Category Archives for "Europe"

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

Penzance and Land’s End – Cornwall, England, United Kingdom

Where England Comes to an End

The last town before Land’s End, Penzance is famous for its pirates and for a climate so mild (courtesy of the Gulf Stream) that palm trees and subtropical plants are commonplace. As a favorite base for exploring the westernmost county in England, Jean Shrimpton’s Abbey Hotel is the town’s first choice and one of the most eclectic and charming hotels around. In the deft hands of the 1960s supermodel, this rambling row of 300-year-old townhouses built on the founda­tions of a 12th-century abbey is filled with antiques and a certain bohemian air.

Much of Penzance’s importance is as the starting point for a trip to the castled island of St. Michael’s Mount, attached to the mainland by nothing more than a cobbled causeway. For centuries it has been the subject and inspira­tion for the local artists’ community, seeming to float ethereally just above the sea. It was originally created in 1135 as a sister abbey to the more famous Mont-Saint-Michel across the Channel in Normandy. From afar, the parapets and terraced cliff gardens of the monastery-castle-fortress create a romantic profile against skies of changing light and scudding clouds. The arduous climb to the top of the castle, rising 250 feet from the sea, is well worth it for the views.

Nearby Land’s End is an obligatory day trip. Often called the “toe” of England, this is the southernmost and westernmost point in the ancient duchy of Cornwall with a distinctive flavor and coastal beauty. It is one of Britain’s most visited natural attractions, since the craggy promontory’s tip (more officially called Penwith) is where England ends—or begins. The ancient Cornish called it “Pen von Laz” meaning “end of the earth.” For those seeking bleak end-of-the-world solitude or moved by geographical extremities, lonely heather moors that overlook the point where the Atlantic Ocean converges with the English Channel are a gull’s cry away. Facing west, on a clear day you’ll see the outline of the Isles of Scilly.

Of the group of 100-plus rocky islands (five inhabited but many more named) with exotic palms, rare seabirds, and some of the most beautiful beaches in Britain, Tresco, pri­vately owned since 1834, is most visited— primarily for its world-famous gardens. With more than 3,000 species of plants, they are considered the finest in the British Islands, a subtropical wonderland thanks to the Mediterranean-like climate provided by the Gulf Stream. The only place worth staying on the car-free island is also one of its highlights: The Island Hotel sits on its own little promontory, surrounded by gardens and open views of the sea and off-islands.

Chester – Cheshire, England, United Kingdom

A Walled City and Architectural Feast

In 1779, author James Boswell wrote of Chester: “It pleases me more than any town I ever saw.” Important in Roman times (England’s largest amphitheater is here), the Middle Ages, and during an 18th-century revival, Chester has much to show for its three historical heydays.

A well-preserved fortified wall, one of the finest in England, surrounds much of the his­toric city: built during the Roman period, and rebuilt at different times after that, it is topped by a lovely 2-mile footpath. Parts of the wall bypass the city’s important red sandstone cathedral on two sides and lead to the 19th- century Eastgate, where Chester’s famous wrought-iron clock tower proudly stands.

Chester’s greatest attraction is the city itself: within the walls is one of England’s best collection of black-and-white “magpie” build­ings, some facades a riot of striped patterns.

Anticipating today’s high-rises, the two-tiered decoratively timbered buildings with a con­necting walkway above street level make up the Chester Rows, a popular double-decker shopping area that is the city’s most famous feature. After a day full of history and architecture (and the crowds they attract), repair to the serenity of the city’s premier hotel, the Chester Grosvenor. This handsome 19th-century building in the heart of Chester’s historic neighborhood can trace its origins to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

It is owned by the Duke of Westminster’s Grosvenor Estate, and as a sophisticated hotel featuring its own gourmet restaurant, the Arkle, the Grosvenor knows no competition in this area of the country.

Windsor Castle – Windsor, Berkshire, England

England’s Most Visited Heroic Site

Standing at the very heart of the British national identity, Windsor is the oldest and largest castle in Britain and, with 1,000 rooms, the largest occu­pied castle in the world. The present queen, Elizabeth II, spent much of her childhood here, so it is not surprising that her public felt her pain when a devastating fire partially destroyed 100 rooms in the state and private apartments in 1992, her annus horribilis.

A magnificent $53 million restoration completed in 1997 employed a beehive of artisans using the same techniques as when the castle was begun under William the Conqueror, 900 years ago. It has been lived in by eight successive royal houses since then. In 1916, King George V assumed the name of the place out of fondness—and to disassociate the royal family from its Germanic origins.

Highlights of a trip to Windsor Castle include the Changing of the Guard, which takes place even when the queen is not in residence (although with less pomp and regalia); the Queen Mary’s Doll House, an exquisite gift in minia­ture designed in 1923 by architect Sir Edwin Lutyens; and the 16th-century architectural jewel of St. George’s Chapel which, together with Westminster Abbey, shares the distinction of being a pantheon of many English monarchs. The flat tomb in the center contains the vault of Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour.

Santorini – Cyclades

An Archetype of the Idyllic Greek Island

As everyone’s favorite Greek island, Santorini comes through with one of the Aegean’s most unusual landscapes. The island’s official name is Thira, although the medieval name – a corruption of St. Irene, left by the Italians – is far more commonly used.

By any name, anyplace this gorgeous is bound to figure, on every cruise ship’s and island hopper’s itinerary; large number of passengers, who fortunately never stay more than a few hours, take over the small island in the summer months.

There is intense volcanic activity (there are two smoldering cones within the sunken 6-mile-wide caldera), and speculation is rife that Santorini is the remains of the mythical lost kingdom of Atlantis. Thirty-six varieties of grape grow in rich volcanic soil, and Santorini produces delightful white wine, keeping everyone happy.

The whitewashed cubical houses of tiny Oia – known as one of the most beautiful settlements in the Mediterranean – sit atop the 1000 foot striated cliffs over the indigo waters of its partially sunken caldera (a “drinkable blue volcano”, wrote Greece’s Nobel Prize-winning poet Odysseus Elytis).

In Oia, maximize your visit with a stay at Perivolas, where the terraces provide the views that postcards are made of. Step out of your cool, cavelike apartment, and drink in a view similar to the scale of the Grand Canyon, only more beautiful.

There may be more luxurious hotels on Santorini, but none provides sunset-viewing rights like the elegantly simple cave houses of the family-run Perivolas. The seventeen dazzlingly white-washed guesthouses have curved ceilings and walls; each terrace is the roof of the apartment below. One terrace is the site of a lipless pool, its Aegean blue identical to the real thing beyond.

Perivolas is a labor of love. The owner’s handwoven, hand-dyed fabrics and rugs can be found throughout the elegantly spare rooms, where handmade Greek lace decorates windows and doors. It’s a two minute stroll down to the heart of the quiet town of Oia, and from there a twenty-minute ride to the tourist razzmatazz below in the island’s main town, Thira.

But for the daily ritual of sunset viewing, happiness is sitting on your own terrace with a glass of local white wine in hand and the promise of fresh-grilled mussels for dinner in a nearby rooftop taverna.

What: island, hotel.
Santorini: 12 hours by ferry from Athens; a small airport services daily flights to Athens in high season.
Perivolas: in Oia, on the northwest tip of the island. Tel 30/286-071308, fax 30/286-071309;
Cost: Doubles from $280 (low season), from $336 (high season)
When: open Apr-Oct.
Best times: Apr-Jul and Sept-Oct.

Cliveden – Taplow, Berkshire, England

Weekend Guests of the Astors

As surprisingly comfortable as it is overwhelmingly grand, this National Trust property is England’s most majestic country-house hotel.

Even adjectives like “spectacular” and “magnificent” seem inadequate amid the aristocratic proportions of the Italianate villa, much of whose present-day character reflects three generations of Astors (preceded by one Prince of Wales, among others), who lived here until 1966. (In the 1960s Cliveden was also the setting of the infamous Profumo scandal that led to the collapse of the Conservative government in 1964.)

A dinner in the excellent restaurant Waldo’s is reason enough to drive from London, though as an overnight guest you’ll have the luxury of working it off on the hotel’s 376 acres of riding paths or jogging trails.

Overlooking the River Thames, 15-foot-high windows afford views of the hotel’s antique boats, including Nancy Astor’s silent electric canoe. Piloted by uniformed boatmen, these are available for predinner Champagne cruises or picnics with large hampers of food furnished by the hotel.

Take pleasure in the formal gardens, drawing room fires, tailcoated footmen, chandeliered dining rooms, and palpable air of exclusivity, but what you may enjoy most is the royal treatment extended even to titleless guests.

Cliveden was built in 1666 by the Second Duke of Buckingham.

What: hotel, restaurant.
Where: 10 miles/ 16 km northwest of Windsor.
Tel: 4411628-668-561, fax 44/1628-661-837 ;;
Cost: doubles from $320. Prix fixe dinner at Waldo’s $75.
When: dinner only daily.

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