An evening spent mingling with the pink-cheeked crowds at festive fairs throughout Europe could transform the most curmudgeonly Scrooge and the greenest of Grinches into stocking-stuffing, carol-crooning converts.
Imagine rustic chalets overflowing with handicrafts that might have been fashioned by elves themselves; historic town squares illuminated by twinkling strands of lights; and local delicacies, from bratwurst to pastries, washed down with mugs of mulled wine.
Here’s a look at five of the best cities to stoke your holiday spirit.
Discover the Funky Cool Medina of This Breezy Boho City
Baked by the North African sun and buffeted by a persistent ocean breeze, the Moroccan coastal city of Essaouira lies about three hours west of Marrakesh. But its wave-lashed walled medina, wedged between the wild and windy Atlantic and an arc of modern suburbs, seems to exist in a parallel universe that transcends geographical boundaries.
Essaouira is an improbable mishmash of ancient Arabic and Berber culture, groovy surfer dude vibes, and 21stcentury Boho chic. It’s a mix of bustling souks and high-end art galleries, fishing shacks and sushi bars, traditional hammams and detox yoga retreats…the sort of place where you can take a camel ride on the beach in the morning and visit the organic Val d’Argan winery in the afternoon.
There is a death match brewing between the English cities of Chester, Durham and York, the likes of which the (nether)world has never seen before. While most places try to tempt tourists by touting themselves as “lively” destinations, these three cities take pride in vying for the title of the most (un)dead.
The Ghost Research Foundation International once named York “Europe’s most haunted city,” while others insist that Chester deserves the dubious honour, thanks to a series of turbulent and tragic events. While “Chester: Famine, plague, war—and more!” is hardly the sort of tagline you’ll find on promotional t-shirts and bumper stickers, the city does seem to serve as a veritable primordial soup for spooks.
But if you think Chester and York are swamped with specters, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. According to ParanormalDatabase.com, Durham has been besieged by dozens of phantoms, including a panting Pekinese, flying pitchforks, an impregnating chair, and the, um, “limbless worm.” (Is there any other kind?)
Aside from being “limbless,” this critter is described as “a long, hostile worm which inhabited an oak wood, attacking man and beast,” rather like the killer rabbit from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
I only hope that my tour of Chester, Durham and York will finally allow the whole matter to, er, rest in peace. Read on, and decide for yourself. (more…)
With the British pound currently beaten down due to the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, now is the time for penny pinchers to head to the UK capital. If you’re looking for an afternoon of cheap thrills in London, it’s as easy as a walk in the park…or, rather, beside the river. As I’ve discovered while entertaining visitors in the city I’ve called home for more than a decade, one of the best (and most affordable) ways to acquaint yourself with the its iconic sites is by pounding the pavement along the Thames.
With this four mile, self-guided walking tour, you can experience 1,000 years of history, without the aid of Dr. Who’s TARDIS. You might opt to spring for admission to some of the sterling attractions along the way, but you aren’t obliged to burn a lot of cash…just calories. Read on to view the map and key stops along the way. (more…)
Tom Cruise. Beyoncé. Jay-Z. John Malkovich. Richard Gere. Catherine Zeta-Jones. Michael Douglas. Oh, and pretty much the entire cast of “Game of Thrones.”
No, that’s not a list of celebrities who have been papped tumbling tipsily out of taxis, or who eat only organic macrobiotic algae or insist on traveling with an albino pet monkey named Zoolander. Rather, it’s a red carpet rundown of stars who have been spotted in one of Europe’s hottest destinations—the historic walled city of Dubrovnik, abutting the Adriatic Sea. (more…)
Go to Monaco for the Formula 1 Grand Prix. Stay for the gob-smacking glitz of Monte-Carlo’s Michelin-starred restaurants, chic shops, and palatial hotels.Small but perfectly formed, Monaco measures less than one square mile and is the most densely populated—and arguably the most glamorous—country in the world. In this coastal kingdom, synonymous with the dazzling municipality of Monte-Carlo, Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Porsches prowl the streets, and multi-million dollar yachts jockey for space in a pair of posh ports.
Impeccably-coiffed women in sunglasses and stilettos stalk the shop-lined Cercle d’Or. Bronzed beauties bask at exclusive beach clubs, and high rollers try their luck in the legendary Casino de Monte-Carlo, surrounded by crystal chandeliers and gold-flecked mosaics.
Royal-watchers climb to the hilltop Palace of Monaco to see the changing of the guard. In such a small country, it’s not uncommon to even catch a glimpse of Prince Albert II and his wife, Princess Charlene, whizzing by in a motorcade.
And every May, of course, racing enthusiasts rock up for the high-octane adrenaline rush of the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix. Some fans shell out thousands to watch competitors speed through city streets from a prime position on the harbor’s edge, with pit lane access and an open bar.
WHERE TO EAT
The cars may be fast, but the food is not. One doesn’t make a pilgrimage to Monaco for McDonald’s, now does one? No, indeed. One comes to snarf at a constellation of Michelin-starred culinary institutions.
Lexington, Kentucky may be best known for bourbon and betting on the horses, but it’s fast gaining a reputation as a magnate for some of the world’s most talented street artists. PRHBTN, which hosts an annual mural festival, is transforming this hip Southern city into one super-sized, graffiti-covered canvas. You’ll find a map of their locations here. Or, just kick back in your armchair and scroll through a gallery of some of my favourites.
All Roads Lead to…Trier. Germany’s Oldest City Offers a Taste of Ancient Rome.
It’s been more than 24 hours since I arrived in Germany, and neither beer nor schnitzel has passed my lips. It’s not that I’m opposed to a boozy nosh in a good old-fashioned beer hall. Far from it. But when in Trier…do as the Romans do.
Germany’s oldest city, Trier, was founded by the Romans in 16 BC, and the toga-clad conquerors left a lasting legacy. That’s why tonight, I’ve opted for a cozy, wood-panelled restaurant called Zum Domstein, where I’ve just sat down to an ancient Roman feast of sausage with fish sauce, suckling pig, and ham with figs and myrtle–the very definition of “pigging out”–and that’s not even half the repast laid out on my groaning table.
To wash down my dinner, I’ve got a mugful of mulsum, a rich cocktail comprised of dry white wine, honey and anise. Everything has been prepared according to 2,000-year-old recipes originated by Marcus Gavius Apicius, who catered for the Roman Empire’s elite during the reign of Tiberius. (Whether Chef Boyardee’s culinary impact will stand such an extraordinary test of time remains to be seen, but something tells me those tins of spaghetti and meatballs will be well past their best-by date before the next millennium.)
Of course, Trier has a lot more going for it than a long-dead Italian chef. Located near Germany’s western border in the Mosel River wine-growing region, it is one of more than a dozen lesser-known cities belonging to a consortium known as Historic Highlights of Germany. To qualify, each destination must have a minimum population of 100,000, a university, long-distance train service, and at least 700 years of history. My goal is to discover Trier’s off-the-beaten-track attractions, from its ancient Roman ruins to its wine and cuisine. (more…)
Exploring the ancient ruins and bustling streets of Rome tops millions of travellers’ “must do” lists. But let’s face it. The Italian capital can be overwhelming. The unfamiliar language, seemingly endless rows of restaurants, and fear of pickpockets and taxi drivers who might take you for a ride in more ways than one may leave even the savviest visitors feeling trepidatious.
Tour guide Kylie Savage once walked in your shoes. Following a passion for Michelangelo, the Australian ex-pat relocated to Rome several years ago. Today, she’s happy to share her hard-won expertise in avoiding potential pitfalls and making the most of Italy’s alluring capital.
Read on for Kylie’s top ten tips for tourists in Rome.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are cozied up in a second story window, holding hands and smiling as they gaze toward Windsor Castle. Passers-by in the street do a double-take when they spot the marvelous Ms. Markle and her dishy ginger biscuit, and a few even hazard a tentative, finger-fluttering wave. But the celebrity lovebirds don’t move a muscle.
The purportedly down-to-earth prince and his American actress fiancé aren’t being snooty. They simply can’t help their stiff demeanor and cardboard smiles, because, well, they are cardboard. The life-sized cutout, available on Amazon, is a fitting symbol of the larger-than-life wedding mania sweeping up royal watchers around the world.
Nowhere is that feeling more apparent than in Windsor, where Harry and Meghan will tie the knot on May 19 at St. George’s Chapel, located within the walled compound of Windsor Castle. Afterwards, the newlyweds will take a carriage ride through Windsor’s streets, which are expected to be flanked by more than 100,000 well-wishers on the day.
If your wedding invitation was lost in the mail, don’t fret. Spring is a fabulous time to visit Britain regardless, and we’ve got the lowdown on how to rock it like a royal at three of the best British blue-blood destinations. Tap it like it’s hot to read about each city below:
Windsor, whose pint-sized population of 30,000 belies its royal roots, is eager to roll out the red carpet for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s marriage on May 19. “It’s a celebration, and we’re keen to make sure that we put on a show for the people who are visiting,” says Rory Shanks, one of the owners of Heidi Bakery, which has developed three-tier wedding cupcakes in Harry and Meghan’s honor.
GET GEARED UP
Heidi sells its sugary confections at their café in Daniel, a century-old department store that holds the Queen’s Royal Warrant (basically, her stamp of approval) for supplying gifts. So presumably, given Daniel’s current range of wedding-related novelties, this is where the Queen would go to snag herself a Harry and Meghan fridge magnet and a Harry and Meghan dishcloth to dry her Harry and Meghan mug after enjoying a nice cuppa Harry and Meghan tea.
Then again, Liz could just pop into the Windsor Castle gift shop, which is hawking commemorative items emblazoned with the initials “H&M,” which should not, under any circumstances, be mistaken for representing the clothing shop H&M, purveyor of “distressed” (mauled by lions) denim short-shorts and other High Street fashions.
TOAST THE HAPPY COUPLE
Tie one on with a Windsor Knot. The Windsor and Eton Brewery originally produced this pale ale for Will and Kate’s wedding in 2011 and has rebranded their bottles for Harry and Meghan.
Alternatively, opt for a tot of Gin&’er, a ginger-infused gin that The Queen Charlotte pub in Windsor commissioned to celebrate redheaded (aka “ginger”) Harry getting hitched. The pub sent the first of 250 limited edition bottles to the prince himself, so if you wake up with a royal hangover, passed out in front of the “throne,” you’re probably in good company.
If Harry and Meghan’s OTT wedding has wetted your appetite for the red carpet treatment, read on to discover how to rock it like a royal in London.
STERLING SHOPPING SPREE (more…)
GO THE EXTRA MILE
The Royal Mile, which is actually 1.12 miles (based on the old “Scots’ mile”), is about as royal as miles come. The sloping backbone of the Scottish capital is bookended by Edinburgh Castle, crowning the imposing Castle Rock at the top of the road, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse (the Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh) at the bottom.
The street in between is lined with higgledy piggledy, charming old stone buildings, most with shopfronts displaying cashmere, kilts, whisky, wine, Harris tweed and wee gifts. “Thistle Do Nicely” definitely wins for worst pun / best shop name.
CREATE YOUR OWN BESPOKE TIPPLE
Liz’s late mum, The Queen Mother, was known for knocking back her fair share of gin and tonic. The classic cocktail was actually invented by the British army in India as a tasty way to ward off malaria, thanks to the quinine in tonic water. Given that the Queen Mother lived to 101, there might be at least a little truth in G&T’s reputation as a healthy(ish) elixir.
However, you wouldn’t expect a royal to slip just any old hooch past their stiff upper lip. Surely, one would wish to create one’s own bespoke knee-wobbly, swiggly-giggly happy sauce, would one not? (more…)
Istanbul. Been there. Done that. Bought the rug. That’s what I thought after my first visit—a frenzied, two-day stopover several years ago.
Yet so many people rave about Istanbul, I wondered if they were simply smokin’ from a different hookah, or if perhaps I had missed something during my whirlwind tour of “must see” sites like the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and Dolmabahce Palace.
It was architectural overload, like staring at the sun. If I had been invited to gaze upon one more mosaic, however beautiful, I thought I might bleed from my eyes.
Don’t get me wrong. Istanbul’s wonders are worth visiting, particularly the Blue Mosque, as it’s not only stunning; it’s also an important religious centre where worshipers pray five times a day.
But for the most part, the de rigueur list barely scratches the surface of what I had come to suspect might be the true spirit of this city, where residents respect their history, but live, love, work, dance, play and party in the present.
So I went back. I slowed down. I walked. I wandered. I got lost…more than once, actually…and I let Istanbul weave its spell around me.
Whether you’re visiting this city on the Bosphorus for the first time or the fifth, here are some top tips for getting the most out of your holiday. (more…)
Sure, it’s all heart-shaped chocolate boxes and perky red roses on Valentine’s Day. But how do you resuscitate romance after those blood red blooms have wilted and the giddy high of champagne bursts like a bubble, leaving only a hangover behind?
Read on for four prescriptions for passion that will help you pump new life into a flaccid relationship long after Cupid has flown the coop with his Valentine’s Day Viagra.
“’For six weeks, I allow Bath is pleasant enough; but beyond that, it is the most tiresome place in the world.’ You would be told so by people of all descriptions, who come regularly every winter, lengthen their six weeks into ten or twelve, and go away at last because they can afford to stay no longer.”
So Mr. Tilney wryly remarks to newly arrived country mouse Catherine Morland, Jane Austen’s young heroine in Northanger Abbey. Austen visited Bath in the late 1700s and lived here from 1801 and 1806, and she set much of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion in this Georgian city 100 miles west of London.
Although this year marks 200 years since the author’s death, her descriptions of Bath at the dawn of the 19th century retain the acerbic sting of Austen’s wicked wit.
But with the passing centuries, Bath seems to have forgiven its adopted daughter for her droll jibes. In addition to establishing the Jane Austen Centre, Bath holds two annual events in her honour: the Jane Austen Festival Regency Costumed Summer Ball, and the Jane Austen Festival in September, which holds a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for gathering the most people in Regency dress (since the early 1800s, one would assume). This year, you can also participate in a bicentennial Grand Regency Ball, to be held September 16, 2017 in the Assembly Rooms, where Austen herself would have kicked up her heels back in the day. (more…)
Travelers hoping to pinch pounds in Great Britain are in luck. With the uncertainty surrounding Brexit—the UK’s decision to leave the European Union—the pound has plummeted. Here are my top tips for squeezing the Queen’s sterling until it squeals.
Thanks to the UK’s vote to leave the European Union—a political exodus popularly dubbed “Brexit”–the pound sterling has plummeted. While that might be bad news for our British brethren, it’s sparked a “Brenaissance” for American tourists who want to make their dollars stretch further across the pond.
With a few more pounds in your pocket, you might consider checking into one of London’s hottest luxury hotels. We’ve compiled a list of some of the best, all of which have something new to offer, from recent renovations to restaurant debuts and the latest in technological innovations. (more…)
Two girls nestle inside a rusting bathtub, each languidly puffing on a hookah like the louche, heavy-lidded caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland. A six-foot tall green rabbit squats at the entrance of their ramshackle den, a figment of a fever dream conjured into concrete form, while a child’s rocking horse dangles upside down from the ceiling, impassively surveying the scene through black button eyes.
Deeper in the heart of this graffiti-splattered cavern, half-a-dozen hipsters crowd into a defunct car retrofitted with wooden benches, Beverly Hillbillies-style, and a young woman dances with an inflatable doll beneath the rainbow glow of Christmas lights. Gradually, the tangle of tattooed limbs blurs into a mind-bending illusion—that of a multitentacled, beer-clutching Kraken grooving to a persuasive techno beat.
Whatever I might have expected from Budapest, I couldn’t have imagined the dystopian utopia of Szimpla Kert. It’s a surreal standout among a warren of “ruin pubs” that transform the Hungarian capital’s Jewish Quarter into a party-hearty hub after dark.
These lively bars—some little more than open-air courtyards strung with hammocks and furnished with old barrels, park benches and even a “shipwrecked” boat—line the roads and fill the courtyards of buildings that lay neglected long after World War II.
Now, the neighborhood is a haven for street artists, students and backpackers basking in the hedonistic vibe that pervades former Eastern Bloc cities like Budapest and Prague, which are still reveling in their freedom after casting off the Communist yoke towards the end of the 20th century.
Some visitors come to Budapest seeking a better understanding of its turbulent history, including its World War II Axis alliance and post-war Soviet rule, which ended in 1989. (more…)
For some, the ideal holiday means rest and relaxation, where “shop ‘til you drop” is regarded as a legitimate form of exercise. For others, R&R translates as “ready and raring to go”…on challenging up-hill trails, if possible.
Italy’s Sorrentine Peninsula offers the perfect setting for both extremes. If six-inch stilettos are your style, choose Sorrento. If your “good shoes” are the pair least caked with mud, you’ll probably prefer Positano. Read on for tips on making the most of la dolce vita, however you define it.
On the north, overlooking the Bay of Naples, Sorrento is a civilized little city, filled with interesting stores, scores of restaurants, and cafes tailor-made for a sunset aperitif. Above all, it is beautifully, blessedly flat.
Walking more than 100 feet without encountering a steep slope or an even steeper set of stairs is something you’ll quickly learn to appreciate when you cross over the Lattari Mountains, the spiny backbone of the peninsula, and arrive on the Amalfi Coast.
This is perhaps Italy’s most scenic stretch of coastline. The road is curvier than Marilyn Monroe in a bikini, with hairpin turns that snake between jagged mountains on one side and eye-popping drops to the sea on the other.
Even more impressive than the road are the villages themselves, which cling to cliffs with the tenacity of cacti in the desert.
Some seem to have been designed by an especially sadistic fan of M.C. Escher, with endless staircases leading to, well, more endless staircases, as epitomized Atrani, one of the tiny gems along the coast.
But the most famous of them all, with its Jenga-like jumble of gravity-defying bungalows, bougainvillea-draped terraces and jaw-dropping views, is postcard-perfect Positano. (more…)
Tallinn is making up for lost time. After being bandied about by the USSR and Nazi Germany before finally gaining independence in 1991, the Estonian capital today is like a freshman at university, relishing a taste of freedom, revved up on Red Bull and ready to party.
Yet wherever you go, there’s history, smacking you on the back of the head like that last ill-advised shot of Jagermeister at one of the city’s late-night dance halls, all juxtaposed against a kind of frenetic, youthful joy and capitalist ambition. If you want to experience a society teetering at a cultural and temporal crossroads, this is the time to visit Tallinn. (more…)
Some seasoned travelers may cast a weary eye upon Europe. London, Paris, Rome…check, check, and check. But if you think you’ve “been there, done that,” it may be time to consider Croatia.
Since joining the European Union in 2013, this slice of the former Yugoslavia has officially hit the big time. Twenty years after the Croatian War of Independence, its once battle-scarred cities have been beautifully rebuilt, and the country wants the world to know: it’s open for business.
If you haven’t yet dipped your toe in the sapphire Adriatic Sea abutting its shores or discovered the museum-packed capital of Zagreb, Abercrombie & Kent’s nine-day Connections tour–“Croatia: Jewel of the Coast”–offers a tantalizingly moreish taste of this croissant-shaped nation. (more…)
If you’ve ever dreamed of walking in the wingtips of the world’s sexiest super spy–or tottering along in the sky-high stilettos of a Bond babe–read on for a list of Great Britain’s most 007-worthy adventures. Whether you’re burning up the road in an Aston Martin—or burning big bucks on London’s aptly-named Bond Street–these top six tips will leave you feeling more stirred than shaken.
Up at the O2 (more…)
Amsterdam is best known for its risqué Red Light District, where working girls pose in neon-lit windows and “coffee shops” sell substances substantially more mood altering than a Starbucks’ triple venti no foam latte.
Veer west off the tourist trail, however, and you’ll encounter a completely different city. Picture buzzing local restaurants and cafés, one-of-a-kind shops and hipster havens that have brought previously derelict areas back to life.