Unexpectedly, one of the most popular films of 2005 turned out to be „Hostel.” Eli Roth was responsible for directing it, and Quentin Tarantino himself was the producer. It tells the story of three young boys who travel to Slovakia in search of erotic adventures. In their pursuit of attractive girls, they end up in the titular hostel, which turns out to be a place straight from hell. For all three of them, the holiday adventure turns out to be a drama bordering on life and death.
The film was a huge success. Suddenly, spectators around the globe thought it was great to watch the cinema about a vacation in Slovakia. The budget for its production was less than $5 million. Meanwhile, it grossed over $80 million worldwide. But the film’s popularity had a side effect – it showed Central Europe as a region associated only with casual sex and savage brutality. This was definitely not the image that the countries that have only relatively recently joined NATO and the EU wanted to show to the world.
Today, Central Europe remains terra incognita on the holiday map of the world for many people. Meanwhile, it has assets that should be highly valued by globetrotters. First off, it is beautiful, whether in terms of civilization, culture, and nature. Secondly, it is much cheaper than most Western European countries. It is also safe and comfortable. All this makes it an interesting holiday destination – not viewed through a cinema screen, but experienced in reality on the spot.
The region on the heritage list
9% of the most valuable places in the world are located in Central Europe. This is the result of an analysis of the UNESCO World Heritage List. The list currently includes 1157 properties around the world. One hundred three of them are within the 12 countries of the Three Seas Initiative, which together cover 1.219 million square km. By comparison, Argentina and Brazil have 34 UNESCO-listed properties, although their combined area is almost ten times larger (together, they occupy 11.290 million square km). Proof, perhaps, of how biased the images from the film „Hostel” were. After all, Slovakia alone is home to eight sites on the World Heritage List – more than in popular tourist destinations such as Egypt (7), the Philippines (6), New Zealand (3), and Jamaica (1).
But Central Europe is not only full of historical monuments. Many attractions also await nature lovers here. „Croatia is a land of limestone caves, undulating fields, and white pebble beaches. The Dinaric Alps provide even more sublime views and help contribute to Croatia’s overall landscape: the craggy peaks and caverns near the coast transition to rolling farmland in the northeast,” wrote Condé Nast Traveler in its list describing the world’s most beautiful countries.
„Apart from the bustling cities like Warsaw and Krakow, Poland also offers unspoiled natural beauty in the forms of lakes, wooded areas, rivers, and hills,” says the portal Holidify.com. „Romania is one of the most mysterious countries in the world. Tourists are happy to come here to admire the picturesque nature, walk around ancient castles, enjoy fascinating excursions, visit healing resorts, or relax on the coast of the Black Sea,” describes Planetofhotels.com.
The countries co-founding the Three Seas Initiative are also ambitiously vying for a place on the map of major global mass events. There is great competition between festivals. Some of them – for instance, Carnival in Brazil, La Tomatina in Spain, Oktoberfest in Germany, and Dia de Muertos in Mexico – have amassed a global audience. However, events taking place in Central Europe have also been gaining more and more attention. Just to mention a few, there are music festivals like Sziget in Budapest (Hungary), Rockstadt Extreme Fest in Rasnov (Romania), Ultra Europe in Split (Croatia), as well as such events like The Great Dragon Parade in Cracow (Poland), Christkindlmarkt (Christmas fair) in Vienna (Austria), International Film Festival in Karlovy Vary (Czech Republic). Each is a place with the potential for an interesting holiday adventure.
No foreign land, only foreign travelers
Exploring Central Europe has another advantage: it is relatively cheap. That was proved by authors at Priceoftravel.com, which compared prices of three-star hotels in different countries in 2023. They put 54 different cities on their list. The cheapest ones can be found in Sofia (Bulgaria), where one night in a three-star hotel costs as little as EUR 16. Next in line is Bucharest (Romania) – where one night in a hotel costs EUR 20.
Overall, among the 20 cities with the cheapest hotels in Europe, 13 are in Central Europe. The cities traditionally considered most attractive for holiday getaways are priced decidedly higher. In London, for example, a night in a three-star hotel costs EUR 92. In Venice – EUR 96. The juxtaposition of these prices shows which destinations are more attractive to budget travelers.
CEE countries are also more affordable for those traveling by car – because the price of fuel is lower there than in the West. As of June 2023, the average price of 1 liter of gasoline 95 in Austria is EUR 1.58, Bulgaria – EUR 1.3, Hungary – EUR 1.58, and Estonia – EUR 1.7. At the same time, the price of fuel in Denmark is 1.9 euro per liter, in Germany – 1.85 euro, in the Netherlands – 1.83 euro, in Spain – 1.6 euro. A similar difference can be seen when comparing the prices of food, beverages, and tobacco.
„There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign,” wrote Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of one of the most brilliant travel books „Treasure Island.” Looking at the uncertainty with which many tourists still glance at Central Europe, it is hard not to admit Stevenson is right. In this region, which is made up of NATO and EU member states, standards in terms of security, medical care, and ordinary everyday services are on par with those in Western Europe. In many Central European cities, mobile internet works much better than in Berlin, Paris, or Brussels. All this makes the Three Seas Initiative countries a worthwhile area for those looking for a typical holiday experience.