The road less travelled is often the one we’re curious to walk, especially if you’re a traveller longing to explore and experience hidden gems retaining their age-old beauty. On the borders of Europe and Asia, are stunning countries bursting with natural beauty and unique cultures of their own. Once under the Soviet rule, these countries now offer a mix of their individualistic as well as Soviet-inspired culture.
From the Baltic countries to the Stans, here are 6 countries that will feed your travel curiosityL
The humble country of Latvia is a rare mix of the old and new. The cosmopolitan capital of the country, Riga, is also a World Heritage site, decorated with cobblestone pathways, gothic churches and an array of pubs and fine dining options. The city is also the home to architectural beauties like Alberta Iela, Blackheads house, and Art Museum Riga Bourse. While Riga offers a robust environment, it is the rural parts of the country that will lead you to surreal beauty. Latvia is laden with culture, with fragments of its history found throughout the land. The 32 km long Jurmala covers 14 townships and has retained its pristine waters even through the heights of communism. During the Soviet regime, Cape Kolka, another mesmerizing location in the country was not open to civilians, as a result of which, it is now one of the most picturesque experiences Latvia has to offer.
Historically rich Estonia is wrapped in culture and distinct natural essence. While the country endured hardship during its Soviet rule, it is now one of the fastest-growing countries in northern Europe. The capital, Tallinn is an enchanting town with magnificent cathedrals and museums like the Alexander Nevsky cathedral, Estonian National and history museums among many others. Soaking up the culture in Estonia also means partaking in ‘Bog Walking’ and night canoeing, in Soomaa National Park. Continue your peaceful journey by visiting the Pahni Megaphones in Varstu Parish. The giant wooden megaphones resonating the sounds of the surrounding flora and fauna in are even big enough to sit and lay inside. Conclude your mystifying trip by visiting the Kaali Meteorite Crater Field and Rummu Underwater Prison.
The land of witches and fairy tales, charming Lithuania is surely bound to cast its magic on those who explore the country. The capital, Vilnius is a quaint town famous for its beer and hearty ‘snacks’ served along with it. Dwelling deeper into the country, visit the hill of crosses and the hill of witches. Travel back in time by visiting the Trakai Castle, an impressive Gothic castle estimated to have been around since the 1400s. For a relatively modernistic approach to Lithuania, visit the Europos Park, geographically located in the middle of Europe which was founded in 1991. The park contains modern art pieces of various shapes and sizes, spread across 55 hectares.
The country of Belarus has retained its natural beauty with 40% of its land remaining forested. Become a part of Belarus’ liberation from the Nazis by visiting the grand structure known as Mound of Glory in Smaliavicki Rajon, Khatyn Memorial and the Brest Hero-Fortress in Brest. Gain insight on eccentric subjects by visiting the Cat Museum in Minsk, Museum of Malformations of the Human Body in Hrodna and the Museum of Confiscated Art in Brest. Bask in the majestic beauty of the Mir Castle and Nyasvizh Castle to find yourself lost in a fairy tale-like surrounding.
The understated country of Uzbekistan has historically been a major part of the Silk Road. The country has recently been opening its door for travellers from all over the globe to witness its architectural beauty and culture. Ulugh Beg Observatory in Samarkand and Kalyan Minaret in Bukhara provide stunning views from their observation points. Moynaq on Muynak district, on the other hand, used to be a buzzing fishing port but now is 90 miles away from the shore and offers a surreal view of the district, especially during the night. The country’s hospitality and friendly approach towards travellers makes exploring Uzbekistan a delight.
Kazakhstan may be the most well known among the other ‘stans’ because of its oil reserves and booming economy, however for a traveller, the country offers the perfect blend between Europe and Asia. Both the largest city in Kazakhstan, Almaty, and the capital Nur-Sultan have futuristic architecture embracing the 21st century. But for travellers looking to indulge in a more traditional and natural adventure, the country has more to offer still. The valleys of Tian Shaan are famous for its wildlife and hiking. The countryside offers a variety of charming guesthouses and traveling over the western deserts lead to unique underground mosques. The Kaindy Lake in Saty is a once in a lifetime experience where you can witness the eye-catching turquoise lake with submerged trees peeking over the water body.
In the past, the Baltic countries and the ‘stans’ were subject to Soviet oppression, however, today these countries emerge as delightful travel destinations by embracing their past and nurturing their future. Traveling about these countries is gradually gaining momentum as travellers have begun to realize how truly special it is to journey through relatively untouched countries that have so much to offer.
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