6 Must See Cities in Europe

Image

For those of us fortunate to have had the opportunity to explore some of the world’s most fascinating cities, we don’t always appreciate how wonderful and eye-opening those escapes have been until we stop and think….. we’ve been there!     And yes, many of you reading this blog may have also traveled to these great cities but have ventured on to many more.  For those of you who have not yet had the opportunity to experience these destinations, we hope this introductory taste will be enough to inspire you to book your next adventure in 2018.

Paris, France

“What an immense impression Paris made upon me.  It was the most extraordinary place in the world!”  – Charles Dickens

Paris can be many things to many people.  It is romantic.  It is beautiful.  It is rich in history.  It is elegance.  It is extraordinary cuisine.  It is nightlife.  It is lovely streets, lanes and impressive bridges.  It is worth spending time exploring all this amazing European city has to offer.   Of course, you cannot miss the iconic Eiffel Tower and Louvre Museum but explore more to appreciate her intrigue – Jardin du Luxembourg, Notre-Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs-Elysées, the Hôtel des Invalides…just to name a very few.  And, whatever you do, don’t miss a river view of Paris on a boat ride on the Seine.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

With over 50 museums, including the Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank House, and the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam attracts several million tourists worldwide annually.  The visual impact of seeing Amsterdam for the first time is remarkable with more than 6,800 houses and buildings protected as monuments.  Amsterdam also boasts the largest historical inner city in Europe.  Don’t forget to take in the seemingly endless canals and bridges this magical city offers – try a canal cruise during the day or night, or both.  This may be a city which will require several return trips.

 London, England

“When a man tires of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”  – Samuel Johnson

What comes to mind first when you think of London?  There are so many iconic destinations to put on your ‘must see’ list!  Buckingham Palace with its crowd inspiring colorful guard and also where the queen resides in regal splendor; the Tower of London (well worth an entire day) where you will be entertained and educated by the Beef Eaters, hear tales of the ravens and the demise of many political prisoners;  Big Ben – you simply cannot miss looking at this towering jewel of London; Westminster Abbey, where Britain’s monarchs are crowned, some are married and many buried; the London eye which is an enormous ferris wheel measuring 394 feet in diameter sitting on the banks of the Thames.  Our advise for those travelers for their first trip to Europe – check out London first.  You will not need to worry about learning new words in a foreign language to get along on your adventure there.

Venice, Italy

“She is the Shakespeare of cities – unchallenged, incomparable, and beyond envy.” – John Addington Symonds

Celebrated art and architecture are just two reasons to whisk yourself away to the winding canals of Venice.  The 2-mile long Grand Canal, which is shaped like a large question mark, marks the heart and soul of this place like no other in the world.  Places of interest not to miss include Piazza San Marco and all this crowd gathering spot has to offer such as the Doge’s Palace, the sidewalk cafe’s and restaurants, and the famous pigeons hungry for hand-outs; the Bridge of Sighs and the Rialto Bridge, Palazzo Ducale, Bascillica Di San Marco, the San Giorgio Maggiore Church and the Guggenheim Museum.  Consider going to Venice in the off-season (November through April), which means smaller crowds and cooler temperatures.  Not everyone falls in love with Venice, but if you do you will keep going back.

 Barcelona, Spain

An extremely popular destination for Europeans and Americans alike, Barcelona is a sophisticated and trendy city which overflows with fashion, music, food and dance.  Often referred to as a walking piece of art travelers will be richly rewarded with  impressive architecture such as Gaudi’s Catedral de la Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell which appears to have stepped out of a fairy tale and emulates an English garden city.  300 days of sunshine a year makes this remarkable place an ideal getaway during most any season.  Barcelona is another city which can be quite crowded, especially on days when large cruise ships are in port, so aim to visit this popular destination in the spring or fall.

 Prague, Czech Republic

“Prague doesn’t let go.  This old crone has claws.  One has to yield or else.” – Franz Kafka

Although known as the ‘city of a hundred spires’, Prague actually has nearly one thousand spired buildings and include gothic cathedrals and baroque palaces.  This historic and colorful destination takes time to explore and to get a feel for the pulse of the city.  One of the first must see highlight for your list will be the Charles Bridge, Prague’s signature stone bridge complete with buskers, food, entertainment, and a perfectly framed view of Prague Castle.  Prague Castle is a rambling castle complex that can be enjoyed by simply walking the grounds or taking a tour of the inside walls.  Petrin Hill, a lovely hill in the shadow of the castle complex offers sweeping views of the city.  Either wander up on your own or take the funicular to see the 299-step faux Eiffel Tower, the mirror maze and Stefanik Observatory.  And don’t miss the focal point of the Stare′ Mesto district, the Astronomical Clock which has chimed since 1410.

Grapes to Crepes

Enjoying Fine French Traditions

A recent vacation to France took us to Paris for Bastille Day, and then on to the Champagne Region, Normandy and parts of Brittany.  We experienced the sophistication and architectural beauty of Paris, gained intriguing knowledge of how true Champagne has been lovingly developed and is being produced in this unique region of France, were reminded of the historic significance to the United States and Europe of the Normandy region and became immersed in the pleasingly delightful French countryside as we drove from one small village in northern France to another.

I would love to share with you an adventure from our perspective of two French iconic traditions – Champagne and Crêpes, so here goes…

grapes to crepes

When you take a sip of ‘champagne’ at a special occasion such as a wedding, New Year’s Eve or romantic dinner are you really drinking Champagne or is it sparkling wine?  Chances are you are not enjoying the ‘real thing’!  Did you know that for a sparkling wine to be labeled “Champagne” it must be produced from within the regions’ border?  Champagne is a legally controlled and restricted name.  The region we speak of is France’s most northerly wine region, due east of Paris. In this kind of cool climate, the growing season is rarely warm enough to ripen grapes to the level required for standard wine making.

Vilmart Champagne

The all-important fine and delicate bubbles which make it stand out from less ‘exciting’ wines and the high prices that Champagne commands make the consumer feel special, pampered and exclusive.   Compare for yourself – try real Champagne in a taste test against a domestic sparkling wine – and you will notice the difference in one sip.

Champagne crop

On our visit to the Champagne region with FestivalPros.com we learned that one of the area’s greatest assets is its chalk soils, which provide incredible drainage, forcing the vine to “stress” as it searches for a supply of water making the root system stronger.  The stress from this movement helps preserve acidity in the grapes.  The  chalky soils have also proven a beneficial natural element for another reason and it is fascinating!

Veuve Cliquot Cellar 2

Roman soldiers created elaborate systems of caves that now lie beneath many Champagne houses (wineries) in the Reims, France area.  These caves maintain a cool temperature year round, approximately 12 degrees Celsius, which is ideal for Champagne production and storage.  As the city of Reims was being bombed during World War I, the Champenois lived in these same caves as their bottles of Champagne while transforming some of this hidden space as hospitals and schools.  During a private dinner in the Cellars St. Petersburg at the massive Veuve Cliquot limestone cellars, we learned that over 90 million bottles of Champagne are stored there in the seemingly endless cave system.  A massive and very impressive presentation of history, pride, and a stunning atmosphere left us in awe about what was and what is.

Veuve Cliquot cellar

We learned of Madame Cliquot  the fascinating woman behind the iconic yellow label: Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin.  One of the world’s richest women at the time, she arranged perilous champagne deliveries to Russia one day and entertained Napoleon and Josephine Bonaparte on another. She was a daring and determined entrepreneur and remains an important port of the history of Champagne and its’ development.

Dom Perignon Sign

We also learned about Dom Pérignon while visiting a small village of 800 residents, Hautvillers, which is also his final resting place.  Although considered an extraordinary champagne, Dom Pierre Pérignon did not invent champagne.  He worked in Hautvillers as a monk and perfected the process that created champagne as we know it.  Hautvillers is still home to many small Maisons de Champagne.  An astounding fact we learned about the Champagne region of France:  there are over 35,000 champagne producers in this fairly small region and over 2 million wineries in the country of France.   83,000 acres of vineyards produce an average of a million bottles of Champagne a day!

Leaving the Champagne region  behind us, we now discover French crêpes.  France’s Crepes flatBrittany region is where the techniques and tools were created and perfecting the crepe to the art it is known for.    Crêpes were originally called galettes, meaning flat cakes.  Crêpe making has evolved from being cooked on large cast-iron plates heated over a wood fire in a fireplace to today’s hot plates that are now gas or electric.  The batter is spread with a tool known as a rozel and flipped with a spatula.  Crêpe lovers use their imagination what to add to their dessert treat – drizzles of chocolate, fresh fruit, powdered sugar, or delicious flambé sauces.

dreamstime_m_43909930

In Brittany, crêpes are traditionally served with cider.  On February 2, crêpes are offered in France on the holiday known as Fete de la Chandeleur, Fete de la Lumiere, or “jour des crêpes”.    Crêpes are popular not only throughout France but elsewhere in Europe where the  usually thin and delicate pancakes are known by other names and adaptations, including the Italian crespelle, Hungarian palacsintas, Jewish blintzes, Scandinavian plattars, Russian blini, and Greek kreps.  We ran across a few ‘less quality’ crêpes that were very large, doughy and thick – perhaps a fast food version!

By and large, France offers an impressive array of dining temptations, fine wines and Champagne.  We experienced many outstanding meals but even when the food was not quite as expected, the bread never fell short and was always amazing. Add a bite of Brie, a chilled glass of Champagne and that may be all you need!

With this statement and this photo, we say

  Bon appétit and bon voyage!

Bread

 

 

 

 

 

Save