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That Hits the Spot – Our “How to” Guide

Learn how to sip your way through Italy, pack a picnic basket in Paris, and sample Spain’s best bar bites with our guide to eating and drinking like a local

Know your Italian wine regions – Where to uncork and say salute! – from the northern border to the boot heel

Lombardy – Franciacorta, Pinot Nero. Italy’s answer to Champagne is prosecco or moscato d’Asti – it’s Franciacorta, the high-quality sparkling wine favored in Milan.

Friuli-Venezia Giulia – Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia Istriana. The current orange wine trend began here near the Slovenian border, where pioneering winemaker Josko Gravner ferments ribolla grapes in ancient clay jugs.

wines-italyVeneto – Valpolicella, Soave, Prosecco. Amarone della Valpolicella is believed to be the modern-day descendant of wines first made in the region by Romans in the sixth century.

Umbria – Orvieto Classico, Sagrantino di Montefalco. Sagrantino wines, rising stars among elite Italian reds, were first made by Franciscan friars in this, the region from which Saint Francis of Assisi hailed.

Puglia – Primitivo, Bombino Bianco. Only Veneto produces more wine than the oft-overlooked heel of Italy, whose native primitivo grape is a cousin of American red zinfandel.

Sicily – Etna Bianco, Nero d’Avola. A movement toward organic, biodynamic wines, led by young vintners such as Arianna Occhipinti, is growing in the rich volcanic soil near Mount Etna.

Campania – Costa d’Amalfi, Greco. Visit Cantine Marisa Cuomo to sample its flowery Furore Bianco Fiorduva alongside views of the Amalfi Coast and dramatic Furore fjord.

Tuscany – Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Bolgheri. After a tasting of Chianti Classico at Castello di Ama, tour the fifteenth-century property’s contemporary art installations from Anish Kapoor, Louise Bourgeois, and more.

Liguria – Cinque Terre, Vermentino. Many of the Cinque Terre’s terraced vineyards, carved into cliffs high above the Mediterranean Sea, are accessible only by foot.

Piedmont – Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera, Dolcetto. The native nebbiolo grapem used in the region’s greatest wines, gets its name from the nebbia, or fog, that blankets the region in fall.

Rural Marche, Italy – Art That Thrills

A trip through the treasures of a region full of harmony and beauty to discover enchanted villages, uncontaminated areas, inimitable flavours and people who have always cultivated the art of living.

Contemplate the masterpieces of painting, savour good food, chat with hospitable people and immerse yourself in landscape that warms the heart. There’s a little-known Italy where these experiences take on a truly special flavour. It’s not along the main routes of the peninsula but a new and surprising region which almost seems to keep its treasures away from prying eyes. Just leave the Adriatic Sea behind you and walk towards the interior of the Marche to find charming countryside where archaeological parks, museums, art cities, castles and libraries follow one after the other.



To understand what we’re talking about, we suggest you start from Montefeltro and reach the enchanting historic centre of Urbino, UNESCO World Heritage Site and birthplace of Raphael, the absolute genius of the Renaissance. Following the painter’s tracks, after visiting the house where he was born you’ll reach the National Gallery of the Marche in Urbino, where Raphael’s famous painting ‘Portrait of a Young Woman’ (La Muta) is displayed. Continuing south­west, in the area of the Colli Esini, you’ll find Fabriano, whose centre is dominated by the Piazza del Podesta, embellished by the elegant white stone palace of the same name, which dates to 1255, and the splendid octagonal fountain. All the genius of the Marche is also clear in the municipal art gallery of San Severino Marche, the museum complex of San Domenico di Camerino, and the church of Sant’Eustachio at Belforte del Chienti. Don’t miss the castle at Rancia di Tolentino and the archaeological park of Urbisaglia, a site of great historic interest where you can stroll through the streets of the ancient Roman city.

Another masterpiece of rural Marche consists of the excellent wine and food, the result of the farmer’s work and a long craftsman tradition. You can expect a journey through taste, that will surprise you with its ability to stimulate your senses with appetising and rewarding suggestions. It starts with the fine white truffle of Acqualagna. You can taste it all year round but you could come to savour it during the National Truffle Fair held between the end of October and the beginning of November. All the essence of Marche soil is also concentrated in the unique flavour of the extra virgin olive oil from Cartoceto, to try in local restaurants and also during a visit to the many producers in the area. You can taste the Campofilone egg maccheroncini in the Fermo area, a fresh pasta to eat with ragout. For the wines, there’s the Verdicchio from Matelica, a white wine to combine with fish-based dishes, and the Vernaccia from Serrapetrona, the only red Italian spumante which undergoes three fermentations.

Following the undulating outline of the hills, marvellous villages will sometimes appear that invite you to discover their harmonious architecture, the magic atmosphere permeating them and the hospitality of their inhabitants. In Offida, Montefiore dell’Aso, San Ginesio and Moresco, just some of the most beautiful villages in inland Marche, you can lose yourself among lanes and alleys experiencing extraordinary moments of peace and tranquillity. Strolling through the stone streets of these little gems you’ll perceive all the value of a culture which has conserved the legacy of a splendid past.

Rural Marche is studded with parks and uncontaminated nature reserves towards the Apennines, where the rolling hills give way to majestic mountains. You’ll be won over by legendary stories, like those linked to the Grotta della Sibilla (the Sibyl’s Cave), in the Monti Sibillini National Park, and you won’t be able to resist the desire to hike on spectacular paths in the middle of woods or on crests above the treeline. In the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park, just jump on a mountain bike for thrilling paths among valleys and waterfalls, breathing pure air and absorbing all the scents and colours of autumn. A truly regenerating experience! If you’d like to combine tasting delicious traditional products with physical activity, you can follow one of the many gastronomic itineraries of the area.

If you’re looking for a trip full of thrills, if you want surprises and marvels, rural Marche has everything to conquer you.


Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park

Into Milan

Food, fashion, football and a whole more besides … A guide to Italy’s second city

Getting there

Access to the city centre is simple – coach is the most cost effective (a range of companies are parked outside the airport), or take the train from the airport. Both arrive at Milan Central Train Station.

Must Do

San Siro Stadium. Witness the passion of Italian fans at one of the most iconic stadiums in the world. Home to AC and Inter Milan, a match here guarantees an evening of unadulterated fun. If athletic sweaty men aren’t your thing, get your thrills at a concert instead. Big acts often include the venue on their touring schedule due to the sound quality and the response of the fans (Bruce Springsteen has even said they are the best in the world). If you’re used to seeing your favourite band in London, they’ll sound a whole lot better here. Promise.san-siro-milan

Dinner on the move. What is it about public transport that becomes appealing when you throw food into the mix? Milan’s tram system is a handy way to get about (go for Line 1 for the original varnished-wood seats), but this is about more than getting from A to B. Use it as your transport method, but book a meal on the bottle-green ATMosfera trams, which have been remodeled to seat 24 diners at four silky- tablecloth adorned tables. Expect several courses of delicious Italian food paired with local wines. That’s our kind of sightseeing.

Duomo. Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ may be the city’s most famous sight, but you’ll need to book tickets well in advance. If you miss the boat, head to the Duomo. Yes, you’ve seen cathedrals before, but this one’s special. Go for the tickets that give you access to the underground passageways. Sure, the frescoes and pews are nice, but the subterranean stuffs cooler. Then, admire its glory with a spritz in your hand at Giacomo Arengario (a swanky bar on the square) and you’ll virtually be sitting on the Duomo. Which beats sitting in it.


A Piste of the Action

Take this season’s skiing or boarding holiday to the next level with a trip that goes way beyond pistes and pints …

Large it up in Austria (sort of)

If you’re all about going big or going home, then Austria’s Arlberg region might just be for you. We’re not talking boozy sessions – although there’s probably plenty of that too – but about big investment, namely the £35m that’s been spent on the area. And what do you get for your 35m big ones? The largest interconnected ski area in Austria, and what will be one of the largest ski areas in the whole world, that’s what. At the heart of it all are big infrastructure improvements – forget bumping along in a bus, instead there are four new lifts helping to link the resorts of St Anton and Lech, opening up 306km of downhill runs accessed with 87 lifts (all covered by a single pass). That’s one way to live it large.


Skiing in the Alberg region of the Alps in Austria

Ski and sail in Norway

Can’t decide whether to splash your cash on a skiing adventure or a sailing adventure? It’s a tough life. Or is it? With Another World Adventures you can combine both on one epic, seven-night jaunt through the Lyngen Alps, northern Norway’s top ski destination. During the day you’ll be taking on the region’s natural surroundings, while evenings will be spent recuperating on deck, tucking into Norwegian cuisine and getting your nude on in the hot tub. Maybe. When you’re not soaking in hot water you’ll be exploring the harbour towns of Koppangen, Norlenangen, and Lyngseidet before a night in Tromsö, aka the ‘Paris of the north’. Head back to the boat and you’ll be rocked to sleep by the waves, ready to climb to the summits and ski down to the snow-covered beaches the next day. Nice.

Party at the Snowbombing festival in British Columbia, Canadasnowbombing-festival

What happens when Europe’s biggest ski festival and Coors Light get together and up sticks to Canada? A massive music fest on the slopes of Sun Peaks Resort, British Columbia, silly. Taking place from 6-10 April, the full-on event is sure to feature the same key elements that Snowbombing Europe has become famous for – slope-side pool parties, elaborately designed stages, debauchery. The usual.

The party bus of big acts is yet to be announced, but last year’s festival (featuring the likes of the Prodigy and Andy C) has set our hopes high – 2,152m high to be exact. Expect gladed areas, bumps, steeps, long cruisers and alpine bowls – perfect for post-fest recovery.

Tales from the Harvest

A German-speaking bit of Italy, the South Tyrol is a region with a dual identity. But there’s one thing locals know for sure, and that’s how to make the most of autumn

On his family’s farm high in the Dolomites, white clouds suspended between the mountaintops like spiders’ webs, Stefan Winkler is roasting chestnuts. Wielding a cast-iron pan over a flaming brazier, he flips the nuts to ensure they’re cooked evenly, watching their skins blacken and char in the flames, cracking to reveal buttery yellow beneath.

‘It’s important that we get them just right,’ says Stefan. ‘Chestnuts are an essential part of Törggelen.’ Such harvest feasts have been a tradition in the mountains of South Tyrol (Südtirol) since at least the 16th century, when travelling merchants would visit the region’s farms and vineyards to taste the year’s produce. Keen to show off their goods, farmers would host banquets in their honour – no doubt hoping the well-oiled merchants might buy a few extra crates of grapes or barrels of wine in the process.

Visitors to the region are still offered a warm welcome at farms like the Winklers’, which offers meals to paying guests during the autumn months. Their simple white farmhouse is festooned with decorations: the doorstep is piled with pumpkins and wicker baskets brimming with apples, and wreaths of corn dangle from the shutters.


The medieval church in the hamlet of Sant’ Osvaldo near Castelrotto (KKastelruth)

Inside, the festivities are well under way. A motley mix of diners – families, tourists, locals, motorbikers, cyclists and hikers – cram around long wooden tables in the pine-clad dining room, warmed by an earthenware stove. On one table, a family dip into bowls of barley soup with chunks of schüttelbrot: the flat bread traditionally carried by Tyrolean shepherds. In another corner, a band of bearded Bavarian hikers tucks into roast pork, sausages and thick slices of speck (cured ham), laced with homemade horseradish sauce and sauerkraut. This is a classic Törggelen dish, known as a schlachtplatte or slaughter plate. It’s an unappetising name, but accurate; half the farmyard seems to be piled on it.

Soon, flagons of beer and jugs of wine arrive, poured by smiling waitresses dressed in the figure-hugging bodices known as dirndls: traditional Germanic peasant costumes with plunging necklines. Diners hand round glasses and exchange tales of their day’s adventures. One recounts their afternoon picnic beneath the Dolomites’ peaks; another recalls the tang of home-brewed apple juice sampled at a local farm. Sipping his beer and wielding a sausage, a man in a leather jacket describes a near-miss on his bike with a dairy cow, joking that it almost ended up on tonight’s schlachtplatte.

Real Cool Kid

The shores of Lake Como are elegantly frilled with grande dame hotels. Now a clean-lined upstart is bringing an unbuttoned, pared-back look to the party

‘Fancy a ride?’ ‘Sure,’ I said.

Duilio pointed at the mahogany Riva Jetto tied to the dock. ‘That’s the pretty one,’ he said, tossing me the keys. ‘You don’t need a boat licence. Have fun.’

‘Do you need to have it back by a certain time?’ I asked, pretending it was no big deal.

‘No. It’s all yours.’

I untied the ropes, turned the key and motored, rather too aggressively at first, into the wide-open, mossy-green waters. Had I really just been given a Riva to cruise Lake Como? I pinched myself.

I’m not the first to be seduced by the unimaginable allure of Como. It has served as an escape from hot, sweaty, city summers since the Roman Empire. The lakeshore architecture is a testament to this history, from the walled city of Como built by Julius Caesar to Pliny the Younger’s villa, from Renaissance palazzos with grand facades, 10 sash windows by five, manicured gardens and cypress trees, to pretty little houses in butter-yellow, cream and rose with terracotta-tiled roofs.

Yet it is still the lake itself that’s the wonder, more like three steep-sided fjords joined at a nexus – which by chance is the enchanting town of Bellagio with slender proportions and deep waters bound by imposing mountains clad in chestnut trees and conifers. Where the cliffs are too sheer, pale granite peeps through the thick vegetation.

il-sereno-hotelThe latest, greatest place to stay among all this incredible loveliness is II Sereno, the second property by the Venezuelan Contreras family, who have Le Sereno in St Barth’s, a handsome hotel, clean and elementary, and the favourite of a smart Manhattan crowd. The family choose their destinations well. And their designers. In St Barth’s, they went with Parisian mastermind Christian Liagre. Here they plumped for Patricia Urquiola, one of the most prolific and talked-about interior, furniture and product designers (Mandarin Oriental in Barcelona, Das Stue in Berlin), who also dabbles in architecture. And boy, she has created a modem masterpiece.

So how to go about designing a new hotel on Lake Como to stand proud next to big-hitters such as Villa d’Este and Villa Tremezzo? Two hard-and-fast rules: avoid historical; avoid repro. But it’s still complicated, not least because Mr and Mrs Contreras are architects themselves, as is their daughter, and their sons are civil engineers, which is the training you might need to build a hotel jutting over the water and cut into the solid rock of a cliff-face. But the family assure me they aren‘t meddlesome. ‘I called [Urquiola] because she’s better than us,’ the father, Ignazio Contreras, says frankly and with a twinkle. ‘She’s a hurricane.’

Italian Treasures on the Crystal Symphony

I am on the Crystal Symphony luxury cruise liner in search of Italian treasures as we cruise past a myriad of coves and inlets along Italy’s west coast.

Earlier in the day, my beau Stephen and I were whisked from the palatial setting of Rome’s historic Hotel Eden to Civitavecchia, the departure port city for our seven-day cruise.

We chose this fine 51,000-ton gal for a few reasons. Back in 2006 Crystal Cruises com­pleted a US$23-million overhaul to the 922-passenger vessel which was the ship­ping company’s most extensive interior refurbishment to date. We also were inter­ested in discovering the allure of the Italian Riviera made famous by Roman emperors, European princes and Hollywood jet setters. Still, the other reasons were the guest-space ratio for guaranteed sheer seclusion and the great guest to staff ratio for pampering and finer details.

Upon arrival Victor, our personal butler, escorted us to our penthouse suite. Complete with balcony, lounge chairs and uber chic interiors, the suite had a “serenity now” ambiance propelled by a bucket of the finest, chilled GH Mumm Cordon Rouge Champagne. There amid crystal light fixtures, crisp Egyptian cotton sheets, honeyed inlaid wooden cabinetry, and cool sage and rich burgundy accents, I knew we had arrived to our home away from home.

It was the perfect introduction for our prowl to explore the playground of the rich and famous. “Please know I am here for any­thing you wish,” replied our white-gloved butler who turned in his tuxedo tails and disappeared.crystal-symphony

10 Food and Booze

Head north for whisky and Nordic cuisine, or south for limoncello and spicy tajines.

Hit the Chichetti Trail in Venice


Cicchetti – italian appetizers from spicy olives to calamari and artichoke hearts

Venice is full of bacari (traditional bars) that serve up one of the city’s best-kept secrets, the tapas-like tradition of cicchetti. These appetizers — from spicy olives to calamari and artichoke hearts —are an after-work ritual for who head to a bacaro for a few plates with an ombra (a small glass of wine), gathering at the counters where the snacks are laid out or huddling around convivial tables. On Venice Urban Adventures’ Cicchetti of Venice tour, travellers join in their ‘giro d’ombra’ (bar crawl; forget all thoughts of the beery boozing of the British version), visiting five of the most atmospheric bacari in the city with a local guide.

Setting off from a quiet medieval square, the tour stops at historic inns and lively hole-in-the-wall bars, sampling cicchetti like polpette (meatballs) and marinated seafood on of polenta. This being Venice, it’s a little grander than your average city centre wand—also stopping off at the famous – Rialto market and taking a-traghetto (gondola ferry) across the Grand Canal.

After a Saturday outing, start your Sunday with an espresso in the café-lined piazza of Campo Santo Margherita before exploring more of the Rialto district, with its gourmet shops selling specialities like cured meats, truffles and wine, and the Pescaria, Venice’s 600-year-old fish market.

Arrive: EasyJet, Jet2 and Monarch fly to Venice from UK cities such as London, Birmingham and Manchester.

Stay: A city house with a country feel, hidden in a walled garden of pomegranate, olive and magnolia trees, Oltre Il Giardino has palatial, antique-filled rooms.

Feast along Italy Amalfi’s Coast


Limoncello made by lemons picked from Sorrento’s lemon groves – Italy

Just like its landscapes, the food of southern Italy’s Amalfi Coast reaches dizzy heights — pizza, gelato and sweet limoncello liqueur are just a few of the culinary fortes of this sunny promontory. Based in the hills around Sorrento, Le Baccanti’s gourmet day tour takes in many of these greatest hits. It begins at an extra virgin olive oil factory with vertiginous views, before heading on to lemon groves for a limoncello tasting; a visit to a mozzarella producer; expert help in making your own pizza; and a gelateria for a crash course in Italy’s incomparable ice cream.

Arrive: BA, easyJet, Monarch and Thomson fly to Naples from the UK. Sorrento is around an hour’s drive away.

Stay: La Tonnarella has antique-filled rooms in a villa right on the coast.

Match pierogi with vodka in Warsaw


Russian pierogi stuffed with pork

Poland’s lively capital makes a great place to discover two of the country’s beloved staples, pierogi and vodka. Start by mastering pierogi — crescent-shaped dumplings with a variety of fillings — on Eat Warsaw’s two-hour cooking class, where you’ll learn how to make them Russian-style (with potato and onions) or stuffed with pork, before a sweet finale that sees them filled with raspberries or strawberries. Stomach lined, spend the evening on Eat Warsaw’s vodka tour, which visits several bars chosen for their range of high quality Polish tipples and accompanying snacks.

Arrive: BA, LOT, Norwegian and Wizz Air fly to Warsaw Chopin airport, while Ryanair flies to the less central Modlin.

Stay: Castle Inn has artistically themed rooms in a townhouse in the old centre.

Rustle up a meal from a Paris market


Financier cake with figs

With around 80 food markets, Paris offers an embarrassment of produce for anyone keen to cook up their own French feast — if they know how. On the evening cooking course run by Cook’n with Class, held in an intimate Montmartre kitchen, participants learn how to transform their edible array into a complete dinner, from starter to dessert. Would-be chefs begin at the Rue du Poteau street market, visiting its stalls and speciality shops with a professional chef to select the ingredients. Back at the school the group settles on a three-course menu to cook from scratch, under the guidance of the chef — a typical lesson might include the likes of sautéed scallops, duck breast with stewed cherries or financier cake with figs. Finally, everyone gathers round a table for a leisurely meal continental-style, with the requisite Gallic extras — abundant cheese and wine — plus a traditional aperitif.

Arrive: Eurostar serves Paris from London St Pancras; most flights from the UK land at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport.

Stay: Montmartre’s Hotel Amour features ultra-cool, individually themed rooms.

Get a taste for brewing in London


London Beer Lab

The average Londoner might not brew their own beer any more as they did in medieval times, but the city’s new raft of craft ales and microbreweries make it a great place to make your own DIY stash. Head to the gastronomic hotspot of Brixton for a half-day course at London Beer Lab, where wannabe brewers learn how to make 20 litres of their favourite all-grain beer, with a return session, ideally about six weeks later, to bottle their nicely fermented brew.

Complement it by seeing how the professionals do it on a tour of the state-of-the-art Meantime Brewery in Greenwich. Toast the weekend down the road at sister site the Old Brewery, a restaurant-brewery inside the Unesco-listed Royal Naval College’s old brewhouse. In a hall hung with bottles, diners have views of the brewing process as they tuck into a British menu.

Arrive: Brixton is a seven-minute tube journey from Victoria station, and North Greenwich nine minutes from London Bridge station.

Stay: Set in a storied Georgian townhouse in Bloomsbury, the Harlingford is full of historic features.

Milan – Italy

Milan is a city of lavish wealth and almost frightening elegance.

Essential information:

Population: 1.3 million

Foreign visitors per year: 2 million

Language: Italian

Unit of currency: Euro (€)

Cost index: espresso at Café Zucca €5 (US$7), double room in Navigli district boutique hotel from €70 (US$97), cotoletta alla milanese (breaded veal cutlet) at top-end restaurant €26 (US$36), gem essence facial treatment at Bulgari Spa €130 (US$180)

Favourite labels: Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, Missoni, Moschino, Versace

Why go ASAP?


Haute Couture is a lifestyle in Milan – Prada has one of its biggest shops here

Milan is a city of lavish wealth and almost frightening elegance. Think bankers in bespoke shoes that cost more than your computer, wealthy donnas with Prada handbags and professionally blow-dried hair, elderly ladies walking toy poodles down the Via della Spiga. It’s all very pretty to look at, but it can make a mere mortal feel a bit dowdy and down-at-the-heels.

Festival &Events:


An overview of a few stands at MiArt Exhibition – Milan

In early April, MiArt, one of Europe’s most important contemporary art shows, draws artists and collectors to buy, sell and schmooze.


Salone Internazionale del Mobile 2016 – Milan

Held in April, the Salone Internazionale del Mobile (International Furniture Fair) is the largest event of its kind in the world. Expect parties, events, and tons of drool-worthy (and pricey!) modern furniture.


Christmas ornaments and statuettes at Oh Bej! Oh Nej Fair – Milan

On 7 December, the charmingly named Oh Bej! Oh Bej! (`so nice, so nice’ in the Milanese dialect) is Milan’s biggest Christmas fair. Stock up on crafts, goodies and artisanal products of all sorts.

What’s Hot…


BikeMi Bicycles – Milan

`Ethical fashion’ with organic and cruelty free materials; BikeMi, the city’s bike-share program; the Navigli neighbourhood; a classic cappuccino for breakfast

…What’s Not

Big hair and bling; crashing that cute Vespa you don’t know how to drive; overdressing for La Scala (no tuxes, please); ordering a cappuccino after lunch.

Life-changing experience:


Duomo di Milano

As frilly as a fairy-tale wedding dress, the Duomo di Milano is the world’s fifth-largest cathedral. This Gothic marble vision has 135 spires reaching skyward, 3200 elaborately carved statues, ancient and enormous panes of stained glass, and an early Christian crypt containing the remains of St Carlo Borromeo in a rock-crystal casket. The church took some six centuries to complete; be sure to dedicate at least half a day to taking in its glory. Don’t miss the roof, especially on a clear day, when you can see the Alps towering in the distance.

Trending topics:

Italy is mad for coffee – the nation gulps some 14 billion cups of espresso each year. Milan alone has 600 cafes, where baristas grind, measure and pour with the precision of scientists and the vision of artists. So why, then, would Italy need Starbucks? That’s the question on many a Milanese tongue as rumours fly that the Seattle-based megachain is looking to open in Italy in the near future. Could the classic cappuccino soon be a Frapuccino? Stay tuned.

Classic restaurant experience:

The breaded veal cutlets known as ‘veal Milanese’ in much of the world are cotoletta alla milanese here in the city of their birth. For the crispiest, juiciest, most golden butter-fried cotoletta in town, take a taxi to the city’s old meat district, where cosy Trattoria del Nuovo Macello has been battering and frying cutlets since 1928.

Most bizarre sight:


A bizarre milanese tradition at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

So you’re shopping in Milan’s elegant, glass-vaulted Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II when you notice a well-dressed man or woman doing something… odd. Standing in front of the 19th-century bull mosaic on the floor, they place their right heel on the bull’s testicles and rotate three times. This bizarre tradition of unknown origin is said to bring good luck. Not so for the bull  – years of fortune seekers have worn a hole in his manhood.


Don’t limit yourself to terra firma-whether on a kayak outing or in a gently rocking berth at bedtime, H2O is the way to go



Bella Mia boat on French Canal du Midi

It may have an Italian name and the British red ensign flying from its stern, but the Bella Mia is moored on the resolutely French Canal du Midi – an epic waterway that links the Mediterranean with the Atlantic near Bordeaux, passing rows of plane trees, ancient chateaux and shaded vineyards en route.
Available to up to four staying guests, the houseboat is every bit as charming as the setting – with dark mahogany interiors and a smart deck on which to sip coffee, scoff croissants and watch other boats sweeping past.
Should these inspire you to set sail on an adventure, the owner of the boat will happily captain her on a short day trip along the canal (£35 per person). Alternatively, you can use land-based transport to reach the nearby town of Béziers – home to a 19th-century aqueduct, where the Canal du Midi passes spectacularly over the Orb River on its way to the sea.
ARRIVE: Béziers’ tiny airport is served by Ryanair flights from Bristol, Edinburgh, Manchester and Luton.



The Sunborn London Yacht at Royal Victoria dock

Modes of transport and alcohol consumption typically don’t make for sensible bedfellows. One notable exception to this rule is the (stationary) Butler’s Gin barge, moored amid the graffiti-tagged warehouses of Hackney Wick, East London.
Here, on weekends, the company offers tastings of its Victorian-recipe tipple, with drinkers sipping gin cocktails and hearing of London’s long, ruinous love affair with the spirit, while narrow boats putter past outside.
Afterwards, see a different side to the capital’s waterways by bagging a berth on the Sunborn London – an oligarch-grade luxury yacht moored at Royal Victoria Dock. The finest rooms have balconies from which you can admire the Millennium Dome, Canary Wharf and all the comings and goings of river traffic on the Thames.
ARRIVE: Trains to London cost upwards of £39 from Bristol, £55 from Manchester and £70 from Edinburgh.



Kayaking on Dalmatian Coast – Croatia

The Dalmatian Coast is perhaps the Mediterranean’s most intricate coastline – a wondrous muddle of long limestone peninsulas, juniper-and pine-shaded islets and rolling hills that rise almost sheer from the waves.
It’s also well within reach for a weekend’s nautical odyssey, if you join Huck Finn Croatia’s three-day Weekend Sailing Trip in the region. Participants cast off from a bay near Dubrovnik aboard a modern yacht, whose skipper then plots a course for the nearby Elafiti Islands. Here, days are whiled away snorkeling the shallow seas, while nights see participants staying aboard, drifting off as the currents of the Adriatic beat against the hull. The trip culminates in the village of Ston – home to ramparts that are Croatia’s small-scale answer to the Great Wall of China.
ARRIVE: BA, easyJet, Jet2, Monarch, Norwegian and Thomson fly to Dubrovnik from major UK airports – most flights run April to October.



CPH Living Hotel – Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen is a spiritual home to seafarers from marauding Vikings to the Little Mermaid, so it’s only fitting that the most stirring views of the Danish capital are to be had from the water.
Or, more specifically, from aboard the CPH Living Hotel – a barge moored in the harbour in the Christianshavn neighbourhood. On board, rooms feature all the usual Scandinavian design trimmings – artful lighting, blonde wood surfaces and, best of all, huge windows from which you can watch speedboats and sightseeing cruisers slip past, all while wearing your jimjams.
ARRIVE: BA, easyJet, Norwegian, Ryanair and SAS fly to Copenhagen from nine UK airports, including Aberdeen, Heathrow, Newcastle and Stansted.



Canoeing the Wye Valley – England

‘O Sylvan Wye,’ wrote William Wordsworth, watching over the Welsh river from his hilltop perch high above. ‘Thou wanderer thro’ the woods/How often has my spirit turned to thee!’ The Romantic poet never got to travel the Wye in a canoe, however. Take a voyage down its lower reaches, beginning in Monmouth, and continuing along the Wye Valley to admire the soaring arches of Tintern Abbey and the hilltop views from Devil’s Pulpit.
ARRIVE: There are no railways in the Wye Valley, so the region is best reached by car- Monmouth is 1.1/2 hours’ drive from Birmingham and 2.3/4 hours from London.
STAY: Redhill Grange b&b has rooms in a three-century-old barn on the edge of Monmouth.



Elba Island – Tuscany, Italy

Robinson Crusoe-type castaway kicks can be hard to come by in Europe, but a helpful place to start is Elba – an island of stony headlands and bright blue bays, a few miles adrift of the Italian mainland. Sea Kayak Italy offers two-day kayaking trips around its shores, accompanied by an experienced tutor, where seafarers steer among the skerries and the starfish-dotted shallows, while savouring the views up to Elba’s wooded interior. Participants camp Crusoe-style for the night on a secluded beach.
ARRIVE: The closest major airport to Elba is at Pisa, with a wide choice of flights from the UK. Silver Air flies onward to Elba.
STAY: Albergo Le Briciole has rooms with fine views over the Elba coast.

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