As a travel blogger constantly on the lookout for authentic experiences, I often wonder if the romance of travelling to Europe is somewhat fading away. The internet is saturated with travel recommendations, and even places that promise to be offbeat have succumbed to the masses. It’s no wonder that the residents of places like Venice, Mallorca and Barcelona are protesting against the mass influx of tourists.
I was conflicted about extending my stay in Europe on a few trips in the past, but my recent travels in Slovenia, Germany, Austria and Bosnia and Herzegovina, made me realize that Europe – as anywhere else in the world – is a continent with many layers and many untold stories. Stories that even seasoned travellers often overlook.
If you ask me, the key to unravelling some of its layers is spending time getting to know the locals, many of who opened up their homes (and hearts) to me: the Slovenian family who invited me to join their traditional Sunday lunch with herbs and veggies sourced from their organic garden; the architect couple who asked me to join them on a roadtrip to their favorite spots along Istrian Croatia and showed me the forests where they collect wild asparagus and mushrooms; the Bosnian friend who broke down at the memory of his brother’s death in the war and lamented about the struggles of unemployment in Bosnia… then insisted on paying for my dinner.
Staying with local hosts in Airbnbs across the European countryside has made me shed some of my pre-conceived notions of Europe – and afforded me a chance to experience the traditional way of life, discover interesting neighbourhood hangouts, sample delicious local, organic food, and cycle amid pristine natural beauty.
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Based on the last four years of travelling, these are my favorite experiential Airbnbs in Italy, Germany, Austria, Georgia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Slovenia and Croatia – many of them under 100 Euros a night:
Burmesterhaus: Berchtesgaden, Germany
Originally built in the 1860s with a view of the stunning Bavarian Alps, Burmesterhaus has been aesthetically restored by a Finnish couple who now call these mountains home. I quickly fell in love with the modern penthouse on the top floor with a view of the snow-hooded Mount Watzmann, and enjoyed hiking through Berchtesgaden National Park, home to surreal alpine lakes and tiny, picturesque villages. But what I loved more was chatting with my host Marketta, on cold winter evenings, in the charming, cozy library, over a cup of tea, hearing stories of life (and how it’s changed) in this unique part of Germany.
US$ 72 (INR ) per night ; airbnb.com/rooms/3535971
Wine Cellar Fabrka: Ljubljana, Slovenia
One of the coolest beds I’ve slept in this year – in a wine barrel in the basement of a 300-year-old building in Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia! This creative apartment, designed to look like a wine cellar, is furnished with old wine artefacts and even contains a draught wine tap at the side of the bed – you know, just incase you get thirsty at night 😉 Jokes aside, my hostess Jolanda gave me some rather unique tips to explore Ljubljana and rural Slovenia.
US$ 60 (INR ) per night ; airbnb.com/rooms/9807927
Apartment Pina: Motovun, Croatia
I spent my first four hours in Croatia chatting with Olja and Milan over wine like old friends do. My Bosnian hosts call the Istrian hill town of Motovun home – and their warmth convinced me to travel to Bosnia and Herzegovina the following week! As architects with a special interest in restoring old buildings, Olja and Milan have transformed their traditional stone house, which is atleast 400 years old, into the most charming apartment while retaining the antique elements of the house. I spent many afternoons sitting by the window above the cobblestoned streets, listening to Mozart on the record-player, and writing or reading or thinking.
Somewhat stranded without a car, they invited me for a road trip to nearby villages, showing me places that feature in their everyday life – the olive farmer from who they collect freshly harvested olive oil, the forests where they go to pick wild asparagus, and their favourite restaurant with a stunning view of the Istrian countryside, with olive groves stretching to the horizon!
US$ 68 (INR ) ; airbnb.com/rooms/3143421
Pile dwelling: Bosanska Krupa, Bosnia and Herzegovina
If I’m completely honest, I was a bit wary of venturing solo into the countryside of Bosnia and Herzegovina after some of the things I read online – like it’s advisable to not stray off the beaten path for there are still many undiscovered land mines from the war. Luckily for me, my sweet host family in the lesser known town of Bosanska Krupa – home to the unique Una River with river islands scattered all along its length – alleviated all my fears. I loved my traditional handmade wooden hut, built on stilts like an old fishing hut, complete with a traditional water mill to power it. Even more, I loved hiking along the emerald blue river, discovering hidden waterfalls and wildflower meadows with my Bosnian hostess; she spoke little English and I spoke little Bosnian, but sometimes you don’t need words to forge a friendship.
US$ 48 (INR ) per night ; airbnb.com/rooms/4759024
Alpegg Chalets: Tyrol, Austria
Some experiences are worth splurging on. Like the traditionally built wooden chalet overlooking the snow-covered Kitzbuehlen Alps on one side and Europe’s largest dry coral reef on the other, with a private sauna and organic garden. Over dinner, almdudler (a popular Austrian drink made of lemon and wild mountain herbs) and casual banter with my Tirolean hosts Corrine and Rolando, I felt less like a guest and more like an old friend. On my last evening, after jumping and swimming in Alpine waterfalls that were 8 degrees cold, I sat in the hot sauna with a view of the Alps and only one thought in my head: this is what real luxury is like – eco-friendly, traditional and experiential.
US$ 369 (INR ) per night ; airbnb.com/rooms/11295892
Terra e Pane: Umbria, Italy
When I found myself with a free week in Berlin and craving Italian food, I impulsively landed up at Terra e Pane, the home of an Italian artist deep on the countryside of Umbria. Living in the artistically built wood and glass home, surrounded by ancient olive trees, my mind attuned to the laidback Italian way of life. My host Enrico invited me to join his friends for a traditional Sunday brunch in a 500-year-old stone mansion, where we ate pizzas fired up in a traditional stone oven, and even took a group siesta under the olive trees. You can’t get more Italian than that, can you?
US$ 31 (INR ) ; airbnb.com/rooms/1069516
Chalet Bohinj: Bohinj Lake, Slovenia
Living in the last traditional wooden house, in the last village on Bohinjska (Bohinj Lake), surrounded by nothing but rugged mountains and dense forests, felt like living away from civilization itself, somewhere at the edge of the world. By day, we hiked in the alpine scenery and around the pristine Bohinj Lake (much quieter and less touristy than Lake Bled); by night, we lit a fire in the wooden stove to keep warm, played classical Slovenian music on the radio, slept in the cozy wooden attic and felt like we were living in a Murakami novel.
US$ 128 (INR ) per night ; airbnb.com/rooms/305772
Khatuna’s loft: Tbilisi, Georgia
Have you ever fallen in love with a place so much that your feet feel less itchy? That happened to me in Tbilisi, thanks to the loft we found on Airbnb. Aesthetic, homely and spacious, the windows opened up to the mountains and the ravine of the River Vere; upstairs, in the attic, was a collection of old books that I spent hours browsing through. I felt so at home in the loft that it was hard to tear myself away and head into the stunning countryside – the kind of place any digital nomad or long term traveller would love calling home for a while.
US$ 40 (INR ) per night ; airbnb.com/rooms/6771985
Hermann & Dorothea’s home: Munich, Germany
It is one thing to drink beer alongside other tourists in Munich, quite another to share beer and life stories under the July sunshine in the garden of your local Bavarian hosts. Hermann and Dorothea welcomed us to their home in Vaterstetten, a typical Munich residential neighborhood, like family, and invited my friend to join them for a delicious vegan brunch with their Syrian refugee friends, while I was away for work in the city. I loved staying in the wooden attic, done up with artefacts from their own travels (of which India features prominently), with a skylight window overlooking the green neighbourhood – and hearing stories of their work in theatre with refugees.
US$ 48 (INR ) per night ; airbnb.com/rooms/412440
Apartma Šavli: Soča Valley, Slovenia
On the last leg of my Slovenia trip, I found myself in Magozd, a little Alpine village home to only 70 people! In the backdrop of the magnificent Mt Krn, I joined my host family for their traditional Sunday lunch, crashed their weekly run to the community farm in Triglav National Park and hiked lesser-known trails along the popular Soča River. On his day off, my host Tonin invited me on a trip through the Soča Valley, and showed me the rivers that remind him of his childhood, old hanging wooden bridges that few outsiders have discovered, and the ever-changing mountains he grew up hiking in.
US$ 73 (INR ) per night ; airbnb.com/rooms/14659624
See all my favorite Airbnbs in one place, on my “Europe like a local” wishlist.
Which of these Airbnbs would you most like to stay in? Have you stayed at any cool, unique Airbnbs in Europe?
*I wrote this post in collaboration with Airbnb. As you know, I only recommend places I’ve truly loved.
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