Ten of the best food and drink secrets in Europe

With its momentous history, cutting-edge culture, and breathtaking landscapes, Europe comprises an extraordinary wealth of sights, sounds, peoples and parties. But it’s the endlessly varied cuisine that makes us reach for our passports again and again. Whether you’ve been to Europe once or 100 times, this European menu of lesser nibbled delights has plenty of places for you to sip and feast your days away. And more hidden gems await in our Secret Europe PDF.

Norcia, nestled in the Italian countryside, is famed for its cured meats, wild boar sausage and other carnivorous delights. Image by Thomas - Photography / CC BY 2.0

Norcia, nestled in the Italian countryside, is famed for its cured meats, wild boar sausage and other carnivorous delights. Image by Thomas - Photography / CC BY 2.0

Eat and drive in unexplored countryside in the Sybillini Mountains, Italy

This drive, which is also manageable by bike or horse, epitomises the best of Italy’s secret countryside, combining great, local food and jaw-dropping scenery. Straddling Umbria and the lesser-known Le Marche region, the 28km trip between the village of Norcia on the Strada Provinziale 477 (or ‘SP477’) winds its way through the tranquil Sibillini Mountains, to the tiny town of Castelluccio. In the spring and summer, the spectacular approach to the valley takes your breath away. The bright blue sky frames fields bursting with colour from thousands of bright red poppies and even brighter yellow rapeseed flowers, dotted with grazing sheep and horses. In the distance is the hilltop town of Castelluccio, famous for its world-class lentils and worth exploring for the traditional, rural feel of its cobbled walkways and rustic trattorias. Save your appetite for the drive back to Norcia, the original home of the norcinerie, or pork butchers, whose streets are littered with shops peddling and restaurants serving the town’s pork and truffle products and local specialty of wild-boar sausage.

For more about this area, check out Lonely Planet's Italy travel guide.

Follow the locals’ lead in Bergen, Norway

Potetkjelleren (‘Potato Cellar’) is one of Bergen’s finest restaurants, the sort of place that food critics rave about but attracts more locals than tourists. The dining area has a classy wine-cellar ambience, the service is faultless, and the menu (which changes monthly) is based around the freshest ingredients, Norwegian traditions and often subtly surprising flavour combinations. The wine list is also impeccable. Save this one for a special occasion and prepare to leave with a whole new respect for Norwegian cuisine.

Start planning your trip with Lonely Planet Scandinavia travel guide.

The sunkissed vineyards of Switzerland's Lavaux region, in the day's last light. Yves Marcoux / Design Pics / Perspectives / Getty Images

The sun-kissed vineyards of Switzerland's Lavaux region, in the day's last light. Image by Yves Marcoux / Design Pics / Perspectives / Getty Images

A quietly coveted wine region in Lavaux, Switzerland

With pristine waters, cute local beaches and an impressive network of walking trails, the picturesque wine-growing region of Lavaux is one of Europe’s best-kept secrets. Situated in French-speaking western Switzerland on the northern shores of Lake Geneva, Lavaux has all the beauty of the Italian lakes but a low-key sense of chic. Its microclimate gives it an almost Mediterranean feel in the summer months, when locals don swimmers, shades and sandals to revel in the best backyard in central Europe. To sample the region’s best wines, don’t miss the villages' many caveaux (wine cellars). The Caveau des vignerons de Lutry, in the lakefront town of Lutry, is popular, and Rivaz’s Lavaux Vinorama offers the region’s largest selection of local wines for tasting and sale.

Start planning your trip with Lonely Planet's Switzerland travel guide.

Savour a unique macaron in Amiens, France

With a cathedral twice the size of Paris’ Notre Dame, it’s sacrilege that this town is seldom visited. Amiens’ cathedral is a marvel of engineering, with intricate stonework that will leave you goggle-eyed, as well as some of the goriest carvings around (the severed head of John the Baptist is a recurring theme). And the local delicacy, the macaron d’Amiens, will please even the sweetest of teeth: try one at Jean Trogneux (trogneux.fr), where five generations of artisan baking have left the simple recipe of honey, almonds, sugar and egg whites unchanged. These succulent cakes are best served with an impossibly thick chocolat chaud.

Start planning your trip with Lonely Planet's France travel guide.

Morinj in Montenegro: heaven for fish lovers. Image by Witold Skrypczak / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images

Morinj in Montenegro: heaven for fish lovers. Image by Witold Skrypczak / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images

Dine in style in Morinj, Montenegro

A crystalline stream flows around and under Konoba Ćatovića Mlini, a rustic former mill that masquerades as a humble konoba (a simple, family- run establishment) but in reality is one of Montenegro’s best restaurants. Watch the geese idle by as you sample the magical bread and olive oil, which appears unbidden at the table. Fish is the focus but traditional specialities from the heartland village of Njeguši are also offered.

Start planning your trip with Lonely Planet's Montenegro travel guide.

Secret crustacean capital in Vila do Bispo, Portugal

Seafood lovers won’t want to miss a journey to the sun-drenched town of Vila do Bispo in southern Portugal. This tiny settlement is one of the finest spots on the planet to sample those tender, unusual crustaceans known as percebes. A percebe, with its juicy snap, mouth-watering flavour and faintly salty finish is like a kiss from the sea. You’ll either love or hate its extraordinary taste. Though percebes are known throughout Iberia, it’s here in Vila do Bispo that fishermen still harvest by hand the small barnacles that attach themselves to the wave-beaten cliffs outside of town. This is one of the few places in Iberia where this is still done – a sustainable practice that goes back many generations. Two Vila do Bispo restaurants are dedicated to percebes: Solar do Perceve (Rua Comandante Matoso 4) and O Palheiro (Rua Carlos Luís Correia Matos 3).

For more on this area, see Lonely Planet's Portugal travel guide.

Curious-looking but lip-smacking crustaceans, percebes, await their fate. Image by Trishhh / CC BY 2.0

Curious-looking but lip-smacking crustaceans, percebes, await their fate. Image by Trishhh / CC BY 2.0

The perfect picnic in Paris, France

Parisian foodie favourite, Claus, on rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, is part cafe, part gourmet grocery, and has everything you need for a picnic. It’s also about a five-minute walk from one of Paris’ loveliest lounging spots. Hidden beneath the arches on the western side of the courtyard gardens of Palais Royal, you’ll find benches overlooking box-hedged flowerbeds, crunchy gravel paths and Daniel Bruen’s distinctive zebra-striped columns at one end. Pick a spot and settle in for the perfect Parisian picnic. 

Start planning your trip with Lonely Planet's Paris city guide.

A spoon-defyingly thick hot chocolate in Prague's Cafe Louvre. Image by LWYang / CC BY 2.0

A spoon-defyingly thick hot chocolate in Prague's Cafe Louvre. Image by LWYang / CC BY 2.0

Sip in secret cafés, Prague, Czech Republic

Prague is well known for its grand cafés, but raise your sights: the city’s most refined and atmospheric downtown cafés are all on the first floor, wondrously ignored by the visiting masses. The period interiors are stunning, the coffee unfailingly perfect. Try the Grand Café Orient above the Cubist Museum, decorated in such detailed sympathy even the cakes come garnished with an oddly angled wafer. Or the fin de siècle Café Louvre (cafelouvre.cz), perched over an entirely forgettable modern rival, which was a favourite with Kafka and Einstein, and serves a fabled hot chocolate you can stand a spoon up in.

Start planning your trip with Lonely Planet's Prague & the Czech Republic travel guide.

A cascade of sun-ripened grapes in Georgia, one of Europe's lesser known producers of excellent wine. Image by jb / CC BY 2.0

A cascade of sun-ripened grapes in Georgia, one of Europe's lesser known producers of excellent wine. Image by jb / CC BY 2.0

Tap into a hidden world of wine, Kakheti province, Georgia

In Georgia, where wine has been made for 8000 years, the grape has sacred significance, and the heart of wine-making here lies in the eastern province of Kakheti. Here, the Alazani River waters a fertile valley between two dramatic ranges of the Caucasus. At the northern end, a distinctive turret-shaped 50m spire belongs to the 11th-century Alaverdi Cathedral, part of a monastery complex where wine has been made for 1500 years. After a hiatus during Communist rule, wine is once more being produced at Alaverdi. Come sip.

Start planning your trip with Lonely Planet's Georgia, Armenia & Azerbaijan travel guide.

Sip, stare and shop in secret in Berlin, Germany

Some of Berlin’s finest bars, restaurants, shops and venues are hidden from view behind unmarked doors, in nondescript buildings and in other clandestine spaces. For one, beyond an anonymous steel door lies Tausend, a cosmopolitan drinking den tucked into a railway bridge. At Sammlung Boros, a Nazi-era bunker has been turned into a shining beacon of art. Entry is by guided tour only; book online as early as possible. And you’d be forgiven for walking right past the empty white cube with only a staircase spiralling down to Apartment, one of Berlin’s best-edited fashion emporiums.

Start planning your trip with Lonely Planet's Berlin city guide.

The grey exterior of the Sammlung Boros hides a decadent world of modern art and cocktail sipping. Image by Lian Chang / CC BY 2.0

The grey exterior of the Sammlung Boros hides a decadent world of modern art and cocktail sipping. Image by Lian Chang / CC BY 2.0