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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in the Europe.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in the Europe.
What to expect:
Channelling art deco vibes, this place is as elegant as it is imposing. Opened in 1930, it was Iceland’s very first luxury hotel. Guest rooms are classy, with parquet flooring, leather armchairs and turn of the Century artwork.
The property overlooks Austurvollur square, across from Althingi, the Icelandic parliament and Reykjavik cathedral. You’re within walking distance of a host of restaurants and attractions including The Fish Market.
Don’t miss Borg Spa, where you can indulge in a host of treatments. Borg Restaurant is another great pick; drawing in locals with its constantly changing menu.
What to expect:
Embodying cool Nordic design, this sleek outpost shows respect for Icelandic aesthetics fused with contemporary elements. Rooms are loaded with cool greysand whites-and have huge windows showcasing city and mountain views.
On Laugarvegur, wander through this hypercool thoroughfare, popping into Mal og Meaning to explore the country’s rich literary heritage, buy vintage finds in Spuutnik or escape the city’s strong winds with a warm bowl at: Noodle Station.
Tuck into delicious farm-fresh cuisine then enjoy an Icelandic beverage with friendly natives in the funky on-site lounge.
On the northern shore of Lage Maggiore is the lowest lying town in Switzerland. Ascona, in Ticino, feels like an Italian village with Vespa-driving, Italian-speaking Swiss. With its balmy weather, fashion boutiques and art galleries, and fine foods and wines, the lakefront town is a perfect summer getaway.
Lounge by the lake or stop by a cafe on the lake promenade; visit the old town of Borgo and the beautiful church of San Pietro e Paolo; take a boat ride to Brissago Islands on the lake that have 1,700 plant species. There are numerous hiking and biking trails all around—in Switzerland, the Alps are never too far. If you’re visiting in September, attend the classical music festival, Settimane Musicali di Ascona and listen to symphony orchestras, ensembles, and other recitals.
With an appetising crunch, I push my fork into a kataifi, splitting it in two. The traditional filo pastry, with strands as thin as vermicelli, wind tightly around a soft eggplant filling. It releases a warm, fragrant aroma of rich Cretan herbs on splitting and, after dipping a forkful into the accompanying sweet tomato marmalade, I savour its piquancy and delicate texture.
I’m sitting at Avli in Rethymnon, Crete, one of the most highly regarded restaurants in the Greek islands. Known for honouring traditional flavours of the land and preparing them with inspired techniques, Avli seamlessly blends the best of both old and new. Like the people of every Greek island, Cretans are fiercely proud of their local dishes. There are subtle differences, but a mutual climate with sun-soaked Mediterranean earth, warm seas and cultural influences from ancient Greek, Byzantine, Venetian and Turkish ruling periods bring the scattering of islands together in their cuisine profiles, producing a unique culinary landscape.
Gastronomic origins – From those historic eras until now, Greek island dishes show off the local produce, with olives, citrus, fresh seafood and local vegetables playing starring roles. Though simple, main meat dishes are never plain. Fragrant, slow-cooked rabbit, goat or lamb stews highlight the bold and bright qualities of intensely flavoured fruits and vegetables, thanks to the islands’ blazing sun and meagre rainfall. The country’s best wine varieties hail from Santorini, where volcanic soil nurtures the main grape variety, Assyrtiko, a vine that thrives on a water source of sea mist and nocturnal dew.
Above all, seafood reigns supreme. Octopuses are pinned out to dry daily, and can be seen splayed above mounds of sea urchins, calamari and shellfish as they chill on ice trays. Handpainted fishing boats haul in their catches of the day, to be consumed mere hours later. Whether it’s sea bream or sea bass, simply grilling a catch with a classic, uncomplicated blend of olive oil and fragrant herbs such as oregano or thyme often completes a recipe. Once served, a satisfying squeeze from a fresh lemon instantly brightens the scorched fish, rendering it irresistible.
Old island towns – Greek island fine dining brings these ingredients and techniques to an entirely new level. Avli’s degustation menu celebrates local culinary treasures and is inspired by the past and present in both taste and presentation. Dining in the Greek islands is also about appreciating the incredible surrounds. In Rethyrnnon, marbled door frames, ochre-painted walls, and intricate wooden Byzantine balconies draped in bright pink bougainvillea greatly enhance the experience. The conversation of passing locals and wandering travellers are the only sign that time hasn’t stopped in the most romantic of eras. At a neighbouring table, a clink of small tumblers brimming with a locally made raki – an anise-flavoured spirit – is accompanied by the toast “san ygeia mas” (to our health), setting a meal in motion among friends.
From the seaside – That familiar toast is echoed in Mykonos, my next stop, with glasses of a pale, golden-hued local white wine. At the five-star Bill & Coo Suites and Lounge, a member of The Leading Hotels of the World, I’m settling into one the most prized dining verandahs in the country. This time, I’ve traded an old town island view for another quintessential island scene: the impossibly azure Aegean Sea stretching endlessly into the distance.
Adrift in the trance-like tranquillity, a white plate topped with a stunning crimson composition suddenly seizes my attention. Called Cherry Tomatoes vs. Strawberries, this dish turns out to be not a competition of flavours, but rather a harmonious balance of them. Local cherry tomatoes roasted in honey, caper cream, thyme, virgin olive oil and goat cheese complement the sweet tang of strawberries for an entirely pleasing dish. It’s the start of a degustation menu meant to be lingered over, which isn’t very hard considering the setting. By the time I’m enjoying the last delectable mouthful, the sun is slowly sinking in a fantastically coloured sky. Taking in the moment, I sit back and breathe in the quiet night air and feel the hint of a cool sea breeze. Dining in the Creek islands – a truly intriguing and breathtaking destination – is about appreciating everything that surrounds you.
But when I reached the Acropolis, I kept walking’ past the stands selling archaeological schlock, past the spectators on Segways, into the park that surrounds Philopappou Hill. I took a seat on a rock ledge overlooking olive trees, where a few smart Athenians had strung hammocks to watch the sunset. Someone was playing abouzouki. Someone else was practicing the trumpet. Everywhere there were ruins. The yawning sun cast the whole park in a strange sepia glow.
I followed ancient stone pathways to the western edge, clambered down a dirt trail, and emerged in Petralona, a neighborhood that felt like it was in an entirely different city. It had bougainvillea, jasmine, cats, funky 1960s apartment buildings. Everyone was on their terraces, on the street. I had that pleasant sensation, unique to urban travel, when you find your neighborhood, relax your shoulders, and think, I could live here. I sat down at a sidewalk cafe and asked for an ouzo. “No, we drink raki,” the waiter said with a smile, “because we are from Crete.” An icy pitcher arrived. The sharp, anise-flavored liqueur went down smoothly with what I had ordered: sausage marinated in vinegar, tomatoes sprinkled with oregano, olives, cheese.
Soon it was dark. I was pleasantly drunk, wandering again. Every restaurant was flung open, the interiors empty, the tables and chairs spilled onto the street. You could not tell, based on the confusion of small plates arriving and departing, whether people were just starting dinner or almost finished. No one, as far as I could tell, had any intention of leaving.
I approached an old red building with film reels mounted on its facade; ZEFYROS, the sign said. I knew it was a cinema, but I didn’t realize until I was inside that it was open to the night sky. I took a seat at a patio table in the garden. The air was cool and vaguely botanical, the walls covered in vines. The film was black-and-white, Italian with Greek subtitles, and the only thing I understood was that I did not want it to end.
WHEN MARK TWAIN arrived in Athens, in 1867, his ship was quarantined, so he sneaked ashore after dark. Ashe recounted in his grouchy travelogue The Innocents Abroad, he bribed his way into the Parthenon, stole a “gallon of superb grapes” from a nearby vineyard, and then completely bypassed modern Athens while dismissing its inhabitants as “pirates,” “villains,” and “falsifiers of high repute.” On his boat the next day, having visited only moonlit ruins, Twain concluded, “We have seen all there is to see,” and set sail for the islands.
To this day, Twain’s attitude persists with too many travelers.
The rap on Athens is that it’s ugly, dirty, even dangerous, that you should just get in and get out. See the Acropolis, eat a gyro and hop a ferry to Santorini. The Greek capital may be many things—chaotic, complicated, enthralling—but a layover should not be one of them. This city demands attention.
It deserves it, too, especially right now. Years of economic catastrophe and political fecklessness have instilled in its residents an almost heroic fatalism. I recently spent a week in the city talking to everyone from soup-kitchen volunteers to anarchist waiters to local art- and fashion-world denizens. No one I met believes a real recovery is coming. But what’s inspiring is that Athenians are getting on with their lives anyway. They’ve stopped waiting—for the government to get its act together, for the EU to bail them out. They’re finding ways, small and large, to move forward.
This process, however painful, has unexpectedly dynamized Athens. A desperate creative energy has gripped its art world. Chronically underemployed young people are launching cooperative restaurants and cafes. And an audacious generation of entrepreneurs is investing in locally made luxury products. All of this creative bootstrapping has coincided with an unexpected surge in foreign tourism. A record 27 million people visited Greece in 2016. Suddenly, the city’s cafes are full, restaurants are opening and hotels are going up.
At the same time, Athens has experienced an eruption of high culture. In recent years, it has become a hot spot for avant-garde performance, like Katerina Evangelatou’s staging of Euripides’ Rhesus as a Sleep No More-style journey at Aristotle’s Lyceum. The prestigious German art festival Documenta began a three-month run here in April, its first-ever event outside its home country. And last fall, after more than a decade of management fiascoes, the National Museum of Contemporary Art opened in a once-derelict l950s-era brewery south of the Acropolis, showcasing leading Greek artists and international stars like Shirin Neshat and Bill Viola.
Even more ambitious is the €600 million Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, the new home of Greece’s national opera and library. Designed by Renzo Piano, this waterfront temple to the arts sits atop an artificial hill in the working- class neighborhood of Kallithea, overlooking a rambling park filled with aromatic herbs. The building at once references and defies Athens’s classical architecture: its scale is epic, but the columns and canopy roof are built out of a paper-thin concrete that makes it look like it’s about to float out to sea.
It’s midnight on a midsummer night, also known in some parts of the world as the summer solstice. And I’m floating in the infinity pool on the top deck of the new Viking Sky. The midnight sun is high in the sky, and it’s not going anywhere tonight. That’s because I’m cruising through the Arctic Circle in Norway. It’s brisk outside, but not in this heated pool with its panoramic views of deep blue fjords and snow-capped peaks. I’m on board for the launch of this dazzling new 930-passenger cruise ship. At the christening ceremony in Tromso, Viking uses a bottle of aquavit instead of champagne to smash against the hull, and a singer performs a pull-at-the-heartstrings rendition of ‘Let it Go’ from the Disney movie Frozen, whose setting was inspired by Norway.
Viking Sky fully embraces its Norwegian heritage, from the heart-shaped waffles at Mamsen’s – an onboard cafe named after Viking CEO and founder Torstein Hagen’s mother-to the garden under the grand staircase, which is filled with lichen and other plants from across the country. In true Nordic style, every creature comfort has been considered. All the staterooms have cashmere throws, mini-bars stocked with free champagne, and a pair of binoculars for watching the passing scenery. Even the starting-level cabins feel like suites: each one has a generously sized sitting area and a spacious verandah.
A culinary journey – For such a small ship, there are a surprising number of choices when it comes to food. At the Chef’s Table, the menu changes regularly, exploring different regions of the world, from Norway to China. My favourite is The Kitchen Table, an innovative concept where a small group of guests get to source the food with the chefs. In Bergen, we head to the fish market and find king crab from the Arctic and cured salmon. That night, we sample the bounty we sourced that morning. The only way it could be fresher? If we had caught the seafood ourselves.
Scandinavian discovery – In fact, Viking guests can catch their own king crab on a thrilling shore excursion in Honningsvag, one of Norway’s northernmost towns. Suited up in a weather-proof jumpsuit, I head out in a tender in search of these massive creatures that can weigh up to 10 kilograms. In the middle of the frigid Arctic, deep-sea fishermen pull up nets full of crabs, then cook them over an open fire. I eat king crab while sitting on a reindeer pelt in a Sami tent.
This is just one of the many immersive experiences that Viking offers throughout Norway. In Molde, I explore the Atlantic Road, one of the world’s most exciting drives. In the Lofoten Islands, I visit a beach so white you’d think you were in the Caribbean. In Geiranger, a tiny town famous for its fjords and waterfalls, I ride an e-bike 450 metres up a mountain. The best reward at the end of any journey? Coming back onto Viking Sky and taking a dip in the infinity pool. It doesn’t get more relaxing than that.
Thirty or so English-speaking visitors have gathered for a tour of Thrones sites in Malta’s ancient fortified town of Mdina, and right now we’re standing on Pjazza Mesquita. Before us hang the balconies where scheming Lord Baelish displayed his prostitutes and Ned Stark, lord paramount of the North, is horrified to find his wife. Everything around us—walls, arches, paving stones—is golden limestone, interrupted only by green shutters and black iron curving over windows.
Malcolm Ellul, a 41-year-old Maltese businessman and actor, points to a very un-Westeros mailbox.
“That’s practically the only thing they had to change,” he says—“they” referring to the film crew for the hit TV series. “Otherwise, you see? Malta doesn’t need anything done to it.”
This isn’t the sentiment I had hoped to hear. On my first trip to Malta, several years ago, I’d been struck by how out-of-date the place seemed, not just old but old-fashioned. Its history as home to the Knights of Malta and, subsequently, a British protectorate (English remains an official language), was fascinating. But there was something about this Mediterranean island nation perched between Sicily and North Africa that seemed stuck, its food and arts scenes undeveloped, its fashions several years behind, its tourism aimed largely at northern Europeans hellbent on sunburns and hangovers. Even Malta’s politics seemed retrograde: Divorce was illegal until 2011.
But in the intervening years I had heard rumors of change. The European Commission chose Malta’s capital, Valletta, as one of two European Capitals of Culture for 2018. Malta’s government finally legalized divorce. New boutique hotels were opening, major cultural initiatives were being launched, and, yes, Game of Thrones began filming here.
Together, all of these changes had me wondering: After so much time being known primarily for sunshine and knights, was Malta finally entering the modern world?
I ARRIVE IN VALLETTA as the sun is setting and head straight out to retrace a walk I made on my last visit inside the city’s fortified walls. Narrow streets are lined with baroque buildings, all ornate porticoes and wrought-iron balconies. Various doorways bear a plaque commemorating some long-ago event or person. Vintage hand-painted signs mark shops—Paul’s Store, Smiling Prince Bar—long departed. When I reach the Grand Harbour, the cobalt expanse of the Mediterranean Sea gives way to an astonishing panorama of tightly packed houses, church domes, and fortresses. It looks either medieval or Meereen —a city from the show—I’m not sure which.
Even for the Old Continent, Malta is dense with history. A republic centered on three inhabited islands at a key crossroads location in the Mediterranean, it has been a strategic prize about as long as there has been strategy. Archaeological remains place its original inhabitants in the Neolithic period; a progression of Phoenicians, Romans, and Arabs subsequently populated it. Malta really came into its own in the 16th century, when Holy Roman Emperor Charles V granted its two main islands, Malta and Gozo, to the order of the Knights with the hope that it would help protect Rome. Several sieges and 150 years of British colonialism later you have a place that bears hallmarks—an Arabic-inflected vocabulary, a taste for fish-and-chips—of the many cultures that have passed through it.
Standing over 150 metres above sea level, this imposing tower, dedicated to the real-life Braveheart, is a fitting tribute to a legendary Scottish hero
On a September day in 1297, Scottish national hero William Wallace stood atop the Abbey Craig hill, closely observing the English army in the moments before what would become his greatest success. Almost six centuries later, this dramatic peak would become the site of a spectacular monument to his legacy Born into a minor landowning family, little else is known about Wallace’s upbringing and path to heroism. A patriot at heart, the young warrior made a name for himself attacking Lanark in May 1297, a town held by the English. His assassination of the town’s English sheriff won him fame and notoriety, and he was soon able to gather together a band of commoners and gentry, united by a common enemy. And so began the first truly organised resistance against the growing English influence in Scotland.
The imposing monument overlooks the site of Wallace’s most notable victory over the English – the Battle of Stirling Bridge. As King Edward I’s men began to cross the narrow Stirling Bridge, hoping to encroach further on Scottish lands, Wallace picked his moment. He waited until half of the English army had made it to the other side, before launching his attack from Abbey Craig. The battle is revered in history as one of Scotland’s finest moments, and the 27-year-old Wallace became one of the nation’s greatest heroes. As a prize for his victory, Wallace was awarded a knighthood by the Scottish royal court. He fought once again at Falkirk, although defeat marked the start of his downfall and, just a few years later, he was captured by the English and hanged, drawn and quartered in London in 1305.
A revival of interest in Celtic nationality and culture in the 18th and 19th centuries led to the construction of a monument in his honour. Literary figures such as Robert Burns and Walter Scott began to romanticise the nation’s dialect, capturing the imagination of Scots that had lost their connection to the land and its unique history. William Wallace provided an ideal figurehead for this cultural renaissance.
It was decided that a bold, statement-making structure would be built to commemorate his remarkable impact on Scottish history. Once Stirling had been chosen as the location – resolving the fight between Glasgow and Edinburgh for the prestigious selection – a competition to design the tower was held. After 106 plans were sent in, including some that were disqualified for being too ‘anti- English’, a Gothic Revival design submitted by Glasgow architect JT Rochead won. The plan featured many subtle homages to Wallace, including stained glass windows, which portrayed a glowing likeness of the man himself.
“A bold, statement-making structure was required”
In order to finance this ambitious project, funds were sourced both from public subscriptions and foreign donors. One such benefactor was the Italian reunification leader Giuseppe Garibaldi, a sympathiser of the growing affection for Scottish heritage and nationalism in the Victorian era. At a cost of £18,000 (over £1 million in today’s money), construction began on Bannockburn Day in 1861, and it was opened on the 572nd anniversary of Wallace’s historic victory at the site.
TOP OF THE TOWER
Be warned that there is a mammoth 246-step clamber to the top. However, there’s a space on each level to catch your breath and absorb more of Wallace’s fascinating story. The climb is worth it as it ends at the crown of the monument, a regal tribute to Wallace that can be seen from miles around. Take a moment to reflect on the stunning view of the Ochil Hills, just as the ‘Guardian of Scotland’ did more than 700 years ago.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR…
CALL TO ARMS
The first floor of the tower narrates the story of the Battle of Stirling Bridge and features original weapons, armour and equipment used by each side.
THE HALL OF HEROES
Climb 64 steps to the next level and visit Scotland’s unofficial ‘hall of fame’, featuring busts of other great Scots such as Gladstone, Robert the Bruce and Rabbie Burns.
The Wallace Sword, Scotland’s very own Excalibur, is the centrepiece here. Whether Wallace actually used it is debatable, but its 5’4” length has to be seen to be believed.
BUILD YOUR OWN
The final floor is home to an interactive exhibit of the monument’s construction, where youngsters can try their hand at building their own tower.
The monument’s Gothic peak is an architectural wonder, featuring intricate battlements and ornate decorations that would not look out of place on a fairytale castle.
VIEW TO A THRILL
Spot the Scottish Highlands in the distance, with the Firth of Forth, Loch Lomond and Stirling Castle adding to this magical view, which is worth climbing up 246 steps for.
Some more Scottish gems for you to discover:
On the way into Stirling town centre, visitors can see the site of Wallace’s greatest victory, and cross over the 15th-century bridge that now stands there.
Visible from the Wallace Monument, Stirling is one of Scotland’s finest castles, featuring banqueting halls and a royal palace within its hilltop grounds.
Four miles south of the Wallace Monument, watch a 3D demonstration of this other famous battle, then re-enact it.
No trip to northern England is complete without a wander around a few of the truly splendid Georgian stately homes
Famed for its numerous appearances in film and TV, Lyme Park has something for everyone. Whether you want to play an Edwardian piano, admire the artwork or just stroll through the deer park and let younger visitors loose on the adventure playground, Lyme is sure to be a great day out.
One of the most magnificent stately homes in Great Britain, Castle Howard has long been a favourite of many filmmakers. With its evocative interiors, breathtaking architecture, hectares of parkland and a packed schedule of events for everyone in the family, this is not a place to miss.
Harewood House just oozes Georgian grandeur from every stone and every inch, from its Capability Brown gardens to its era-spanning collection of art and artefacts. There’s also a richly-stocked bird garden and, for the younger visitors, a farm, which features everything from pigs to penguins.
Although Dunham Massey was built in the 18th century, the site also contains Elizabethan features and Victorian structures too. In the house are exhibitions telling the remarkable story of the family who made this their home, while outside red deer roam the serene parkland s.
Once home to one of the most notorious families in England, Seaton Delaval Hall gives visitors a chance to travel back through time and meet the infamous Delaval family. Catch your breath in the rolling grounds and enjoy a choice of many different family- friendly activities.
The picturesque landscape of Dumfries and Galloway is home to some truly inspiring historic churches. Here are five of the best
Although ruins are all that remain of the church built here in 1389, it is still possible to get an impression of the building that was once a centre of worship. The ornate tomb of 15th-century Princess Margaret can be viewed here, and it’s well worth a stop.
Three of the eight stones here date back to the 5th century, providing evidence of early Christian worship in Dumfries and Galloway. Considered to be one of the earliest Christian sites across all of Scotland, Kirkmadrine played a vital part in the religious development of the nation.
Cruggleton Church dates back to the 1100s, when it was built by Fergus, who was the first Laird of Galloway. Once derelict, this near-perfect example of a former Romanesque church was fully restored in the Victorian era. The church is a gorgeous, tranquil place that is perfect for a wander along its nearby coastal path.
This chapel was once a place of sanctuary for Medieval pilgrims who were on their way to Whithorn Priory and Saint Ninian’s chapel does still welcome modern pilgrims to leave stones at its cairn. Set on a dramatic hilltop, this is a truly evocative place that will truly captivate travellers.
The ruins of this 10th-century chapel were first discovered back in the 1950s. It is a simple rectangular chapel aligned east-west in Christian tradition. It is believed that this was another stopping place for Irish pilgrims who were on the road to Whitehorn Priory, but little else is known about the history of this tremendously peaceful site.
No trip to Paris is complete without a trip to view its famed cemeteries. Here are just a few to start you on your way
Once littered with the victims of the Reign of Terror, Montmartre is now an oasis of tranquility in one of the city’s most famed districts. Rich in awe-inspiring sculpted tombs and resting place of some legendary Parisians, it is not to be missed.
The largest of these cemeteries is also the world’s most visited. Thousands of visitors flock to it every single day to wander through its 70,000 tombs and pay homage to figures from rockstars to artists to politicians and beyond. No trip to Paris is complete without a stroll through Pere Lachaise.
This iconic and opulent building is famed for its magnificent crypt, where visitors can easily lose a day exploring everything it has to offer. In this neoclassical splendour, some of the greatest names from throughout French history have been laid to rest here including Voltaire, Hugo and the Curies.
When it opened in 1824, Montparnasse was the first cemetery to have been established in Paris in decades. Particularly popular as a burial ground for French and international intellectuals, Montparnasse cemetery is a hugely a popular stop for travellers in the capital.
Though less famous and a lot quieter than some of Paris’s other cemeteries, Passy is no less steeped in history. To add to its beauty, the Eiffel Tower looms over the burial ground. Those laid to rest here include the Debussy, Renault and celebrated American actress and adventuress, Pearl White.