So much to see, so little time. There is not much that Europe doesn’t offer within her 50 something countries. Modern icons include the Millenium Eye and the Gherkin in London, the sinuous, silver Gehry-designed Guggenheim in Bilbao through to enduring ancients such as the Aya Sofia in Istanbul, the Acropolis in Athens and the Pantheon in Rome. Then there are the swoon-worthy landscapes that span the epic volcanic plains and lakes of Iceland; majestic fjords of Norway; the alpine castles of Germany; the Alps of France, Switzerland and Italy; the heaths and highlands of Scotland; the sun-drenched beaches of Cote d’Azur, Costa Brava and the Algarve; myriad islands of Greece and Croatia through to the narrow, hedge-lined lanes of Cornwall, England, the rolling lavender fields of Provence and the olive groves of Tuscany. Just close your eyes and pick…
Contemporary and traditional, dynamic and staid, the United Kingdom contradicts as it charms. The world’s first industrialised nation and foremost power during the 19th and 20th century, this tiny country located off the north-west coast of Europe has arguably had more influence over modern culture than any other in the world. Go there for dynamic modern cities like London, Glasgow, Dublin, Edinburgh and Manchester that boast the best of contemporary music, fashion, design and art. And for the iconic visions of its countryside, dotted with relics from the Roman Empire and her pagan history, as well as lush rolling green hills, ancient forests, windswept cliffs and of course, the old English pub.
It’s not if, but when, you’ll visit France. Europe’s largest country boasts seven cultural regions so well known they are distinct destinations unto themselves; Normandy and Brittany in the north; the pretty farmlands of Central France; Biarritz and the other sea and wine destinations of South-western France; the spectacular mountains of the Pyrenees; as well as the French Mediterranean, the endless sunshine of the French Riviera, cosmopolitan Marseilles in the heart of Provence, and the French Alps. Oh and there’s also Paris – a city of unsurpassed beauty and atmosphere and arguably the world’s top tourist destination. Its intimate streetscape, diverse arrondissements (neighbourhoods), extraordinary restaurants, eclectic shopping and intoxicating café culture keep the travellers coming back time and again.
Viva España! With the second-largest number of UNESCO World Heritage sites in any country after Italy, it seems like this vibrant nation is doing just that. With beautiful signposts to her dynamic history - Jewish, Moorish Muslims and the Berbers of North Africa – and plenty of distinct regions like some fiercely autonomous. Highlights include Madrid, the energetic capital, with some of Europe’s best museums and galleries; Barcelona, synonymous with the fantastical work of Gaudi; the Guggenheim of industrial Bilbao; and Granada with the magical La Alhambra.
Think beyond school geography lessons that seemed to stop and start with the mainland boot of Italy and the soccer ball island of Sicily at its toe. Now fabulous destinations like island of Sardinia are attracting travellers from everywhere. Primarily mountainous, with the Alps shared with France and Switzerland, as well as the Apennine and rugged Dolomites, Italy is divided into six regions packed with natural, historic, gastronomic and cultural sights and experiences. Central Italy holds most of the big tourist drawcards with Rome, the Vatican City, the Renaissance city of Florence in Tuscany Siena, Pisa and the historic stone towns of Assisi, Perugia, Orvieto and Gubbio.
There’s also North-west Italy and the Alps, the Italian Riviera with the beautiful town of Portofino and Cinque Terre with its five cliff-top villages, the industrial town of Turin, the fashion and business centre Milan and the mediaeval maritime port of Genoa; North-eastern Italy with the romantic canal-city Venice, and food capital Bologna; Southern Italy has the thriving and busy Naples (with its UNESCO World Heritage city centre), Amalfi Coast, excavated Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and the idyllic island of Capri. Finally, the islands Sicily offer extraordinary archaeology with Greek and Roman ruins, gorgeous waters and beaches while Sardinia has spectacular scenery and beaches.
The ultimate destination for architecture, design and culture junkies, it’s hard to imagine in which cultural pursuit the Germans are not leading the way. From the über cool Berlin to the financial powerhouse of Frankfurt to the historic cities of Nuremberg, Cologne and Munich, Germany is dense with cultural and historical attractions. Rich regional cuisine, famous Rhine valley wines and an endless supply of craft beers will help you on your way as you travel through fairytale castles perched on rocky outcrops; river valleys with vineyards stretching along their banks; sweeping alpine scenery; charming half-timbered towns and cities stuffed with artistic and cultural riches.