Europe

Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in the Europe.

barge burgundy france

Doucement by Barge and by Balloon – Burgundy, France

By Water or Air

Barging and ballooning in Burgundy give new meaning to the expression “living well is the best revenge.” Both serene and leisurely modes of transportation guarantee the appropriate pace—doucement—to savor one of Frances most beautiful regions through the back door. Drift quietly along a centuries-old network of rivers and canals or let a lofty breeze waft your balloon over dozens of pri­vately owned, forest-ringed castles that once housed the powerful dukes of Burgundy in the late Middle Ages.

Glide over the world-class vineyards of Montrachet, Meursault, and Pommard in the heart of Burgundy’s Cote d’Or, or “Golden Slope,” which gives the world some of its finest red and dry white wines. This is the heart of viticultural Burgundy that stretches from Dijon to Santenay, whose celebrated vineyards provide idyllic days of wine tasting and châteaux touring. Colorful village markets offer fresh produce and delicious cheeses to accompany the humble vin local—which can assume the magic of a premier cru when enjoyed during earthbound piqueniques or special candle­light dinners in the vaulted chambers of a medieval château. Store up memories and insights into provincial life, with children who gleefully wave you on or a pasture full of blasé Charolais cattle that barely acknowl­edge your passing.

Though its famous namesake chef died prematurely in 2003, Hotel Bernard Loiseau (a.k.a. La Cote d’Or) still serves his daring cuisine legere, a healthy “light touch” cooking style that uses the very best of local produce and little or no cream or butter, and avoids the addition of extra flavors to basic combina­tions. The result—enhanced by any of the 20,000 bottles of wine in the restaurant’s cellar—is sublime.

cathedrale notre dame de strasbourg france

Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg – Strasbourg, Alsace, France

A Triumph of Gothic Architecture Is a City’s Crowning Glory

This ancient capital of Alsace is the modern-day headquarters of the Council of Europe and home of the European Parliament. There are those who associate Strasbourg with choucroute (an earthy, peasant-style dish made of sauerkraut, various sausages, bacon, pork, and potatoes), the hearty regional spe­cialty, and those who think at once of its magnificent Gothic cathedral.

The russet- colored sandstone structure, begun in the 12th century, is one of the largest buildings in the Christian world and one of the most architecturally harmonious Gothic structures to survive the Middle Ages. When completed in 1439, its 466-foot lacy openwork spire made it the tallest building in Christendom (it still ranks as the tallest dating from medieval times).

Other showstoppers are the stained-glass windows, some dating back to the 12th century, and the 16th-century astro­nomical clock. Every day at precisely 12:31 P.M. it whirs into action as a parade of macabre allegorical figures enact Christ’s Passion. Afterward, tourists make a beeline for the squares second-most-visited site in time for lunch: the richly carved Maison Kammerzell, a 16th-century merchant’s house, is now a famous restaurant. Though it looks like a tourist trap, locals insist that its choucroute a I’alsacienne is formidable. Try any of the ten versions and cast your vote.

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Musee d’Unterlinden and the Wine Road of Alsace – Colmar, Alsace, France

Art and Wine in a Glorious Setting

The serpentine ribbon of road that comprises Alsace’s celebrated Route du Vin is studded with picturesque towns featuring glorious food and sites, many worth overnight stops. The attractive town of Colmar is home to the popular Musee d’Unterlinden (Under the Linden Trees), housed in a 13th-century con­vent.

The jewel in its remarkable collection is an immense altar screen with folding wing pieces. Considered one of the most exciting works in the history of German art, the Issenheim Altarpiece was created in 1512-16 by Wurzburg-born Matthias Griinewald, “the most furious of realists.” Grtinewald’s carved altarpiece was believed to have had miraculous powers to cure ergotism, a widespread disease of the Middle Ages

Entire books have been written about this masterwork, majestically dis­played in the convent’s Gothic chapel, and the museums assemblage of religious art. Colmar itself is rich in medieval and Renaissance architecture and is the birthplace of Auge Bartholdi, designer of the Statue of Liberty.

The Route du Vin begins (or ends) south of Colmar and runs along the lush vineyard covered slopes of the Vosges foothills. The road zigzags and moseys along a string of post­card-perfect walled medieval towns of half- timbered houses with quirky roofs and balconies, overflowing with geraniums. Convivial winstubs (the Alsatian equivalent of pubs) serve wine from hundreds of local vine­yards.

Alsace’s fine, fresh wines include Riesling, Sylvaner, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, and Tokay-Pinot Gris. Rich farmland and orchards attest to Alsace’s reputation as “the pantry and larder of Europe,” and the ambrosial pâte de foie gras—one of man’s nobler creations and reason enough for the trip from Paris—is said to have originated here. Of the Wine Road’s 100 or so gabled wine villages, Riquewihr and Kaysersberg share the prize for sheer quaintness, and forti­fied Turckheim is said to be the best-preserved town in France.

To single out just one great inn is impossible, though a longtime favorite with Wine Road gastronomes and locals is the Auberge de l’Ill, in an idyllic riverside setting. Another star is the Château d’Isenbourg, where the hotel’s stellar Alsatian wine collection, stored in a vaulted 12th-century cave, comple­ments a regional cuisine just as exceptional.

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St. Emilion – Aquitaine, France

Basking in the Wine Culture of Bordeaux

Bordeaux is an almost religious pilgrimage for oenophiles and gastronomes. At its heart is the refined city of Bordeaux, a wonderfully restored center of 18th-century architecture that serves as an elegant base for forays into vine-crossed districts with such revered names as Medoc, Graves, and Sauternes.

There are more than 10,000 vineyards, but the lovely little medieval village of St. Emilion lures one to linger. Sloping vineyards roll down to its 13th-century ramparts on all sides, enclosing cobbled medieval streets lined with wine stores and bakeries selling light-as-air macaroons. Châteaux Margaux and Mouton-Rothschild, and the digustation des vins they offer, are day trips away in Medoc. But the small-parcel vineyards that fan out from St. Emilion’s town walls provide an intimate opportunity to sample some of Bordeaux’s most refined and complex red wines. The aristocratic

19th-century Château Grand Barrail estate has recently opened as a country hotel. Many of the spacious guest rooms overlook the endless vineyards, and the Belle Epoque restaurant’s menu of regional specialties offers an impressive carte des virus, more than half from the cellars of St. Emilion vintners.

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Eugenie-les-Bains – Aquitaine, France

The Pastoral Birthplace of Spa Cuisine

This tiny backwater village, whose thermal springs and pastoral setting enchanted the Empress Eugenie, after whom it was renamed, was ignored by time and tourism until the arrival of master chef Michel Guerard and his wife, Christine. Guerard was the creator of every gourmand’s pipe dream, cuisine minceur (“spa” cuisine, which helped spawn the nouvelle cuisine revolution of the 1970s, allowing diners to eat royally while staying trim).

Those of the calories-to-the-wind school can opt for Guerard s full-till cuisine gourmande menu. Either choice leaves visitors with unforgettable dining memories. The accommodations in this hamlet near Biarritz have a rustic but refined charm that’s almost too good to be true, Eugenie-les-Bains consists almost entirely of the meticulously run Guerard fiefdom: two spas (the original operation plus the newer La Ferine Thermale), three hotels (one housed in the former imperial residence), and two restaurants (the complex as a whole is known as Les Pres d’Eugenie).

Many travelers come intending to use this drowsy hamlet as a base for exploring the beautiful Pyrenees and Basque region to die south or the Bordeaux area to the north, but they find it hard to leave the small town that once enchanted an empress and her coterie.

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The Dordogne and the Cave of Lascaux – Aquitaine, France

An Ancient Corner of France Is Glorious Above and Below Ground

Henry Miller called the lush green department of Dordogne a “country of enchantment.” The walled market towns here—Domme, Brantome, Sarlat, and Rocamadour—are some of France’s most picturesque.

Hilly but not mountainous, the Dordogne is also perfect walking and biking country. Deservedly associated with good food, such as duck and glorious foie gras, deep red Cahors wine, truffles, and wild cepes mushrooms, this scenic comer of France is also rich with flower-strewn valleys.

Romanesque churches, and medieval hamlets. Of the more than 1,500 châteaux, many are now hotels, often dramat­ically positioned along one of the tributaries (lowing into the majestic Dordogne River.

This was some of the most fought-over land in Europe, but Dordogne’s most significant history is truly ancient, as revealed underground in its painted caves. Discovered by four teenagers in 1940. the famous Cave of Lascaux (near Montignac) contains the world’s most extraordinary repository of prehistoric wall paintings, executed by Stone Age artists some 17,000 years ago. Permanently closed to the general public in 1963 to prevent deterio­ration, it was re-created 200 yards away, in the form of Lascaux II.

A dazzlingly accurate replica made in the 1980s by masters of the Beaux Arts in Paris, Lascaux II uses the same pigments that were available to Cro-Magnon man, and its limestone walls and 20-foot ceil­ings are covered with replicas of the original caves’ stunning renderings of bison, horses, boars, and bulls. Arrive early—Lascaux II sells out.

This area of the Dordogne, a fertile river valley, is riddled with grottes ornees, some dating back nearly 25,000 years. The town of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac in the Vezere Valley is the perfect base for forays into the Valley of Man, one of the richest in the world in ancient sites and deposits. Don’t miss the caves of Font-de-Gaume, whose Paleolithic artwork approaches that of Lascaux in importance.

biarritz aquitaine harbor france

Biarritz – Aquitaine, France

Queen of Resorts and the Resort of Kings

Enamored of the town’s wild beauty, Victor Hugo prayed in 1830 that Biarritz would “never become fashionable.” His hopes were dashed when the newly married Napoleon III and his empress, Eugenie, arrived in 1855 and built the aristocratic pink-colored Villa Eugenie as a summer residence.

Biarritz became a favored destination, and royal and noble travelers came to “take the waters” long after the imperial couple stopped visiting in 1870. They were later replaced by a more diverse group of artists, writers, and other glit­terati. Still tinged with past glamour, Napoleon’s villa now is the beautifully refur­bished Hotel du Palais, the focal and social point of this Atlantic-coast resort.

Luckily for hotel guests today, Napoleon picked the choic­est stretch of beachfront, La Grande Plage. Ask any of the young international surfing set, who first discovered the best waves in Europe along these same lovely beaches in the late 1950s and made Biarritz the unofficial surfing and windsurfing capital of the continent.

The hotel’s opulent, spacious guest rooms overlook the rugged coastline in this wild edge of the Basque country, where the mighty Pyrenees step into the Bay of Biscay. At the Palais, the delightful spirit of old Biarritz is much in evi­dence. Try your luck at the classic casino and enjoy the luxurious saltwater spa facility.

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Abbaye D’Orval – Orval, Belgium

Heavenly Brews, Heavenly Digs

In a country barely the size of New Jersey, the breadth of Belgium’s beer ­brewing tradition is astonishing—a rough count proclaims that hundreds of breweries produce 300 varieties within its borders, but more ambitious estimates approach 1,000. Many are local beers that are not found outside of Belgium, or of their towns of origin.

Much has been made of the centuries-old tradition of unique, excellent ales and beers brewed by the Trappist monks: of the six Trappist breweries in the world, five are in Belgium (the sixth is over the border, in Holland). The breweries are generally not open to the public, but the monks’ elixirs can be enjoyed at countless bars and taverns throughout Brussels and the countryside (and more and more frequently abroad).

In the forested hills of the Ardennes region (where the Battle of the Bulge was waged) is the famed Abbaye d’Orval. Its ruins date to the arrival of the Cistercians (from which the even stricter order of the Trappists broke off in the 17th century) in 1110; other buildings date to the 17th century. A commu­nity of monks carefully tend their beautiful grounds, medicinal herb garden, and dispensary, where the famous Orval beer is sold along with bread and cheese. Talk about heavenly picnics.

For the antithesis in accommodations, one of Belgium’s top-ranked country restaurants and prettiest inns, the Auberge du Moulin Hideux, is just 16 miles away.

Nestled in a beautiful setting of wooded hills that come right down to the converted stone gristmill, this rural inn is the very study of country chic. Miles of beautiful walking trails through leafy hardwood forests promise the chance to work off the meals that attract long­time loyalists who travel from Brussels, Paris, and beyond.

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Mary Chocolatier – Brussels, Belgium

Seductive Sweets

If Mary’s handmade chocolates are the finest in a country that claims to make the world’s best, does that make Mary’s the best anywhere? One nibble and you’ll join fourth-generation devotees, including the royal court, who think so.

With its blue velvet decor and Louis XVI furni­ture, this elegant shop looks like a refined jewelry store, and with royally rich bonbons beginning at $35 per kilogram we’re in the same financial ballpark. All those artistic chocolate gems are made on the premises, including the famous Belgian pralines, seventy different kinds filled with everything from caramel to delicate liqueurs.

It’s enough to convert even the most chocolate resistant.

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Leon de Bruxelles – Brussels, Belgium

Mussels and Fries, a National Passion

Belgium’s excellent local pommes frites are not French fries at all— a grievous misnomer, as this universally known and loved side order is Belgian in origin. Although indulged at any time of day, smothered with a healthy dollop of mayonnaise and wrapped in a cardboard cone, they are also the per­fect compliment to Belgium’s other much- heralded specialty, moules (mussels), a combi­nation as beloved and ubiquitous as the American burger and fries.

The well-known Leon de Bruxelles (until recently known as Chez Leon) is the quintessential mussels-and-fries joint. Having secured its fame over 100 years as it slowly expanded into a row of eight old houses and looking every bit the tourist trap, this ven­erable, old-fashioned restaurant is a warren of rooms filled with mussels-devouring Bruxellois.

The frites—twice fried and light as a feather—have long been known as the best in town. The blue-shelled mussels are prepared fourteen differ­ent ways, although there are other regional spe­cialties on the menu such as eel in green sauce (anguilles au vert) made with sorrel, chervil, and parsley.