Europe’s most solitary travel destinations

Nick Nomi

Senior Contributor

From the wild beaches of Denmark’s Wadden Sea and the storied village of Eyam in England to the stunning Albanian Alps and one of Europe’s remotest villages — these are the kinds of places where one goes to reconnect with nature. And to find a little tranquillity far away from those ever-growing crowds.

The Wadden Sea & The Black Sun

Just a smidge over the German border close to a little town called Tønder an event like no other in Denmark takes place: the Black Sun or Sort Sol — the murmuration of millions of Starlings. This incredible natural event takes place across Europe from England to Norway, but it’s most impressive here on the elusive beaches of the Wadden Sea. For several weeks in both Spring and Autumn, the mass rustle of millions of starling wings blacks out the sun each evening, twisting and turning as though performing some vast Hitchcockian ballet. They dance as a mass of coloured plumage sweeping across the sky, each bird performing frantic swooping combinations — Allégro — that when viewed as this great mass appears as a graceful and seductive slow dance — Adagio — performed by one veteran dancer to the winsome sounds of the sea below. Until finally they land for the evening and viewers are left once again with the last orange-tinted rays of a setting sun.

And while Tønder is often suggested as the best base from which to witness the Black Sun, nearby Højer, a fabulously pretty village of a few thatched-cottage filled lanes and a windmill offers a slightly more reclusive option, and a charming, though at times desolate atmosphere from which to trace the black sun from the village and along the empty country roads that lead to the stunning wetlands of the Wadden Sea. 

Lake Komani, Albania

Lookout from a boat floating atop the still waters of Lake Komani and you’ll see nothing but lush mountains draped in gradients of green and jagged limestone. The land looks fresh and unspoiled, there are no electricity cables, hardly any visible roads and few signs of life — save for the occasional farmstead and lonesome looking villa dotted along the shoreline. Though there are a couple of ferries traversing the lake top — carrying cars and vans — originally intended as transport for locals travelling between Koman and Fierze — but gradually becoming something of a tourist draw in recent years.

Most travellers take this route to either head across the border to Kosovo, or to explore the Albanian Alps via its wealth of rustic walking trails. And while accommodation in the area isn’t the best, there are numerous guesthouses and small hotels to explore — some offering limited activities such as kayaking and private boat tours.

Eyam — The Plague Village, England

This tiny village nestled amongst the rustic hills of Derbyshire in the north of England owes its renown to a bundle of cloth that was ordered from London and delivered to a local tailor by the name of George Vicars. The cloth, it seems carried fleas infected by the plague — and thus condemned much of this beautiful rural village to death. The villagers decided to impose a quarantine on themselves which successfully stopped the spread of the plague outside of the village — incredibly. But even now, when walking amongst the stoney cottages so steeped in history and memory, and strolling deep into the forested countryside and view-adorned moor, Eyam and its surrounds retain a surprising and often-unnerving sense of isolation.

Today, evidence of Eyam’s, dark, plague-ridden history is seen throughout the village: a boundary stone dotted with holes between Eyam and Middleton that was used to leave supplies sits unperturbed and somewhat lacks in explanation, a well that was used to exchange goods for coins that were disinfected with vinegar still stands but is cordoned off by an iron railing, and in the centre of the village there is a row of so-called “plague cottages” with signs commemorating the names of the first victims. But perhaps most haunting is a small graveyard just outside of the village known as the Riley Graves (named after a nearby farm) set on a hill overlooking the bucolic Peak District. It is ringed by a small round wall where one of Eyam’s few survivors Elizabeth Hancock buried her entire family. And each stone stands today, still visibly inscribed with the year 1666 and the names of those interred.

Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland

While Greenland isn’t geographically part of Europe, it’s generally considered to be of Europe through its ties to Denmark and Norway. And perched at its northeastern tip is the splendidly natural, eerily solitary Ittoqqortoormiit — Greenland’s most isolated town — where vast walls of sea ice prevents access via the sea for 9 months each year. One of its most striking features are its houses that are painted in various colours but most commonly blue, orange and red — the colours subsidised by the government. It isn’t a place for the timid but anyone who braves its wild climes are promised an occasional free hotel, the awe-inspiring 3,694 meters tall Gunnbjørn’s Mountain, the world’s longest fjord, and the world’s largest national park — right on the doorstep of the town. And don’t forget those sweeping arctic vistas, sometimes dotted by ice trawlers and occasionally crowned by the swirling neon palette of the northern lights.

There are no roads and no trains to Ittoqqortoormiit, which means travelling there can be tricky but incredibly rewarding if one is a believer in finding the adventure in the journey. Although in this care there’s plenty of adventure to be had in the destination as well. The best way to arrive is to book a helicopter transfer from Nerlerit Inaat airport, but there are numerous cruise ships occasionally calling on the town — including the National Geographic Endurance that travels between Norway to Rejkjavík.

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