06/28/2012 07:07 am ET Updated Aug 28, 2012

Europe's Secret Hot Spots (PHOTOS)

Americans can't get enough of Paris, as becomes painfully clear each summer, when it swarms with tourists. Relief waits a train ride away in Île de Noirmoutier: You'll be greeted by the scent of mimosa and the sight of bobbing yachts and families picnicking on the beach.

Thankfully, Europe is still full of under-the-radar gems like this French retreat. And we can't resist spreading the word about the latest emerging hot spots, from Eastern Europe's hippest art scene to a sleepy district of lakes and castles.

The continent is so varied that even with 17 countries sharing the euro currency, it can barely keep from splintering back into thousands of microcultures. While this complicates the financial markets, it has an upside for travelers: continued opportunities for discovery. You'll never walk into a beach bar in Bergen, Holland, and one on the Aegean Islands and have the same experience.

It takes extra effort, sure, to reach these European spots, but the reward comes with that sense of being let in on a fantastic secret--and the opportunity to experience a place rooted in local tradition before it's really discovered and altered.

And if you just can't forget Paris, consider you'll probably get to transit through one such glittering European hub along the way.

--Heidi Mitchell

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Europe's Secret Hot Spots (PHOTOS)