Being an expat means you probably love to travel. An expat in Europe means you’ll want to travel everywhere in Europe. Starting with the country you’re living in. So, as often as you can, try to take weekend excursions and visit locations within a day’s drive of where you live. It’s a great way to find some lesser-known areas that may become your favorite places…ever. Some may be known to locals and aren’t as undiscovered as you’d hoped. The upside to that is they will have conveniences you might want, locals who speak your language or a choice of places to eat and visit. But you’re always guaranteed some history you didn’t know about, local food and drink, and often, beautiful landscape or quaint buildings and interesting landmarks.
I’ve already been to a couple of great places. First was Alcala de Henares, about 20 miles outside of Madrid. Best known for being the birthplace of the famous Spanish writer Cervantes, who wrote Don Quixote, you will find churches, convents and university buildings. It has been named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The historic quarter of the town has walls over 400 years old and the main square is the first place I’ve ever seen the giant nests of storks in person. Perched on the highest points of a cathedral or church, I am still amazed at the physics involved. Used to tourists like any World Heritage Site, there are many cafes and bars to eat and drink, inside or out. And yes, they have tourist-related shops and even a bench where you can have your picture taken sitting next to a life-size bronze of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza near a Cervantes museum.
The other one is Patones de Arriba. This Spanish Historical Heritage site was founded around 1555, but about half the buildings now are only the outside shell of homes made out of slate. There is hiking in the area, and a surprising number of restaurants, about a dozen or so. There’s even a place to stay overnight, though unless you’re hiking for a few days, there’s not enough activity for more than a day trip. Again, locals are aware of this town, and vendors will be there with local honey and handmade items to check out. There are signs throughout the tiny town in Spanish, telling about some of the area’s history. The stone buildings and small bridge make for lots of photo opps so you’ll have plenty of chances to practice your skill with a camera. It’s a great way to spend a beautiful spring day.
Your Takeaway: Try and carve out time, at least once a month, to research and check out areas within a day’s drive of where you live. Take advantage of your geography and use every chance you get to visit as many places as possible. You may find a hidden gem that will become your favorite. Act like a local and find those weekend retreats that expand your knowledge, enrich your travel experience and deepen your connection to the place you now call home.