than-life art installations from the very war artillery that once ravaged the country. Namely, thousands upon thousands of bona fide bombshells form the foundation of eye-catching pavilions and artsy lamp posts throughout the city centre.

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This story was first published by CNTraveler.com

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