Italy, Greece, Portugal, Cyprus, and Scandinavia
Despite its complement of 50 countries, Europe is a relatively small continent, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in variety. Each country has its own culture and language, and within each country regional dialects abound and cultural variations differ still. It’s hard to imagine a single common denominator that links each of the countries that make up European holiday destinations.
Is it the grand architecture? The fantastically diverse food? The scenery, from arid lunar landscapes to rolling alpine fields? There’s so much diversity that it’s impossible to pinpoint one collective thread.
The architecture is such that you can explore Moorish buildings next to Baroque churches, Islamic windows peering onto Renaissance gems that act as a living museum. The food offers up a flavour for any palate, with each country’s national dishes more different than the next: tapas in Spain, smorgasbord in Denmark and souvlaki in Greece to name but a few. But who knew that you could find some of the most pioneering nouvelle cuisine in Scandinavia or the birthplace of the pizza, not in the undulating fields of Tuscany, but in humble, gritty Naples? Here you can go from skiing to the beach in a single day, and discover some of the best cultural experiences (on your doorstep!) from weekend city breaks to longer trips of exploration or just laying back on the beach.
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REGIONS OF EUROPE
The three cornerstones of Italian cooking are pizza, pasta and passion, so it’s no surprise that Italy is a popular destination for food lovers seeking to sample a little slice of la dolce vita. The magic of Italy is its unashamed zest for life, of people who start their day with an obligatory espresso at their favourite café and end it over a glass of locally produced wine under a smattering of stars. If food isn’t your thing then consider the sights and sounds around you, from the misty, curving landscapes of Tuscany to the beaches that pepper the south and the plethora of UNESCO World Heritage Sites that litter the cities of Rome, Florence, Venice… Sounds like the slap of canal water against the side of a gondola gliding along the Grand Canal, the whine of a scooter navigating a switchback road along the Amalfi Coast, the sizzle of a hot pan filled with olive oil – and we’re back to the food, again! The lakes in the north, Como, Maggiore and Garda, are a cool respite from the summer heat and offer a different take on the country, while in the south, Sicily, the largest of Italy’s islands, boasts fabulous beaches, pretty towns and the towering aspect of Mount Etna.
Greece is a natural holiday destination. The recipe of beautiful beaches, a population that lives to, well, live well, and an island for every occasion; Greek holidays are the stuff of childhood memories, of sailing from pebble beaches to idyllic harbour towns, driving down hair-raising roads and eating oranges picked straight from the tree. Athens maybe the birthplace of democracy, where ruins languish on every corner and the night doesn’t get properly started until 2am, but away from the surprisingly charming city you can find a destination to suit your every whim. Feeling romantic? Santorini holidays make for the ideal honeymoon in Greece, with sunsets that defy CGI. Are you a trendsetter? Mykonos is the ‘new Ibiza’ where the great and the glamorous gather. Crete is replete with beaches, Ios a party island, Paxos and Naxos more different still. In the Ionian chain, the islands are verdant and green, like hilly Kefalonia with its loggerhead turtles and Corfu with its Venetian old town. Skiathos and Skopelos are the stuff of Hollywood blockbuster (if you’ve seen Mamma Mia!...) and on the mainland, the Peloponnese is both beautiful and cultured. On a warm evening at dusk, as the vermilion sun melts into the shimmering distant horizon, there’s no better pastime than to sip a glass of chilled retsina as you contemplate the good life, Greek style.
As Europe’s oldest nation, Portugal has a lot to offer. Enviable beaches and colourful architecture, lush vineyards and quaint fishing villages with boats that bob evocatively in the harbour, cities that offer delectable cuisine and enticing short breaks. It can be distinguished by two halves: in the north, the scenery is rustic and rolling, scrubby vineyards overlooking the staggering coast and quaint towns where the way of life hasn’t changed in decades. In the south, the main draw is the beaches. Mile upon mile of sandy swathes, the coast littered with unflustered resort towns and hillside villages. The capital, Lisbon, is ideal for a long weekend. Nibble custard tarts as you meander its sleepy cobbled streets lined with houses resplendent in traditional blue and white tiles.
The quintessential family holiday destination, Cyprus offers much more than just beaches. A blend of Greek and Turkish customs has created its own distinctive culture. As well as those spectacular beaches you’ll discover Roman ruins, medieval castles, spectacular mountains and – best of all – year round sunshine. The contrasting Turkish and Greek sides make it easy to experience two cultures in one; it’s simply a case of crossing one of the seven access points between the Greek and Turkish borders. The capital, Nicosia, is relaxed and whether you choose to visit the Greek side or the Turkish side, Lefkosa, you’ll find the people as warm and friendly as the eternally shining sun in which their country bathes.
Perhaps not a traditional holiday destination, but growing ever more popular in recent years, Scandinavia is a fantastic short hop from the UK that offers a little something different to the marvellous Mediterranean. Mention Scandinavia holidays and the mind drifts to glittering fjords, unspoilt wildernesses, quirky cities and the Northern Lights gliding above starry skies. Sweden is the third largest country in Western Europe, so there’s plenty of space for its spectacular landscapes. Where else can you sleep in a mirrored treehouse or heated igloo under a blizzard? The capital city of Stockholm spreads across 14 islands with views of the frigid Baltic Sea, and in the north you’ll find Swedish Lapland, blanketed in forests of pine and lakes of azure, stretching as far as the eye can see. Norway is beautiful and diverse, with picturesque fishing villages and, of course, the fjords. Take a fjords cruise or perhaps hike around the region for a bird’s-eye view of the stunning cliffs and the sparkling water. Denmark, and in particular the capital of Copenhagen, is ideal for short breaks from the UK. Though the smallest country in the Nordic region, Denmark has plenty to offer, such as sandy beaches and a rich and illustrious history. Copenhagen is one of Scandinavia’s most beautiful cities and is a pleasure to explore on foot and by bicycle.