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The infinite variety of street life, the nooks and crannies of the medieval Barri Gòtic, the ceramic tile and stained glass of Art Nouveau facades, the art and music, the throb of street life, the food (ah, the food!)—one way or another, Barcelona will find a way to get your full attention. The capital of Catalonia is a banquet for the senses, with its beguiling mix of ancient and modern architecture, tempting cafés and markets, and sun-drenched Mediterranean beaches.
A stroll along La Rambla and through waterfront Barceloneta, as well as a tour of Gaudí’s majestic Sagrada Famíliaand his other unique creations, are part of a visit to Spain’s second-largest city. Modern art museums and chic shops call for attention, too. Barcelona’s vibe stays lively well into the night, when you can linger over regional wine and cuisine at buzzing tapas bars.
Valencia is Spain’s third largest city and capital of the region. It was originally founded by the Romans on the banks of the river Turia in 138 BC. In 711 AD the Moors arrived and converted the area into a rich agricultural and industrial center, establishing ceramics, paper, silk and leather industries. Muslim rule was briefly interrupted in 1094 by the legendary Castillian knight, El Cid. Valencia boomed in the 15th and 16th centuries, becoming one of the strongest Mediterranean trading centers.
Valencia is a vibrant, friendly and chaotic city that boasts an outstanding fine arts museum and one of the most exciting nightlife scenes in Spain. The city center is about 3 miles inland from the coast. Plaza del Ayuntamiento marks the center of Valencia. Surrounded by flower stalls, it is also home to the town hall and the main post office. The cathedral was begun in the 13th century and finished in 1482. It has many architectural styles, including Gothic, Baroque and Romanesque. The octagonal bell-tower, called Miguelete, is one of the city’s landmarks. The small cathedral museum boasts a tabernacle made from 550 pounds of gold, silver, platinum, emeralds and sapphires. It also purports to be the home of the Holy Grail, the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper.
West of the cathedral is the oldest part of the city, known as El Carme. Situated across the river in the Jardines del Real is the Museo de Bellas Artes, the Fine Arts Museum. Works include those by El Greco, Goya and Velázquez.
The Balearics are comprised of 16 islands; the three principal ones are Mallorca, Ibiza and Minorca. Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals and Arabs have invaded these islands over the centuries. Ruins show evidence of the prehistoric Talayot civilization, a megalithic culture that flourished here between 1500 BC and the Roman conquest. Today the islands are besieged by invaders of a different sort – hordes of tourists.
Lying 60 miles (97 km) off the Spanish mainland, the islands’ lush and rugged landscape combined with an extremely mild, sunny climate proves irresistible, especially to northern Europeans. As a result, the Balearics boast cosmopolitan resorts with lively nightlife and plenty of sports activities.
Mallorca (also spelled Majorca) is the largest of the islands, with an area of more than 1,400 square miles (3626 sq.km). The scenery is magnificent, with cliffs along indented shorelines jutting out of the sea and mountain ranges sheltering the plains from harsh sea breezes. The fertile plain in the centre is covered with almond and fig trees plus olive groves with some trees more than 1,000 years old. Tall pines, junipers and oaks line the mountain slopes.
Palma de Mallorca is the capital of the archipelago. A cosmopolitan city with sophisticated shops and restaurants, it also offers buildings of spectacular Moorish and Gothic architecture.
In the western part of Mallorca, nestled into the mountains, lies the village of Valldemosa. It is known for its Carthusian Monastery where Frédéric Chopin and George Sand spent the winter of 1838-39.
One of the best ways to arrive in Catalonia is by sea, especially via the Costa Brava. This coastline, also known as the Rugged or Wild Coast, stretches from Blanes to the French border. Its name aptly refers to the steep cliff of ancient twisted rocks, which runs its entire length and is bounded inland by the Catalan mountain ranges. The intensity of the coast’s colour, the ruggedness of the rocks and the scent of the plants all combine to add to its attraction.
The port of Palamos, some 36 miles northeast of Barcelona, has been in existence for nearly 700 years thanks to its location on one of the deepest natural bays in the western Mediterranean. The town itself is the southernmost of a series of resorts popular with sun worshippers. For the most part, Palamos has managed to retain some of the charm of a fishing village.
The port also serves as a gateway to such inland locations as Girona, the capital of the province. Art lovers may want to visit Figueras, famous for its bizarre Teatre-Museu Dali, the foremost of a series of sites associated with the eccentric surrealist artist, Salvador Dali.
Today, Marseille is the country’s most important seaport and the largest one in the Mediterranean. The city is divided into 16 arrondissements fanning out from the Old Port. The large industrial port area virtually rubs shoulders with the intimate, picturesque old harbor, the Vieux Port. Packed with fishing boats and pleasure crafts, this is the heart of Marseille. Two fortresses guard the entrance to the harbor: Fort Saint Nicolas and, across the water, Fort Saint Jean.
A glitzy, glamorous coastal resort that needs no introduction, Saint Tropez is the French Riviera hotspot of choice for A-listers and flotillas of gleaming yachts. The sparkle of its beaches, and clarity of its light, continues to attract artists – but it was the famous presence of Brigitte Bardot that leant Saint Tropez its enduring glamour and steamy appeal. Nowadays, speedboats skim offshore, while fine vintages from the vineyards nearby are uncorked in top-notch restaurants, in this well-heeled highlight of the Cote d’Azur. View less
Famous bars offer views of the port along Quai Jean Jaurès, with its iconic cherry-red directors’ chairs. Here you can admire the monstrous wealth of yachts that sparkle on the waters. On the same corner, big-name brand labels glimmer in the shops of rue François Sibilli – which cuts inland from the charming waterfront. The earthier appeal of boules clinking and thumping into the ground can be enjoyed at Place des Lices, where sun-wrinkled locals compete. Saint Tropez has a few beaches of its own, but famous stretches like Pampelonne Beach draw the biggest crowds to relax on star-studded golden sands. La Ponche, the authentic fishing quarter, retains its cobbled, historic elegance, and a 17th-century, hexagon-shaped citadel watches over the city and coastline from above. Coastal walks in the sea air snake away from the city’s bustle, and a series of headlands shape the stunning riviera landscape surrounding Saint Tropez. The historic monochrome Cap Camarat lighthouse adds a pleasing accent to hikes above the sparkling Mediterranean’s waves.
Surrounded by the Côte d’Azur and the Ligurian Alps, this charming town full of mystery first appeared in the 12th century. At this time Menton belonged to the Vento family of Genoa.
In 1346, Menton was under ownership of Charles Grimaldi, Lord of Monaco. From hence, Menton’s history became intertwined with that of the principality of Monaco. In 1848, Menton broke away from the principality and proclaimed itself a free city under the protection of Sarde. Menton chose to become part of France in 1860 and Charles III of Monaco released all rights of the city to Emperor Napoléon III. Menton became part of the Alps-Maritimes department.
There are few more elegant places to salute the sunset than Terrazza Mascagni, Livorno’s refined chessboard piazza. A historic port, and a beachy gateway to Tuscany, Livorno welcomes you ashore to explore this enchanted Italian region’s sun-soaked beauty, rich flavours and world-renowned fine art. Stay in Livorno to explore ‘Piccolo Venezia’, or ‘Little Venice’ – a quarter of the town that’s laced with canals, little marble bridges and plenty of tempting eateries. View less
With its bustling market, fortresses and iconic waterfront, there’s plenty to keep you busy here, but most will be tempted to venture inland to explore more of Tuscany’s many charms and artistic wonders. Test your nose, as you breathe in the subtleties of Tuscany’s vineyard-draped scenery, and visit wineries showcasing the best of the renowned flavours of the Bolgheri wine-growing area. Or head out to Prato, where you’ll find tightly-woven textile history. Pisa’s showpiece tower is within reach, as is Florence’s city of immense and imaginative renaissance beauty. Admire the delicate carving of Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the David statue, and note the provocative stance as he casts a dismissive glance towards Rome. Stand before the city’s majestic black and white cathedral – the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore – with its colossal brick dome. The view down over Florence’s river and grand dome from Piazzale Michelangelo, meanwhile, is one of Italy’s finest. However you choose to spend your time in Tuscany, you’ll discover an artistic region, filled with beauty designed to appeal to every sense.
Bronzed and beautiful visitors enjoy the unique ambiance, chic boutiques and quaint cafés that overlook the small yacht harbor and line the narrow, cobbled streets. Others explore along the coastline, where tiny villages are tucked away in hidden coves.
Don’t miss out on practically everyone’s favorite pastime – people-watching while sitting in one of the outdoor cafés, sipping a campari or enjoying a cappuccino. The boutiques and designer shops are only a stone’s throw away, tempting prospective buyers with chic resort wear and Italian designer clothing (be aware that not all shops may be open on Sunday).
An energetic little town, where authentic Sardinian life plays out, Olbia welcomes you to the island’s heart-meltingly attractive northeastern coastline. Explore a land where glorious turquoise oceans and white sands meet, and cork and olive trees grow wild. Swish golf clubs on courses hugging the electric-blue waters, ride the terrain on mountain bike trails, or recline on powder-soft sands – the choice is yours in Olbia’s exclusive, sun-soaked outdoor playground. View less
Corso Umberto is the paved, flower-decorated spine of Olbia – a buzzing pedestrianised street that runs from the waterfront and hums with restaurants and shops. The town’s atmospheric narrow streets eventually lead to the small squares of Piazza Regina Margherita and Piazza Matteotti – perfect for a shaded drink and a sit down in their clusters of animated cafes. Wander to find Basilica di San Simplicio, a simple granite structure that dates back to the 11th century, and is decorated with glowing 12th-century frescoes. The zigzagging rainbow coloured tiles of the Chiesa di San Paolo’s dome beam in the sunshine, and add a splash of colour to the town’s humble skyline. The coastline around Olbia is some of Sardinia’s finest. Head to the Costa Smeralda, where some of the most beautiful beaches in the world sparkle. An area of immense beauty, white sand crescents like Capriccioli stand protected by junipers, pine trees and olive trees growing wild. Wander the secluded sands where turtles lay their eggs or relax in the opulence of luxury resorts. There are beautiful beaches closer to Olbia too – Porto Istana sandy beach offers crystal clear, shallow water that is ideal for swimming and sun worshipping.
All roads lead to Rome, and with good reason – this city is one of the world’s most thrilling, offering unmatched history along every street. An evocative, inspiring and utterly artistic capital of unrivalled cultural impact, Rome is a city of back-to-back landmarks, which will take you on an exhilarating journey through the ages. This may be one of the world’s oldest cities, but it’s well and truly lived in. The ruins are punctuated with murmuring cafes, and the outdoor seating of restaurants sprawls out across piazzas, enticing you to sample tangles of creamy pasta and crispy pizzas. Rome’s incredible Roman Forum is littered with the ruins of its ancient administrations, which have stood firm for 2,000 years, since the times when the area was the centre of the Western world. Few sites are more simultaneously beautiful and haunting than that of the storied Colosseum, which looms deep into Rome’s rich blue sky. Take a tour to learn details of the grisly goings-on within. The best way to experience Rome is to wander its streets, gelato in hand. There is a lot to see here – whether it’s the domed spectacle of the Pantheon, or the elaborate flowing waters and artistry of the Trevi Fountain. Vatican City is an astonishing, colossal display of Catholic grandeur, while the Spanish Steps – crowned by the Trinità dei Monti church – offer a beautiful spot to gather and soak up the lively atmosphere of this humming city. With so much on the to-do list, you’ll relish the breaks you take, enjoying simple pleasures like a strong espresso, or fresh pasta with tomato sauce and ripped basil.