Tourists who want to head to a city truly off the beaten track should consider heading to Solo, in Indonesia.
Solo, also known as Surakarta, is often snubbed by tourists visiting Indonesia as it can’t offer the same beachfront vacation as the more famous Bali. It was even listed as one of the least visited cities in the whole world by travel blog Rough Guides.
However, its history, rich culture and all the lively aspects typical of a busy city make it well worth a visit.
Solo is a city in Central Java counting some 523,000 residents. Described by Lonely Planet as the “heartland of Javanese identity and tradition”, Solo is characterised by its distinguished past.
The city used to be a seat of the Sultanate of Mataram – the last major independent Javanese kingdom on the island before the Dutch colonisation.
As a consequence, is home to historic architecture including the large royal palaces Mangkunegaran Palace and Kasunanan Palace.
Another reminder of the island’s past is the Jaladara Steam Train, a traditional steam train dating back to the colonial era that has been painted black.
The more than a century-old train is still in use, and visitors can travel from Purwosari station to Sangkrah station while crossing through Solo.
An hour-drive away from the city takes tourists to the slope of Mount Lawu, where they can find an old Hindu temple, Sukuh, famous for its rock relief focused on sexuality and life before birth.
The lack of tourists makes the experience of those who do head to Solo even more authentic, as they can live like locals and don’t have to battle crowds when heading to the city’s most important landmarks.
For an authentic urban experience, tourists can go to the flea market called Pasar Triwindu. Located in the city centre, it can reward visitors with a keen eye for true antiques by offering Javanese daggers and decorations among less valuable knick-knacks.
Another interesting market is Klewer, where Solo shows off its famous batik – cloths decorated using the batik decorative method featuring wax and dye.
As it doesn’t court foreign tourism, Solo offers an authentic culinary experience rather than adapting its cuisine to foreign tastes.
Among the local delicacies are timlo solo, a beef noodle soup, and serabi notosuman, a pancake made from rice flour with coconut milk and, sometimes, shredded coconut on top.