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We all know that Europe has a great many things to offer curious travellers. Characteristic capital cities, ruins from antiquity, castles aplenty, avant-garde cuisine, etc. Fewer of us however know that there are some very un-European surprises hidden across the continent that are well worth considering when planning a trip in Europe.

1. Wild monkeys roaming the streets!

Yup, that’s right, wild monkeys – or macaques to be precise – roam the streets on the Rock of Gibraltar. These mischievous primates delight all who visit Gibraltar with their antics, which include stealing bags in search of snacks – so beware! The British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, nestled on the southern-most tip of Spain, is fascinating for many other reasons beyond its famed macaques, and well worth a visit. Its British heritage is on display on every corner, think bright red telephone boxes, ‘bobby’ police officers, and marching bands. All of which glistens that little bit more under the Mediterranean sun. On top of all this, from the Rock you find awe-inspiring views of Africa across the Straits of Gibraltar – which you can cross in 60mins on ferry!


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The floating 5* Sunborn Hotel is a particular treat

2. A desert…

Really, an actual desert! Found in Spain’s south east (not too far from Gibraltar actually), el Desierto de Tabernas (the Tabernas desert), is a dry, cacti-filled landscape, not unlike those of the American West. So much so in fact, that many of the most renown westerns of the 60s and 70s were shot on this inland part of Almería. This includes Clint Eastwood’s ‘The Dollar Trilogy’ one part of which is ‘the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’, as well as non-westerns like ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and ‘Indiana Jones the Last Crusade’. Some of the film sets have been kept as attractions and are definitely worth considering when planning your next trip in Europe.


Almería of course is best known for its Mediterranean coast, so why not stay at Hotel Portomando and take a day trip to the Tabernas desert?


3. Street signs in Chinese

How’s your mandarin? Well, if you’re visiting London’s Chinatown, you’ll encounter street signs written in mandarin! But fear not, the English original will also be on there. Apart from street signs, Chinatown is a complete authentic immersion of everything Chinese. Not only are the residents of this London quarter predominantly ethnic Chinese, but all restaurants, bakeries, supermarkets, and shops, sell Chinese products and services. Make sure to take a look at the intricate woodwork of the Qing Dynasty styled ‘Fourth Gate’ on Wardour Street.

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4. Tibetan Buddhist Monastery

Some way away from the hills of the Himalayas, in Dumfries, Scotland, sits a quintessentially Tibetan Buddhist monastery. The Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery is a serene idyll that does an impressive job in bringing Tibet to Europe. So, if you’re travelling around the UK and need to top up your Zen, the Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery will work wonders. Although the Scottish borders are not the Himalayas, they are a beautiful landscape in their own right and a less-visited part of Scotland that is well worth exploring.

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Speaking of peace, why not check out our “finding peace in Rome: a one day travel guide“.


5. Cowboys! Yeeha!

The Csikósok of the Great Hungarian Plain are Europe’s very own Cowboys. These individuals, who continue their horse-mounted practices to this day, are early Eastern European precursors to the well-known American Cowboys. Although their traditional dress – blue linen shirt and trousers topped with a feathered hat – produce quite a different sight from the cotton and leather-clad Americans.

Have a look at this fantastic hotel in the town of Hajdúszoboszló in Hungary’s east, which is very close to UNESCO listed Hortobágyi National Park (where cattle herds and the Csikosok roam). What’s more, in Hajdúszoboszló you can find some thermal natural baths, which purportedly hold medicinal properties.


6. The curry mile

No, the curry mile is not in India or Pakistan, but in Manchester (UK). The city’s Wilmslow Road has earned the name ‘the curry mile’, as a result of the inordinate number of curry houses located on this single street. A stroll down the curry mile will transport your taste buds to every corner of the subcontinent, while leaving the rest of your body firmly in Europe. Apart from the curry, Manchester is a well-connected hub, ideal for discovering Northern England – not to mention seeing good football!


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7. Moose (elk)

No, North Americans do not have a monopoly over the humble moose. While there are indeed a good many moose across the North American wilderness, Europe is also host to these creatures, albeit under the name ‘elk’. The Nordic countries of Norway, Sweden and Finland, with some of Europe’s most beautiful landscapes, are the best place to catch a glimpse of these furry mammals. Gothenburg ‘s (Sweden) Slottskogen park is the most convenient place to see elk, indeed, here you’re guaranteed a close look. Besides elk, the Nordics have a lot to offer visitors, especially those keen on Viking history.


8. A souk

In Sicily’s cities of Palermo and Catania you can enter the chaotic world of open-air bartering typical of Arabic souks. These open-air markets entrance visitors with exotic colour, sounds and tastes. Dating back to Sicily’s period under Saracen rule, the markets have remained close to their Arabic tradition and are souks in all but name. So, if you’re in the mood for some tough negotiation, and fresh produce, make sure to head to either the Ballarò market in Palermo, or the Piazza Carlo Alberto market in Catania. From both these cities you’ll have good access to the many splendours this volcanic island in the heart of the Mediterranean has to offer.



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So if you’re planning a trip outside Europe for the purpose of seeing some desert, monkeys, cowboys, or Tibetan monks, you might wish to reconsider. Equally, if you’re thinking of a trip somewhere in Europe close to the locations listed above, you can now plan a visit to these rather un-European attractions.


Words: Jeremy Sacramento