A - Z of Europe's Hot Spots . . . . . . An Alternative Guide
As a travel enthusiast of many years, I have put together my A-Z of places I have been to or places I believe to be worthy of a visit in Europe.
The “usual suspects” list of must see places I am leaving for another day, as we are all aware that giants such as Paris, London and Rome attract the masses like bees to honey!
My hot spot list of where to see in Europe will guide you from the shores of Greenland to the remote villages in Turkey, with another 24 stops in between so fasten your seatbelts we’re about to take off!!
ANTALYA - (Turkey)
Situated on the south western coast in the Mediterranean Gulf, Antalya has grown considerably in popularity over the past 10 years, even surpassing New York in 2011 In International Arrivals numbers, making it the third most visited city in the world. With the Taurus Mountain Range running parallel as a backdrop, this stunning location offers something for everyone. Antalya is twined with 10 cities worldwide and two interestingly are with Austin, Texas (USA) and Nuremburg, Bavaria (Germany).
BLACK FORREST - (Germany)
The Black Forrest
This area in south western Germany is a large wooded wonder of firs, conifers, mountains and no less than 8 rivers which covers a rectangular shape of 200 km in length (120 miles) and 60 km (37 miles) breadth.
With lovely old towns, mountain retreats, lakeside towns and many activities for the fitness brigade such as mountain biking, walking trails and cross country skiing available, The Black Forrest is the must see spot in Germany.
For some nostalgia, this area is home to the world famous cuckoo clocks and clockmakers in this region were world renowned for their precision work. For the foodie lovers, The Black Forrest Gateau is not to be missed!!
CUDILLERO - (Spain)
Far away from the maddening crowds of the better known “Costas” of southern Spain, is the charming hillside fishing village of Cudillero.
A car is essential in this region of Asturia and if you are planning on visiting northern Spain, it is the best way of finding gems like Cudillero. The houses are more like an artist’s palette of soft translucent watercolours that blend easily with the landscape.
Here you will be able to get lost in time, watch the old fishermen cast their nets and enjoy some the best seafood ever. Like many places open to tourists, steer clear of the main eateries in the square as if you go off the square you will be charged as much as 50% less.
DUBROVNIK - (Croatia)
The Pearl of the Adriatic, Dubrovnik is now classed as a world heritage site with UNESCO and is credited as being one of the top 10 medieval walled cities of the world. The walls run a length of approximately 2 km (1.2 miles) around the city. With an International airport but interestingly no train system, Dubrovnik is a great starting point to explore the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. Part of the former country Yugoslavia, Dubrovnik is steeped in history and culture which the people have opened up for the world to share.
EGUISHEIM - (France)
In the North Eastern Alsace Region of France this village is part of the “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” (The most beautiful villages of France) association. Part of the Alsace Wine Route, this is the area for all wine lover’s to explore with gusto! Visit the vineyards, meet the winegrower’s, taste their wines, meander the cobblestone streets of this beautiful village and share in the culinary award winning delights of this region. A good variety of accommodation is available from hotels to campsites, whatever you choose you will not be disappointed.
FLORENCE - (Italy)
As an Artist it would have been remiss of me not to include this place that holds a special place in my heart. Another world heritage site, Florence has been called “One of the world’s most beautiful cities” by Forbes. Renaissance Art, History, Culture, Architectural masterpieces, Design, Fashion . . . . . . They are all in abundance here and Florence is like a melting pot of all that is wonderful about Italy in my opinion. Florence is twined with 30 cities worldwide and includes Edinburgh (Scotland), Providence (USA) and Philadelphia (USA).
GOWER PENINSULA - (Wales)
In South Wales, this area was the first place in Britain to be deemed “An area of outstanding natural beauty” (ANOB) and has celebrated 56 years as an ANOB. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Bristol Sea, Gower Peninsula offers stunning beaches, dramatic Cliffside walks, backdrops of hills, valleys, dunes, caves and marshes offering incredible havens for wildlife and fauna in the area. Rugged, Wild and untamed the area is powerfully hypnotic and will draw you in.
HVAR - (Croatia)
If island life beckons you then why not try Hvar, a small (68 km long) Croatian island off the Dalmatian coast. The island has four main towns in Hvar town, Stari Grad, Jelsa and Sucuraj and most visitors will arrive from the mainland through Stari Grad on ferry boats.
The island has a history of lavender cultivation for aromatic oils and soaps and is known as the “Island of Lavender”. In the summer months Hvar harbour is lit up with stunning yachts from all over the world and you can dance all night in one of the all night discos in this lively party town.
ISTANBUL - (Turkey)
Where east meets west, Istanbul is the only city in the world that spans two continents, Europe and Asia. Istanbul was formerly called Constantinople, after the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great who rebuilt the city on seven hills like that of Rome. A former European City of Culture (2010), the largest city in Turkey is full of spectacular sights
awash with deep rooted culture, heritage and history from Europe and Asia blended together.
With a population of approximately 14 million, it’s hard to find a quiet spot but for me it doesn’t seem to matter as you get swept along with places such as The Topkapi Palace, The Sultan Ahmed Mosque (The Blue Mosque) and The Grand Bazaar.
If you are planning a trip to fabulous Istanbul, this is one place you need to do some research on before going as there is so much going on, you need to have a plan of action to get the most out of your trip. You will not be disappointed!
JOENSUU - (Finland)
The second largest city in eastern Finland, Joensuu is reachable by trains, planes and automobiles. Home to the University of Eastern Finland (approx 13,000 students) it is one of the largest in Finland and welcomes over 700 International students yearly. In a country known as The Land of a Thousand Lakes, the Midnight Sun and The Northern Lights, Finland offers a different experience to central European countries. If Ice, snow and Reindeer float your boat, then Joensuu is a good place to be.
KINSALE - (Ireland)
My favourite spot in Ireland, Kinsale in the southern county of Cork is my perfect retreat for a long weekend or as a base for touring West Cork. For me, out of season (October – March) is the best time to go, to avoid the crowds! Known as the Gourmet Capital, there is a great mix of cafes, restaurants and pubs all serving wonderful cuisines. My preference is a great pub, wind howling outside and a roaring log fire as a backdrop to a homemade delicious menu washed down with a Guinness or two. The tiny narrow streets are full of wonderful Irish craft of many varieties and Kinsale is also a town that promotes Fair Trade products. If you prefer activities there are numerous to choose from including Whale and Dolphin watching, Pottery classes, Golf, Deep Sea Angling, Scuba Diving and Sailing to name a few.
LA OROTAVA - (Tenerife)
Under the municipality of Spain, La Orotava is situated on the north west coast on the island of Tenerife (a stone’s throw from Morocco in north Africa). An aristocratic town that bears the name of the valley it lies within, the old town has wonderful Renaissance buildings, an abundance of churches, monasteries and convents, stylish restaurants and shops and exquisite gardens for all to enjoy. La Orotava is one of those “off the beaten track” destinations worth choosing over the more well known resorts in the south of this volcanic island, which include Playa del Las Americas and Los Cristianos.
MARTINA FRANCA - (Italy)
Another favourite of mine, Martina Franca we found by accident exploring this beautiful region of Puglia, and fell under its spell immediately. Situated at the “top of the heel” in southern Italy, this town has a stunning “old city” that is surrounded by old stone walls and baroque gates which lead you into Piazza di Roma where the old men can be seen walking up and down, catching up with friends and more walking up and down! Beautiful old churches and buildings blend with modern classic design led shops here. The area specific dwellings known as Trulli are a regular sight here and if you get a chance, worth staying in for a unique experience.
NICE - (France)
Located on the southeast coast of France on the Mediterranean, Nice is the second largest French city along the “French Riviera” after Marseille and is a Mecca for sun worshippers in the summer months with its many beautiful beaches and warm Mediterranean climate. As it has a mild temperature all year round, Nice is a perfect place to visit off season and spend time walking the 6 km “promenade”, visit neighbouring villages or even wander into Cannes or Monaco for a change of scenery.
OSTEND - (Belgium)
Known as “The City by The Sea”, Ostend is now a very cosmopolitan city located on the coast of Belgium, on the North Sea close to the shores England. With a harbour, yacht-basin and over 5 miles of sandy beaches, there is a surprisingly large amount on offer here for the traveller.
One of the highlights is the famous Christmas Market for all those interested in combining a break and Christmas gift buying in a different country. Another lesser known plus here is the gastronomy on offer.
With ample restaurants and bistros for all budgets and tastes, the local specialities are seafood related and include Shrimp Croquettes and Dover Sole.
POSITANO - (Italy)
Nestled into the cliffs along the breathtaking, world famous Amalfi Coast (south of Sorrento), One of the most photogenic towns, it is also one of the most expensive in this region. As this is a traffic free zone due to it’s incredibly narrow streets, all transport must park up outside the city and walk in. The houses and streets look almost vertical and sheer and many are accessed by staircases only! A must here is hire a rigid bottomed inflatable boat (approx €50 per hr) and enjoy the incredible views here. Driving the Amalfi Coast (approx 50 km) is not for the faint hearted so there are plenty of bus services available from many locations.
QAQORTOQ - (Greenland)
With a population of approximately 4,000, Qaqortoq is south Greenland’s largest town and has the reputation of being one of the most charming and beautiful in the country. The buildings here are dramatic in colour as opposed to soft and set against even more dramatic landscapes, makes it a very unique place. You would think perhaps that you may be bored here but there are plenty of interesting things to see and trips to avail of. One not to be missed, in my opinion, is the hot springs on the nearby island of Uunatorq. Here you can lie in a natural waterhole of 38 degrees hot bubbling water whilst watching icebergs drift by!! Obvious activities in Qaqortoq include Fishing, Kayaking, and Hiking but if your interests lie within the Arts, they have no less than 31 amazing sculptures around the town and in the rocks.
ROVINJ - (Croatia)
On the western side of the Istrian Peninsula of Croatia, Rovinj is a great example of a town that has not given way to major development within its historic centre. Italian influence is evident everywhere and it’s no surprise therefore, that Italian is widely spoken, there are bilingual road signs and even an Italian high school here. Tiny cobblestoned streets full with craft shops sit alongside dwellings with the famous chimneys of Rovinj. Plenty to see and do or just sit by the harbour or piazza have an espresso or two and just watch the world go by.
SANTORINI - (Greece)
A tiny Greek island in the South Aegean Sea, Santorini is the largest of 6 islands that were originally one island. A huge volcanic eruption caused a caldera (crater) which destroyed the earlier settlements and today is a water filled lagoon. Santorini is said to have the best sunsets in the world, is one of only two European places with a hot desert climate and due to the volcanic ash, has black, red or white sand beaches. There are plenty of small villages and towns to experience and to get the opportunity to stay on the edge of a volcano is something not to be missed. For more information on Santorini check out my hub Santorini or Heaven.
TAVIRA - (Portugal)
Located on The Algarve, in the south, Tavira is approx 35 km east of Faro when all the most popular and well known resorts are to the west! A true find, Tavira is a small town full of character. With no less than 5 beaches in the area, Tavira island is also definitely worth visiting as it not only has what many consider the best beach in The Algarve, it also is home to wonderful flamingos and birds. The island is located south of the city and may only be reached by boat. In the town there are great restaurants and shops and even better, will not break the bank or budgets!
UTRECHT - (The Netherlands)
A vibrant, bustling city that is the 4th largest in The Netherlands, Utrecht has charm in bucket loads. As the canals meander the city it is hard to not be impressed by the stunning architecture old and new. A big university city (the largest in the country) the predominant age group is 20-30 years old here. Due to its central location, Utrecht has a fantastic transport system linking all parts of the country and is therefore well worth a trip to see if based elsewhere in The Netherlands. A hip, happening and lively city that is all set to be Cultural Capital of Europe in 2018 so make sure you give it a look see!
VEJER DE LA FRONTERA - (Spain)
Vejer De La Frontera
Situated 200m above sea level in the province of Cadiz, Andalusia, this small whitewashed village sits squeezes between sierra mountains and the sea, as it overlooks The Straits of Gibraltar. Moorish influence and characteristics are evident here as it was occupied by The Moors up until 1250. Although not a beach town, you have no less than 7 good beaches nearby, the furthest being 22 km away. Walking enthusiasts should head to one of the many Nature Reserves where different types of trails are available through different landscapes.
WROCLAW - (Poland)
Located in Western Poland on the River Oder, Wroclaw is the largest city in this region. Like other Polish Cities, Wroclaw is steeped in history and change and well worth a visit to. It is well served with a variety of transportation options, and well placed to be European Capital of Culture in 2016, which is fantastic for the country that joined the European Union in 2004. It is a city that is fast becoming the new “Krakow” in Poland, with an abundance of interesting things to see and do here for all ages.
XANTHI - (Greece)
A town on the Greek mainland in the north east, it is 715 km from Athens but only 405 km from Istanbul, Turkey. The town that has been instrumental in identifying the need for a development programme to help in the restoration, protection and upgrading of its Old Town, and has subsequently received an award for the works carried out. A great time to visit is when they host their famous carnival which runs for 15 days during Mardi Gras and plays host to visitors from all over Greece and beyond.
YALOVA - (Turkey)
Another town that has grown in popularity with visitors since I was first there 18 years ago, Yalova is in the northwest of Turkey on the eastern coast of the Sea of Marmara. A city that was devastated in 1999 by an earthquake, where many lives and buildings were lost has slowly started to recover and many new buildings now have replaced the rubble. Access here can be by ferry from Istanbul and Izmit along with buses and trains and the thermal baths at Termal should not be missed. If you want to experience a more authentic Turkey, eat where the locals go and have a go at speaking some Turkish then do give Yalova a visit.
ZURICH - (Switzerland)
Once deemed to have “The best quality of life” and to be “The wealthiest city in Europe”, Zurich is in central Switzerland and is the largest city in the country. Set in the picturesque setting of Lake Zurich, wooded hills and The Alps it is of breathtaking beauty. The main language spoken is German followed by Italian and French and you will find many Swiss who will have all three and English. Zurich is home to a number of celebrities including Tina Turner and local Tennis ace Roger Federer, and distinguished giants James Joyce and Albert Einstein.
I hope you have enjoyed this alternative trip around Europe and I have given you some food for thought and an insight into some very unique and special places. On behalf of Captain HQ I would like to thank you all for choosing to fly with us today and look forward to seeing you on board again in the near future!!