If you still haven’t booked those summer holidays just yet, may we present you with some wanderlust temptation in the shape of six ultra-enticing European destinations? Whether you’re in the market for lazy beach days, epic foodie feasts or fascinating cultural adventures, we promise that you’re in for a summer to remember.
Coastal Charm: Cinque Terre, Italy
The five coastal villages that make up Cinque Terre represent the very best that Italy has to offer – sun-soaked rugged beauty, amazingly delicious cuisine and an abundance of rustic charm. Located on the Italian Riviera, this quintet of medieval towns appears to miraculously rise from the area’s craggy cliffs, with pastel-hued houses vertiginously balanced amidst the dramatic scenery; lace up your shoes and hit the hiking trails to bag the most spectacular vistas or hop onto a boat tour for a more tranquil way to drink in the landscape. Sun and sea worshippers should head to the golden sands of Monterosso or the pebbled strip of Guvano Beach to catch the rays and take a dip in warm sparkling waters. Bring your appetites as well as your swimming costumes though; the food here – including local specialities like Riomaggiore’s cones of fried seafood and Monterosso’s plump juicy anchovies, alongside always wonderful Italian delights like creamy gelato and fresh pesto – is out of this world.
Rural Retreat: The Cotswolds, UK
Scenes really don’t come more bucolic than this. The English countryside is at its most green and pleasant during its all-too-fleeting summer months, and the Cotswolds offers some of the very best in British rural charm. From the baroque steeples of Oxfordshire’s Blenheim Palace to the traditional yellow limestone cottages of picturesque Bourton-On-The-Water; the thermal waters and splendid Georgian terraces of Bath to the awe-inspiring grandeur of Gloucester Cathedral – this area of the UK is both indelibly charming and incredibly varied. Although easily accessible via train from London, the area’s sprawl across six southern English counties benefits from car hire to really get the most from your visit. With accommodation options that range from charming bed-and-breakfasts to converted stately homes, if gentle strolls through rolling hills and cosy pub lunches are your idea of travel heaven, the Cotswolds is your nirvana.
Foodies’ Field Trip: Normandy, France
A predominantly rural area of northern France, Normandy is positively over-run with historically significant locations – from Rouen, where Joan of Arc was executed, to the striking island commune of Mont-Saint-Michel, to the many well-tended memorials to Normandy’s infamous WWII beach landings. For all these fascinating attractions, it’s at the dining table that you’ll uncover the best that this region of abundant green pastures, dairy farms and orchards has to offer. Savour a chunk of Camembert cheese, accompanied by sea-salted local butter and a loaf of crusty pain Normande. Head to the coast for some of the very freshest mussels and whelks you’ll ever eat – not to mention oysters and lobsters from neighbouring Brittany. Leave space for dessert of tarte Normande (apple tart) served with lashings of fresh cream, then wash everything down with a bottle of poiré or cidre (alcoholic pear or apple cider), and a tot of the local firewater, Calvados – a fiercely warming apple brandy. Foodies, beware: it’s impossible to leave Normandy without acquiring significant edible excess baggage.
Artistic Adventure: Bilbao, Spain
Culture vultures, Bilbao is the place for you – and there’s nowhere better to start than the Guggenheim. This world-renowned institution is magnificent both inside and out; its undulating Frank Gehry-designed structure of titanium scales is truly a sight to behold, with Jeff Koons’ giant topiary dog and Louise Bourgeois’ monumental steel spider sitting outside the museum, and iconic pieces by Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol and Jenny Holzer waiting once you’ve entered its hallowed doors. If that’s not enough art for you, head to the nearby Museo de Bellas Artes, whose collection of over 10,000 works ranges from paintings by the old masters to sculptures by modern-day luminaries. Further artistic highlights abound at the Philippe Starck-designed Azkuna Zentroa, a multi-purpose cultural centre featuring a cinema, performance space and glass-bottomed rooftop pool; elsewhere, the Gothic majesty of Santiago Cathedral and UNESCO-listed Vizcaya Bridge (the world’s oldest transporter bridge) are also well worth a look. Fuel your explorations with plenty of pintxos; these mini snacks are piled high at virtually every bar in Bilbao, meaning you’re never too far from a delicious pit-stop or two.
City Slick: Stockholm, Sweden
A city of contrasts, from its quaint cobbled streets to the striking contemporary glass-and-steel Victoria Tower, Stockholm is both achingly hip and extremely friendly, brimming with bonhomie and crammed with cultural attractions. Proud of its status as a levande stad, or living city, a large proportion of Stockholm’s residents live downtown, making this a great place to experience the real Sweden. The Old Town (Gamla Stan) area is a great place to start your exploration, with its pedestrianised streets crammed with independent shops and award-winning restaurants, many of which spill over into the area’s charming squares. Climb City Hall’s tower for sweeping views, then hop aboard a sightseeing boat for a cruise around this city of 14 islands. Those who prefer dry land can explore the city by bike; Stockholm has 760km of bike lanes, and there are a number of rental options available to visitors. Refuel with a fika – a coffee accompanied by a delicious Swedish pastry; you’ve earned it!
Festival Fiesta: Lisbon, Portugal
Renowned as one of the best musical festivals in Europe, Lisbon’s NOS Alive gets bigger and better every year – as proven by 2018’s eclectic all-star line-up, which includes headliners like Arctic Monkeys, CHVRCHES, Khalid, Rag ‘N’ Bone Man and Jack White, alongside plenty of up-and-coming world music, jazz and even comedy performers too. Held annually in July, booking tickets for NOS is essentially the perfect excuse to plan a whole summer holiday in Lisbon; as a city drenched in rich culture and history, and studded with awe-inspiring architectural gems, blissful beaches, trendy cafés and laidback bars, there really is something for everyone to enjoy once the music is over. If you’re pressed for time, a trip on the famous yellow Tram 28 is a must, taking in many of the city’s finest sights for just the price of a ticket… and don’t forget to gobble up a traditional pastel de nata (egg tart) before you head home too.
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