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Where Are the Best Countries in Europe to Find Culture and Sunshine?

Updated on July 23, 2017
Stella Kaye profile image

Stella has travelled widely throughout the Mediterranean and owns a holiday home there, so she has written extensively about this region.

A Grecian Grotto

Cephalonia, Ionian Islands
Cephalonia, Ionian Islands | Source

Holidays, Highlife and History

Virtually any European country with a coastline can offer the discerning visitor both a cultural experience and adequate time on the beach sporting a glowing tan by the time the holiday is over. With so much variety, there's absolutely no reason to forsake the high life to discover the culture and history of a region. To name but three countries that would fit this description, Italy, Greece and Spain (which each boasts an enviable Mediterranean seaboard and a wealth of islands) provide the widest choice of destinations. Holidaymakers can explore the culture of their chosen resort and still enjoy fun in the sun. In fact, a visit to any of these countries easily means there are adequate places of cultural interest right on your doorstep without having to search further.

Flights to Mediterranean resorts of Spain, Italy and Greece are popular choices with holiday makers from Northern Europe and will usually be less than three to four hours duration; this is ideal for families with young children who are likely to become restless and irritable on longer flights. And for those visitors from outside Europe who are combining a holiday in the sun with a stay in the UK, it's easy to purchase flights to Spain, Italy and Greece.

Mediterranean literally means ‘The middle of the earth’ and this is an appropriate name; there's such a vast mishmash of different cultures, cuisines and ideologies that visitors are confident they can return to Mediterranean shores year after year and still experience a totally different holiday each and every time. All these countries have a May to October season when the weather is suitable for sunbathing, but that's not to say a visit at any other time of year would not bring its own particular advantages. For instance, Spain in late April and early May is perhaps at its best when the trees are in blossom and the landscape hasn't yet become parched with lack of rain.

The Famous Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain

Source

Spain

Spain, which has always been immensely popular with the British, boasts six hundred ‘Blue Flag’ beaches. These award winning beaches uphold the highest standards of safety and cleanliness. Cheap and frequent flights to Malaga, Alicante, Murcia, and Barcelona have made the whole of the southern and eastern seaboards of Spain more affordable for travellers who might otherwise have had no choice but to stay home and endure the lack of sun in the UK.

Andalucía in Southern Spain has perhaps the richest cultural history; with its combination of Moorish influence and Hispanic heritage. Here you can combine a holiday on the Costa del Sol and take a full-day tour to the Alhambra at Grenada. Southern Spain also has evidence of Roman occupation and is, therefore, a melting pot of cultures old and new. In Malaga, the birthplace of Picasso there's ample opportunity to immerse oneself in the culture of the region where arts and music festivals are commonplace throughout the season. Religious festivals too are commonplace. Every village has its own particular saint. On the feast day of the saint, icons are carried out of the church and around the village. Grains of rice are thrown over the icon in celebration. The whole village will dress up in their finest and visitors are more than welcome to participate.

The Balearic Isles off the coast of South Eastern Spain are also a popular holiday destination. Majorca (sometimes known as Mallorca) has always been a favourite from the very onset of package holidays in the early seventies. The island offers something for everyone. A new modern international airport has been constructed in recent years to deal with the sheer volume of air traffic but the island remains largely unspoilt and hasn't lost its uniqueness. The neighbouring island of Menorca and its even quieter companion, Formentera don't offer such a vast range of activities and attractions but are still worthy of a mention for their beauty as well as their tranquillity. Majorca isn't renowned for any rare sites of antiquity but many travellers will be intrigued by its unique history and customs. The nineteenth-century writer, George Sand immortalised some of these unique customs in her book: ‘A Winter in Majorca’. Many visitors to the island go there for this connection alone.

Beaches Galore to Chose From!

The Mediterranean boasts beautiful beaches and plenty of sunshine from May to October
The Mediterranean boasts beautiful beaches and plenty of sunshine from May to October | Source

Italy

The Italian resorts are well served by the airports at Milan in the north and Pisa, and Rome on the western coast serve the resorts such as Sorrento and the Bay of Naples where the visitor can easily discover the beautiful Island of Capri and the ancient remains of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The Italian island of Sardinia and the Mediterranean’s largest island, Sicily are also steeped in culture and history yet offer the choice of combining a taste of the arts with a beach-centred holiday

The Italian Riviera consisting of such resorts as Lido de Jesolo and Rimini is served by the airport at Venice so here it's possible to explore the rich architecture and cultural heritage of Florence and Venice and also visit the unique principality of San Marino which lays claim to being the longest surviving sovereign state in the world. A stay at the beach resort of Rimini will allow a full day trip to San Marino where you can photograph breathtaking views from the highest point in the region and enjoy the winding road that takes you to the top of this tiny principality.

The Dramatic Coastline of Portugal's Algarve

The Algarve, Portugal although not part of the Mediterranean shares a similar climate
The Algarve, Portugal although not part of the Mediterranean shares a similar climate | Source

Discover More of the Coastline with a Boat Trip Wherever your Destination

 A sea journey will be one of the highlights of your holiday
A sea journey will be one of the highlights of your holiday | Source

Greece

Greece and its islands possibly offer the widest choice available for a memorable holiday. With a wealth of mainland locations to choose from and literally hundreds of islands, there'll be something for everyone. Greek Island hopping is a favourite pastime of those with nautical leanings but for those who travel by plane, there's always an international airport that enables you to visit most of the larger islands. Corfu, Kefalonia, Rhodes and Crete, to name a few can easily be reached within three to four hours flying time from the UK. Most of the Greek Islands and the mainland have some interesting site of antiquity nearby but for serious Grecophiles, apart from Athens itself, the island of Ithaca would perhaps be the ultimate place to visit, purely because of its connections with Homer’s great literary works of the Iliad and the Odyssey.

In conclusion, music, arts and religious festivals fill the calendar in each of the countries discussed so it's easy to combine a beach holiday with other activities more mentally stimulating than just soaking up the sun. Ideally, a holiday should invigorate both mind and body so the traveller to Spain, Italy or Greece will find they have ample opportunity for both.

Creative Cruises

A cruise can be the way to see as many destinations as possible in a short space of time and still enjoy a few days at sea between ports of call. The Mediterranean is the ideal spot for this because of the vast diversity of culture and variation among the countries that boast a Mediterranean seaboard. Here you can enjoy an itinerary that will be a veritable feast of all the high life and history that the Mediterranean has to offer. From the moment you climb aboard to the day you arrive back home, you'll have the opportunity to make the very most of your holiday. If a life on the ocean wave doesn't exactly float your boat then Europe also offers the discerning tourist the opportunity to take a delightful river cruise along some of its most majestic rivers.

Mediterranean Cruising Ideas

Cruising Options for 2016

European River Cruises

The Mediterranean - 'The Middle of the Earth'

Mediterranean Food is Amazing - and Healthy Too!

A Turkish restaurant in Altinkum
A Turkish restaurant in Altinkum | Source

There are Plenty Sites of Antiquity Throughout the Mediterranean

The temple of Apollo in Altinkum, Turkey
The temple of Apollo in Altinkum, Turkey | Source

After reading this article, which country would you like to visit?

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Greek Islands

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© 2016 Stella Kaye

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