Did you know that the European Union designates two European Capitals of Culture every year? These cities are chosen for their rich culture and history and host numerous special events throughout the year. For 2019, the winners are... Drumroll... Matera, Italy and Plovdiv, Bulgaria!
Let's Start With Matera, Italy
If you haven't heard of Matera, you may want to make room on your bucket list. This off-the-beaten-path city in Southern Italy is home to cave dwellings that are over 9,000 years old and a charming old city full of fascinating sights. It's no wonder Matera is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This atmospheric town is built on the edge of a ravine with plenty of dramatic views, making it the perfect place to take in your surroundings with a glass of wine.
How To Get To Matera And Where To Stay
The easiest way to get to Matera is to fly into Bari, Italy and take the scenic train to Matera.
Matera has some pretty incredible accommodation options — tons of which are built into restored cave dwellings. We recommend the 4-star La Casa Di Lucio Hotel Relais (4.5/5 on TripAdvisor) for the truly unique experience of staying in a luxury hotel built into ancient caves. We've found dates starting from just $165.
Now, On To Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Plovdiv might just be the hidden gem of the Balkans. It is one of the longest continually inhabited cities in Europe and has been under the control of numerous empires — all of which have left their diverse mark on the city. Visitors to Plovdiv are treated to historical sites like an Ottoman Mosque, Roman amphitheater, and Thracian fortress.
Plovdiv now is a thriving center for art, nightlife, and cuisine. You'll find Bulgarian hospitality, a laid-back attitude, and an ultra-pedestrian-friendly old town, perfect for strolling around at sunset.
How To Get To Plovdiv And Where To Stay
Plovdiv has an airport but prices tend to run high because of its small capacity. Sofia, Bulgaria's capital, has a well-connected airport and is located an hour and a half drive away from Plovdiv.
We recommend the 3-star Bright House Apartments (4.5/5 on TripAdvisor) for its high guest rating and excellent location in the center of the old town. With rates starting at just $57, it's a great-value option for any budget.