Must-see under-the-radar destinations
As other former Soviet states fill with visitors, Belarus only looks on, despite being the straightest line between Moscow and the rest of Europe. The last dictatorship in Europe to fall, Belarus is the place to come if you want to reminisce about all things Soviet – the capital, Minsk, was all but destroyed in WWII and rebuilt to a Stalinist blueprint. For natural grandeur, there is the Belovezhskaya National Park, straddling the Polish border. This is Europe’s largest primeval forest, a Unesco World Heritage site and home to European bison, the continent’s largest mammal.
Think of great mountain countries – Nepal, Peru, Canada – and Kyrgyzstan will inevitably get overlooked. It shouldn’t. This former Soviet republic, closed to foreigners for much of the occupation, contains the highest and most dramatic mountains in Central Asia; its highest peak is almost 7500m above sea level. Trouble is, Kyrgyzstan has little else, being low on resources and tourist infrastructure. It’s a good thing, then, that most visitors head straight for the relatively developed Lake Issyk-Kul, the second-highest lake in the world and a launching pad for the region’s finest trekking.