Four Unusual European Cities To Visit
Nestled between Italy, Austria and Croatia, Slovenia is Eastern Europe’s best kept secret. With the snow-capped Alps rising above a beautiful emerald-green lake, Bled will leave you with a wonderful first impression of the country.
The lake itself surrounds Bled Island, Slovenia’s only island which is home to a 15th century church, like something out of a fairytale. Slovenia, as with many Eastern European countries, is slowly being discovered by tourists but remains relatively unspoiled for now, meaning that the picture-perfect scenery is still in tact.
Head to the Osojnica viewpoint for a breathtaking view over the lake from 2,000ft up then for the more adventurous, you can cycle to the Vintgar Gorge, hike the foothills of the Julian Alps, white water raft down the Soca River or even take a tandem sky dive from the Lesce Bled sports airport, just 4km from the city centre.
If the weather is good, and for something a little less strenuous, take a trip to the island in a rowing boat. The scenery is equally as stunning in winter as in summer so whenever you visit, you’re sure to be blown away by this beautiful place.
Where to stay
With five-star service and views over the crystal clear lake, the Grand Hotel Toplice should be top of your list. Although the decor is a little old-fashioned, it is nonetheless a grand hotel. Relax in the Studio Luisa spa or eat and drink in the sun on their outdoor terrace overlooking the lake.
With four stars, Vila Bled is another option for a luxury stay. Aside from the obvious features of the hotel: the traditional 1950s decor and the balconies looking out over the lake, their restaurant, Belvedere Pavilion is top notch.
For those on a lower budget, try the Hotel Astoria. Despite its three-star rating, this modern hotel exceeds expectations with its bar and restaurant, wellness area and contemporary interior.
Where to eat
Vila Preseren is the perfect spot for lake views and while the food is a little overpriced, it’s ideal for a coffee and cake stop and a break from your hike. For high quality food and service, book a table at the Belvedere Pavilion. This fine-dining restaurant is set in the beautiful grounds of the former presidential residence, Vila Bled, where Marshal Tito once entertained politicians from all over the world. The Belvedere continues to produce delicious, impeccably presented food in a wonderful setting.
Fly from Newcastle to Ljubljana via Paris with Air France.
Just 6€ and 30 minutes north on the train from Brussels, Antwerp retains all of its old-world charm and has a much more cosy feel than the capital. It is a welcome escape from the busier atmosphere of Brussels yet still boasts an array of beautiful buildings and landmarks to keep you enthralled.
Grote Markt, the town square, is at the heart of the old town and although smaller in size than Brussels’ Grand Place, it makes up for it with beautiful buildings and a stunning cathedral which dates back to 1521.
The original Guild houses were destroyed in a fire in 1576 but have been rebuilt in the Flemish style, adding plenty of character to the square. The square is also home to a number of statues and fountains with interesting myths and legends behind them which the locals will be more than happy to share with you.
If you can find it, take a stroll along Vlaeykensgang. The tiny alley, dating back to 1591, is no wider than a doorway and is hidden between two streets closer to the cathedral.
Where to stay
If you’re feeling extravagant, B&Bs don’t get much more luxurious than the B&B JVR 108. Situated in an old mansion house, the antique decor, with a stunning oriental edge, makes it almost fit for royalty. For something a little different, opt for Boulevard Leopold. With its individually decorated and furnished rooms, huge bathtubs and marble fireplaces, it has tons of character while remaining at a reasonable price.
Where to eat
Head to the lively Pelgrom Taverne for the atmosphere if nothing else. A cosy entranceway leads you underground into a cellar with a crackling fire and wonderfully friendly staff. The food menu is limited but as with many Belgian pubs, the beer menu is huge.
Bier Central, just a short walk from Antwerp train station is another great pub with cosy decor and not just a menu, but a beer encyclopedia.
For a special occasion, head to Restaurant ‘t Zilte. With two Michelin stars, the food here is of an incredibly high standard, and on the 9th floor, above the new MAS city museum, the views are amazing too.
Fly from Newcastle to Brussels with BMI and hop on a train to Antwerp.
Bordeaux is perhaps one of the most elegant cities in France. Despite being a little rough around the edges, the centre is beautifully well kept and a stroll down the Cours de l’Intendance toward the Grand Theatre will no doubt have you falling in love the with the city.
Bordeaux is of course famed for its wine and there are plenty of vineyards to keep wine lovers occupied; all with stunning settings and with incredible views over the countryside, they’re wonderful for a day out.
A little further afield are Archachon and the Dunes du Pilat, a definite must. Standing at 107m, they are the highest sand dunes in Europe and you’re sure to be amazed by the view from the top. In one direction you’ll look out over the stunning Bay of Biscay and in the other, to pine forest spanning as far as the eye can see.
Back in the city centre, head to the Jardin Public with a picnic (and some bread for the ducks) and enjoy the beautiful, relaxed surroundings. The River Garonne, which runs through Bordeaux, is a popular venue for yachting competitions so if you’re there at the right time of year, wander down to the river and watch the racing.
Another of the city’s main attractions is the Miroir d’Eau. The shallow rectangular pool opposite the Place de la Bourse creates stunning reflections of the neighbouring buildings and is a great place to dip your toes and cool down in summer.
Where to stay
Built in the late 18th century, the Grand Hotel de Bordeaux offers good old-fashioned elegance in the heart of the Golden Triangle. With a spa spanning three floors and a rooftop terrace which becomes a bar in the summer months, you’ll be completely pampered here.
If you’re after a more rural escape and want to be right in the centre of wine country (who wouldn’t?) then the Chateau Le Thil is the perfect place. The 18th century manor house is within walking distance of the Smith Haute Lafitte estate and is only a 20-minute drive from the city.
For those on a slightly lower budget, the Hotel Bordeaux Clemenceau is a simple hotel in a superb location. On the corner of the Cours de l’Indendance and just a five minute walk from the Golden Triangle, it’s a wonder this hotel is so reasonably priced.
Where to eat
Le Chapon Fin has long been the top restaurant in Bordeaux after being one of the first to receive a Michelin star in 1933, and while Bordeaux has acquired other Michelin starred restaurants since, including the highly regarded Le Gabriel, Le Chapon Fin remains top of the list.
For something a little more relaxed but nonetheless, delicious, Red Carpet’s location is perfect for people watching and although the prices are moderate, the food is delicious. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the sweet potato gaspacho with peanut mousse.
Fly from Newcastle to Bordeaux with British Airways or Air France.
Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Nicknamed ‘Mainhattan’, Frankfurt is littered with skyscrapers and is home to one of the world’s largest stock exchanges. That said, the city still retains a cultural, historical charm with museums, galleries and many buildings dating back to the 1400s.
The mixture of modern, contemporary buildings and old town squares makes the city an interesting playground with lots to explore, especially for those with an eye for great architecture.
Head to Römerberg to admire some of the city’s medieval buildings and from late November, do some Christmas shopping and try some apple wine (Frankfurt’s most popular beverage) at the Weihnachtsmarkt which takes over the Römerberg Square with more than 200 stalls.
Frankfurt’s museums are among the best in Germany, and are all conveniently situated along the banks of the River Main within walking distance of each other. For something a little different, head to the Jazzkellar to enjoy drinks and live music in a great atmosphere.
This cave-like cellar has seen some of the jazz greats perform over the years and features live music most nights of the week. Frankfurt is an ideal destination for a short break any time of year but be sure to check trade show dates as they can send hotel prices through the roof!
Where to stay
For city centre luxury and incredible views, opt for the Jumeirah. With five-star hotels all over the world, Jumeirah certainly know what they’re doing and the proof is in their spacious suites, tranquil spa and selection of high class bars and restaurants. The Villa Rothschild and the Scloss Reinhartshausen are a little out of the city centre but they are worth the journey. Both owned by Kempinski Hotels and set on huge estates, the two offer beautiful rooms and suites, a luxury spa, and delicious food (the Villa Rothschild boasting a Michelin-starred restaurant).
Where to eat
Frankfurt is Germany’s most cosmopolitan city meaning that you’ll find food on offer from all over the world. On the 53rd floor of the fourth tallest building in Frankfurt, the only skyscraper still open to the public, Main Tower offers great views as well as fabulous food. The service is excellent and not at all rushed so it allows you time to appreciate the views (and take plenty of photos).
Another exclusive spot to try is Heimat, which offers a seasonal menu with an unexpected Spanish twist. The menu is fairly limited but changes frequently depending on the seasonal foods available at the market.
Fly from Newcastle to Frankfurt via Amsterdam with KLM.