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Losing none of its allure over the years, this floating city of canals, bridges and masks is a place of eternal beauty and enduring elegance. The lagoon of more than 100 islands is a heavenly sight, transporting visitors on a journey through time – from its Roman inception, through centuries of trade to the modern face we see today. Navigate Venice’s sparkling waterways by romantic gondola, or on cruises along wide canal boulevards. View less
Span the Grand Canal over its iconic original crossing, the Rialto Bridge, which – with its parade of tiny shops – gives some of the city’s most endearing views. If the crowds unsettle you at any point, take two turns away from the main thoroughfares to find peace alone, amid the city’s labyrinth of tiny streets. Hurry to Piazza San Marco to be immersed in Venice’s elegant glory. Basilica San Marco transports you back to the wealthy days of the Doges, who ruled for over 1,000 years. Initially their private chapel, it’s now decorated with beautiful Byzantine mosaics. Nearby the Campanile di San Marco bell tower offers views over the higgledy-piggledy rooftops of times gone by. Just a hop skip and a jump around the corner is the Doge’s Palace, where the levels of opulence ramp up even further. Justice was meted out in this stunning Palace, with the guilty walking to the cells across the covered Bridge of Sighs. Vaporetto trips to local islands offer even more adventures to float your boat, whether it’s Murano with its world-famous glass, Torcello with its amazing Cathedrals, or Burano with its handmade lace and delightfully colourful painted houses.
A city happy to keep one foot resolutely in its beautiful, illustrious past, Trieste is a treasure, which sits on a historical frontier of civilisations and cultures. Nestled on the coast by the Slovenian border, the city soaked up many influences before returning to Italy in 1954. Wealth as a trading hub helped to shape Trieste’s grand piazzas and soaring artistic architectural achievements. The legendary Bora wind is greeted like an old friend, and it buffs the city in winter. Just like Trieste itself, it will take your breath away. View less
Piazza Unità d’Italia is the grand, central square, and it opens up to the lap of blue waves at one end. Settle in for a quick caffeine hit in this coffee capital – a word of warning, however, most Trieste baristas don’t serve cappuccinos – so plump for a caffè latte instead. The God of the Sea, Neptune, is honoured in a fountain at Piazza del Borsa nearby. Canale Grande is a centrepiece and was built in the 18th century to allow boats to unload their wares and trade. Lined by grandiose, neoclassical buildings, you can enjoy a picturesque stroll by the water. Three pretty bridges span it, while little boats bob and jostle below. Glorious castles crown the area, towering from esteemed vineyards. Don’t miss the fairytale castle of Miramare, which watches over the azure Gulf of Trieste, and looms above glorious gardens. Trieste Cathedral is a constant and reassuring presence for the city, standing on a hilltop overlooking the old town – it features an enchanting chandelier and remarkable painted ceiling.
Croatia’s Capital of Cool, Zadar is a dazzling mesh of influences and creativity. Romans founded the city before the Venetians, Austrians, French and Italians all had their say, leaving a wealth of architectural interest. Glorious turquoise-water beaches and heavenly waterfalls also lie within easy reach of this energetic city of festivals and outdoor fun. See the old town, with its robust city walls, boasting decorative stone gateways and marble streets. View less
The church of St Donatus, was built from stones pillaged from the Roman forum, while Zadar Cathedral – Dalmatia’s biggest – stands among the many architectural treats of this city, which was once an impenetrable stronghold of Venice’s republic. Head for the ‘pillar of shame’ with its chains to humiliate the criminals of a bygone time – or succumb to the tempting treats of shopping in the market. The sparkling Adriatic’s waters calls you, and Kolovare Beach is a mere ten-minute stroll from the old town. A day trip to Kornat National Park – which incorporates the Zadar Archipelago’s immaculate scattering of beach-fringed islands – or to the divine waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes National Park, will introduce you to more of Croatia’s thrilling natural beauty. The sea truly does sing here in Zadar, thanks to a unique waterfront artwork, which encapsulates the city’s playful spirit. Designed to make music when the waves wash over it, the ebb and flow of the Adriatic, plays the Sea Organ instrument like a maestro. Not far away, the Monument to the Sun is a 22-metre-wide disc, which gathers the sun’s rays during the sunny days, and releases the solar energy in the form of a magical light show after dark. Sit and admire the artwork coming to life, as one of the city’s famous sunsets plays out before you.
Split is a busy port with numerous ferries operating to and from nearby islands. It is also a popular resort with beaches, pleasant promenades and good hotels. Venetian Gothic and Renaissance houses and several medieval churches add architectural interest. As a major cultural center, Split does not lack in museums and art galleries. However, the city’s principal attraction is Diocletian’s Palace. It occupies an area of 34,680 square yards and was constructed to serve as a residence and a fortified military camp. By the Middle Ages, the palace had been enclosed within a strong wall with square corner towers, enclosing a town with narrow house-lined alleys. As the city grew, people gradually moved outside the walls and the city center shifted westward.
Croatia’s crowning glory rears up vertically from the tranquil waters of the Adriatic, and Dubrovnik’s daunting fortresses town is a truly imposing sight to behold. Encircled by chunky stone walls so thick and dramatic they could have been purpose-built as a film set, this city’s unmatched old town is the setting for countless films and shows – from Star Wars to Robin Hood, Game of Thrones and every production in-between seeking a truly authentic medieval flavour.
This fantasy fortress’s walls – which are no less than 12-metres thick at places – are certainly not just for show, however. They kept Dubrovnik safe when it was a maritime republic and they were besieged as recently as 1991, when Serbian and Montenegrin forces attacked, as Yugoslavia broke apart. Fully restored now, the stone streets of the city take you through a beautiful mosaic of architectural splendour, baroque churches and splashing fountains. Tapering alleys rocket up from the central boulevard of Stradun, offering spectacular views down, but you’ll need to walk the city walls to appreciate the fortress city’s full scale. Banking up sharply to the rear, you can gaze across an ocean of terracotta roofs and church spires, clamouring together before the sparkling Adriatic. Visit the neighbouring fort of Lovrijenac, for another perspective, or swing up to Srd fortress’s glorious panorama on a cable car. Dubrovnik’s streets are crammed with eateries and candlelit tables, where couples splash wine into glasses and enjoy gnocchi mixed with creamy truffle sauces. Nearby beaches like Banje are also close by, and hidden bays reward the intrepid who venture out beyond the old town. Take sunset drinks to sit back and watch as flotillas of sea kayaks roll by, or sail on the pristine waters to explore island gems like Lokrum – where peacocks are the only permanent residents.
Bari, capital of the province of Apulia, lies on southern Italy’s Adriatic coast. Its busy port is a leading commercial and industrial centre as well as a transit point for travellers catching ferries across the Adriatic to Greece.
Bari comprises a new and an old town. To the north, on a promontory between the old and new harbours, lies the picturesque old town, or Citta Vecchia, with a maze of narrow, crooked streets. To the south is the spacious and regularly planned new town, which has developed considerably since 1930, when the Levant Fair was first held here.
The heart of the modern town is Piazza della Liberta. The busy thoroughfare, Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, separates the new town from the old. At the eastern end of the Corso begins the Lungomare Nazario Sauro, a magnificent seafront promenade that runs along the old harbour.
Bari and the Apulian region were long recognized for their strategic location, attracting a succession of colonizers such as the Normans, Moors and Spaniards, each leaving their mark. Romanesque churches and powerful castles built by 13th-century Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II of Swabia are among the most impressive buildings in the region. Bari’s Basilica of San Nicola became famous as the final resting place of St. Nicholas (Santa Claus). According to local tradition, sailors from Bari went to Myra in Turkey, stole the saint’s remains and brought them back to Bari. St. Nicholas was the popular bishop of Myra, who was revered as the patron of sailors, virgins and children.
In addition to unspoiled scenery and historical sites, Apulia is also known for its hearty cuisine that has evolved from more than 2,000 years of foreign influences. While not as famous as other areas in Italy, Bari and its surrounding region hold many surprise attractions that make it well worth exploring this ancient land and its capital at the heel of Italy’s boot.
Embedded into the slopes of the steep Lovćen mountain, and overlooking the deep blue Adriatic, the fortified town of Kotor boasts a spectacular, imposing staging that few can match. Squeezing in through the tight Bay of Kotor is a daunting and impressive approach in itself, as you arrive via the waterway of Europe’s most southerly fjord. A pearl of Montenegro and the Adriatic, Kotor’s warren-like streets drip with history and authenticity. View less
Under Venetian influence for four centuries, the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Site old town invites you to wander amid atmospheric stone-clad streets, overlooked by a sea of terracotta roofs and the double towers of the cathedral. Protected by thick stone walls – and the mountains behind – Kotor draws comparisons with another fortified Adriatic wonder in Dubrovnik. Many favour Kotor for its compact layout, smaller crowds, and authenticity, however – having been spared from shelling during Yugoslavia’s breakup. The tightknit streets here are patrolled by a slinking population of feline residents, who were adopted as the town’s mascots, after being left behind by transient trader ships. Learn of the city’s extensive heritage on the waves, in the dedicated maritime museum that is contained within Grgurina Palace. Pick your way through tight alleys of workshops and studios, walking below fresh laundry strung from windows, before settling into shiny, paved piazzas for an afternoon coffee or seafood meal. If you’re up for an aerobic challenge, tackle the 1,350 steps up the steep walls to St John’s fortress. The views over the gorgeous bay make the arduous slog worth it, as you rise past the city’s eye-catching 15th-century church bell tower.
This sickle-shaped island of Mediterranean bliss flaunts its sun-kissed sophistication with effortless grace – having cherry-picked the best influences from Venetian, French and British occupiers. With over 3,000 years of history, The Grand Lady of the Ionian has played a starring role in Greek history and mythology, and legendary tales swirl around you, as you explore sparkling beaches, mountains splashed with wildflowers, and historical, perched fortresses.
The soft hues of Corfu’s UNESCO World Heritage List Old Town brings together Corfu’s mesh of European influences, with its romantic stone floors and vine-clad cafes. Find somewhere to settle in for a morning coffee ritual like a true Corfiat, and sip at the laid-back pace of the locals – allowing the thick bitter concoction to settle before indulging. The oddly out-of-place sound of leather on willow can be heard in Spianada Square – the largest city square in the Balkan region – where a manicured cricket pitch spreads out incongruously below the Mediterranean sun. Take the hike up to the 13th-century Paleokastritsa Monastery, where you’ll be escorted by the resident goats, and have to step over cats contentedly rolling around your feet on arrival. This beautiful, daffodil-yellow building is splashed with a fresco of vivid purple fuchsias, and a crowning triad of bells. Inside, explore gold-framed frescoes, and watch as monks squeeze oil from the monastery’s trees’ bounty. Wander out among the groves to views of Corfu’s never-ending sea reaching out to the horison below you. Corfu’s sweeping sand beaches and hidden coves display the full spectrum of vivid Mediterranean seaside colours – which shift from turquoise greens to cobalt blues. The famous Canal d’Amour is a gorgeous inlet, and island legend says couples who swim together in this narrow channel of water stay together forever. Enjoy an afternoon sit-down and drink of ginger tea, or something a little stronger in the form of Corfu’s famous, radiant orange, kumquat liqueur.
It may not be the prettiest place in Crete, but Heraklion’s patchwork of history, bustling activity and cultural intrigue makes it the perfect change of pace. This is certainly no sleepy island fishing village, and Greece’s fifth-largest city is adorned with a rich collection of quality museums, ancient ruins from antiquity, and a lively culture of its own. View less
A refreshing shift-up from the many quaint beach towns and fishing villages you’ll encounter in the Greek islands, Heraklion – also known as Iraklio – has great shopping, extraordinary history and is the ideal base for ventures to the archaeological treasures of Crete. Traded by the Arabic, Venetian and Ottoman empires over the years, Heraklion is a multi-layered place with fascinating tales to tell. The city’s impressive Venetian fortress, which waits over the gently rolling waves of the gleaming Mediterranean, welcomes you ashore. A stroll out along the seawall, alongside creaking fishing boats, will take you out to the squat fortifications that have stood since 1540. Climb to the top for views out across the water, back towards the city’s waterfront. The sun-roasted earth outside the city hides treasures from the realms of history, including the Bronze Age remnants of Europe’s oldest city, Knossos. A visit to the fantastic Archaeological Museum of Heraklion ties all of this history together and exhibits relics from the civilisations and eras of Crete’s past. Elsewhere, Daidalou’s pedestrianised paving is a charming stroll through Heraklion’s shops, with streets branching off to café-lined plazas and twinkling fountains. Stop to try local food – like fresh feta and olive sprinkled dakos mezze – all washed down with a sample of local raki brandy.
Of all the Cyclades Islands, Santorini is often considered the most dramatic. Once an active volcano, in approximately 1620 BC, the volcano erupted with such force that the center of the island literally exploded, leaving a submerged crater. The island’s small villages were preserved in the ashes giving a fascinating view of everyday life from 3,600 years ago.
Santorini’s landscape offsets its simple buildings, which shine in the brilliant sunlight. The rich volcanic soil is ideal for grapes and the local vines produce a crop known for its “special volcanic taste.”
A city of legend, civilisation and enduring culture, Athens is a majestic and magical urban sprawl. Extraordinary elegance and grace combine with grit and graft in Greece’s capital, where highways encase ruins from antiquity, and gleaming museums and galleries stand beside concrete sprayed with edgy street art. These contrasts enhance and elevate the wonders of this 2,500-year-old city, however, which can count notable contributions to philosophy, drama and democracy, among its global legacy. Piraeus’ giant port and naval base welcome you to the edge of the Athens’ urban area.
From there it’s a simple jaunt to the centre. The majestic ancient citadel of the Acropolis dominates an elevated platform and is a constant presence as you explore the city. The wonderful remains of the columned temple of the Parthenon – which date back to the 5th century BC – stand here, representing the pinnacle of classical architecture. The nearby Acropolis Museum adds context to your visit and frames the broad views from its giant glass windows. Or rise up Mount Lycabettus, to be rewarded with perhaps Athens’ best panorama of the Acropolis sitting high over the city on its grand stage. See the marble horseshoe of the Old Olympic Stadium, where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896, for more of the city’s enduring legacy. Elsewhere, golden beaches and temples stretch out along the coastline, should you wish to explore a little further afield. Coffee is an art form to the Greeks, and it’s an unwritten rule that coffee time must never be rushed. So prepare to settle down for a couple of hours and lose yourself in a good chat. Feeling hungry – try traditional souvlaki made with sauces handed from generation to generation.
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