Where chest-baring glampires roam: Touring Eurovision’s musical hotspots

CNN  — 

It’s Eurovision season! Everyone’s favorite glitter-strewn campfest returns to the world stage with a globally televised final on May 23 in Vienna, Austria.

The international parade of entrants can spark wanderlust for those watching at home.

Anyone planning a trip to Europe – or to any of the countries that fall under Eurovision’s puzzling definition of “Europe” – can look to some of the contest’s most famous acts for travel inspiration.

Buranovskiye Babushki (Russia)

Russia and Eurovision have a complicated relationship.

The country appears to take the contest more seriously than it does international borders, lodging formal protests and summoning ambassadors over perceived judging slights.

A Russian government official has also criticized the contest as a “Europe-wide gay parade.”

This is pretty rich coming from a nation that once fielded t.A.T.u., the female pop duo who saved themselves from forgettability by making out at the end of their songs.

But there’s one point upon which Russia and Eurovision fans unite, and that is the Buranovskiye Babushki, a.k.a. the Russian Grannies.

It takes about 51 seconds to surrender to the charms of 2012’s winning song “Party for Everybody,” a song in which “everybody” means “six elderly ladies” and “party” means “pretend baking.”

Those who want a slice of the babushka scene can try the Golden Ring, a loop of 10 picturesque towns northeast of Moscow dotted with classic pre-Soviet iconography like onion domes and ancient churches.

Stay: Run by a French-Russian couple, Chastni Visit (“Private Visit,” in Russian) has sweeping views of the riverside town of Plyos and a French-inflected Russian menu.

Gornaya Sloboda Street, Plyos; +44 208 996 5163

Cezar (Romania)

This falsetto-warbling, chest-baring glampire has haunted more dreams than any Romanian character since Dracula.

Between the billowing expanses of blood-red cloth, the gyrating male dancers and Cezar’s unabashedly campy performance, the overall effect of “It’s My Life” is mesmerizing.

It’s your life, Cezar! Spend as much of it as you wish wearing a rhinestone-studded cape!

A more authentic Gothic aesthetic can be found in Transylvania, the central Romanian region of dark forests and captivating castles. Its most famous site is 14th century Bran Castle, a majestically spooky hilltop pile often (but inaccurately) marketed as the model for Dracula’s haunt in Bram Stoker’s novel.

Perhaps more historically relevant is Corvin Castle, where Vlad the Impaler – the real-life nobleman who inspired Stoker’s tale – reportedly was held prisoner.

Stay: Count Tibor Kalnoky, a former veterinarian descended from the area’s 13th century rulers, runs four farmhouses in eastern Transylvania as eco retreats.

Proceeds are used to regenerate the local area and architecture. Bed and breakfast in the idyllic setting of Count Kalnoky’s Guesthouses goes for as little as 36 euros per night.

Str. Principala 186, Miklosvar; +40 742 202586

Celine Dion (Switzerland)

Contestants don’t actually have to be from the country they represent.

Switzerland exploited this loophole to its advantage in 1988 by entering a 30-year-old Francophone Canadian named Celine Dion.

Dion and the song “Ne Partez Pas Son Moi” won the contest, in another example of Switzerland’s felicity with foreign assets.

A similarly international experience can be found in the sunny Alpine resort of St. Moritz. The town is a playground for polyglots – Romansch, German, Italian and French are all spoken in the region – and millionaires, too.

Stay: First opened in 1856, the luxury Kulm Hotel offers top-rate accommodation for those who like their champagne cold and their bank accounts anonymous.

Via Veglia 18, St. Moritz‬; +41 81 836 80 00

ABBA (Sweden)

This Swedish pop group won the 1974 contest and went on to become one of the top-selling musical acts of all time.

ABBA is Eurovision’s success story, the act that made it big, like that one famous alumnus universities like to point to as proof of their graduates’ achievements.

ABBA is the David Letterman of Eurovision’s Ball State University.

The quartet hailed from Stockholm. In 2013 the Swedish capital opened a museum dedicated to the country’s most famous musical export.

Please don’t go to ABBA The Museum with some stupid cover story about being there just for the irony of it all.

You’re in the Abba museum. Own it.

Stay: The boutique Hotel Rival serves breakfast all day amid stylish, understated design. The only clue that it’s owned by former ABBA frontman Benny Andersson is the copy of the ABBA Gold album in every room.

Mariatorget 3, Stockholm; +46 8 545 789 00

Riverdance (Ireland)

It was on a Eurovision stage in Dublin that Riverdance first leapt straight-backed and heavy-shoed into the public’s consciousness.

The Irish dancing troupe wasn’t even an official contestant at the 1994 contest, but their half-time show appearance set off a worldwide craze for Ireland’s signature business-on-top, party-on-the-bottom style of dance.

The 1990s were a different time, kids.

For those who prefer their Ireland green, rural and pre-Celtic Tiger, it’s hard to beat County Clare. Set on Ireland’s stunning west coast, the region features gorgeous scenery and a vibrant music culture.

Stay: Try Ballinalacken Castle Country House Hotel in Doolin, the heart of west Ireland’s traditional music scene. Bookings are needed well in advance for a stay in June, when the famous Doolin Folk Festival is on.

Doolin, Co. Clare; +353 65 671 5025

Emmelie de Forest (Denmark)

Fresh-faced Danish singer Emmelie de Forest claimed an easy victory in 2013 with “Only Teardrops,” a pop tune so legitimately catchy we still catch ourselves humming it.

De Forest strode the stage barefoot for both her winning performance and her cameo appearance at the following year’s contest.

In interviews she has said that performing sans shoes makes her feel more grounded, a virtue decidedly lacking in a contest whose confetti budget surpasses the GDP of some countries.

With 400 kilometers of bike paths and a reputation as one of the planet’s most sustainable cities, Copenhagen is as good a place as any to feel connected to the earth.

Stay: The Green Globe-certified Axel Guldsmeden hotel offers bike rental, an organic menu and an outdoor garden.

Helgolandsgade 11, Copenhagen; +45 33 31 32 66

Conchita Wurst (Austria)

The undisputed queen of the 2014 contest was a beard-sporting glamazon whose club-ready single “Rise Like A Phoenix” immortalized her journey from a closeted Austrian boy named Tom Neuwirth to a pop diva who weeps flawless tears of gratitude.

“We are unity and we are unstoppable,” an emotional Conchita told a screaming auditorium in Copenhagen after her win, evoking an army of glittering drag queens annexing southern Denmark.

Her remarks echoed the Austrian capital’s intriguing yet vaguely threatening tourism slogan “Vienna: Now or Never.”

Those who heed the first command will find a thriving nightlife scene whose clubs should provide ample opportunity to hear at least one of the countless dance remixes of “Rise Like A Phoenix.”

Stay: By day, DO & CO is a boutique hotel in the heart of the city’s attractions. By night, its sixth-floor Onyx Bar is one of the busiest nightspots in town.

Stephansplatz 12, +43 1 24188