When I was a little kid my mother would play National Geographic videos to entertain me and my sister. I soon became obsessed with foreign flavours, wildly curious about exotic cultures. I had a World Encyclopedia set on one of the bookshelves in my bedroom and whenever bored found myself flipping through its glossy golden pages. I’d spend hours in solitary reading up on everything from Azerbaijan to Angola. It’s perhaps no shock that my first big purchase as a kid was a Canon camera – proof that early on I was invested in documenting the world around me.
Fast forward to May 2006. I had just finished my 3rd year of university and found myself on an Air France flight bound for Paris. I would be spending my entire summer backpacking around Europe on the solo. I tackled twenty countries in three months – winking at the Mona Lisa, climbing the awe-inspiring Sagrada Familia and splashing under Norway’s majestic Fjords. I returned home in September a changed man.
Ten years later and I still have that ecstatic enthusiasm for Europe every time I find myself planning an adventure over the Atlantic. Each year I make a point of returning, in hopes of discovering a new gem, where I undoubtedly find myself falling in love with another corner of the continent. There’s a little bit of something for everyone here – history buffs can road trip through the D-Day Beaches in Normandy, art lovers rave for Rome and foodies feast like a King in Germany.
If you’re traveling to Europe for the first time planning a trip to the continent can be daunting. Your best book companion when at home in research mode is Eyewitness Travel Europe Guide (DK Publishing). The newly updated 760 page travel bible is packed with information on culture, history, architecture, and art of the continent, in addition to the best of Europe’s gardens, beaches, cathedrals, castles and shopping.
Here are 5 reasons I love using Eyewitness Travel Guides:
- detailed itineraries and “don’t-miss” destination highlights at a glance.
- illustrated cutaway 3-D drawings of important sights.
- floor plans and guided visitor information for major museums.
- guided walking tours, local drink and dining specialties to try, things to do, and places to eat, drink, and shop by area.
- insights into history and culture to help you understand the stories behind the sights.
10 Places to Visit on the Ultimate Road Trip of Europe
There is no better way to enjoy a grand tour of Britain then by relaxing at a stately manor house in rural England. The country’s poshest palace, the Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire can be found on 500 acres of farmland featuring perfectly manicured lawns, heritage-listed walled gardens, stables and quiet canal. The 18th century Georgian manor house stands in historic Dogmersfield Park which dates back to the Domesday Book of 1086. It was also in this very spot that Henry VIII’s first met Catherine of Aragon.
Skip through the hotel’s gorgeous garden, fine serenity and solitude at the award winning spa or prance around the property on horseback.
Deemed by UNESCO to be an outstanding example of a Mediterranean landscape, the Amalfi Coast is a beguiling combination of great beauty and gripping drama: coastal mountains plunge into the sea in a stunning vertical scene of precipitous crags, picturesque towns and lush forests.
Among the glittering string of coastal gems, legendary Positano and Amalfi sparkle the brightest, while mountaintop Ravello has the glossy fame of its grandiose villas and Wagnerian connection. Aside from its sheer beauty, the region is home to some superb restaurants and hotels. It is also one of Italy’s top spots for hiking, with well-marked trails providing a great means of getting away from the coastal clamour.
The Baltics (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) are tucked away on the European continent, sadly falling off the classic European itinerary. After my visit I was shocked that the tiny nations didn’t receive more love. They really are Europe’s diamond in the ruff – her best kept secret. The history and culture here is heavily influenced by neighbours Russia, Poland, Finland and Sweden. A Baltic adventure will take you from Tallinn to Vilnius, offering a fascinating look at a region which has tried to create its own identity over the years while superpowers like Sweden and Russia have tried to stake their claim.
Architecture fans will find happiness strolling thorough the streets of the Latvian capital, Riga. The city is famous for its Art Nouveau quarter, featuring some of the world’s best preserved Jugendstil architecture much of which was built by Latvian architect Konstantins Peksens. Design nerd or not its hard not to appreciate the colourful and creative facades.
The quiet beaches and quaint towns along the coast of Normandy France are a perfect place to prance and pause. Millions of tourists visit the region each year with a peak appearing during the week of D-Day (June 6th) when veterans, their families and curious tourists tip toe through museums and memorials which pay homage to the brave freedom fighters of WWII.
Traveling through Normandy today is an emotional adventure where you’ll often find your eyes filling with tears and lips trembling. It’s a challenging but essential experience that allows one to forever appreciate the great sacrifice made on D-Day. It’s important to liven up the mood on a road trip of Normandy (a full day spent exploring war relics can start to get you down) so be sure to enjoy all the region has to offer including ancient abbeys, top notch culinary offerings (home to camembert, cider and calvados), Monet’s Giverny in full bloom and jaw-dropping architectural marvel Mont-St-Michel.
The Westfjords has sometimes been dubbed “the most famous unknown place in Iceland.” The oddly shaped peninsula is as isolated as it is spectacular. Luckily, isolated does not mean inaccessible. With only 7,400 inhabitants in the area, each person has around 1.2 sq kms of personal space. The region is perhaps one of the few left in the world that truly allows tourists to experience moments of quiet contemplation with the honest beauty of an untouched natural landscape.
Although the locals are good fun, it is by and large, the jaw-dropping nature that attracts curious visitors. The cliffs and valleys are packed with birds, the uninhabited fjords offer a moment of silence and tranquility, and the Arctic fox proudly roams the mountains and inlets. The waterfalls are high and the streams pure. The distances are long and the fjords are deep. And then there are places where there are no roads at all. Remember, Mother Nature only reveals herself to those who press her closely. And it’s clear, she lives up here!
Belgium has everything I need. World famous beer, mountains of chocolate, awesome architecture in city’s steeped in history, crispy frites dipped in creamy mayo and a surprisingly rich collection of art. In Brussels you can easily spend hours wandering the National Gallery, Musees Royaux des Beaux Arts de Belgique.
The museum is housed in a famous Art Nouveau hotel featuring walls and doors made of stunning stained glass, rimmed with gold. Highlights from the collection include the Master of Flamal (Robert Campin), Bosch’s triptych of Hell, Lucas Cranach’s Adam and Eve, Jacob Jordaens Allegorie van de Vruchtbaarheid, an impressive series by Rubens, and Jacques Louis David’s masterpiece The Death of Marat.
A walled, sea-battered city lying at the foot of a grizzled mountain, Dubrovnik is without a doubt Croatia’s most popular tourist haunt. An essentially medieval town reshaped by Baroque planners after a disastrous earthquake in 1667, Dubrovnik’s historic core seems to have been suspended in time ever since. Set-piece churches and public buildings blend seamlessly with the green-shuttered stone houses, forming a perfect ensemble relatively untouched by the twenty-first century.
Dubrovnik is surrounded by unique medieval ramparts preserved in their original form and open to visitors as the city’s flagship attraction. At 25 metres high and stretching for some 2 kilometres, the walls completely surround Dubrovnik’s historic heart, taking just over an hour to walk the full circuit. The walls are encrusted with towers and bastions, and it’s impossible not to be struck by their remarkable size and state of preservation. Once you’re on top, the views over the town are a patchwork sea of terracotta tiles, punctuated by sculpted domes and towers and laid out in an almost uniform grid plan.
Gaunt, sheer cliffs loom hundreds of metres above the deep blue sea, nothing grows or grazes to soften the awesome view, and the only colours are the reddish-brown, black and grey pumice layers on the cliff face of Santorini. The croissant shaped island lies in the southern Aegean Sea, right where the African and European tectonic plates touch. The region known as the Cyclades is deeply rooted in fiery volcanic history, which has wiped out ancient civilizations and over the years has fostered a whimsical lore which still to this day has locals whispering, “lost city of Atlantis.”
My fondest memory of Santorini? The jaw-dropping views I enjoyed each morning over breakfast. The early morning sun would splash over white washed buildings as I sipped freshly roasted coffee and celebratory sparkling wine. I’d sit there in awe, waking up to the world as I nibbled through an epic Greek breakfast featuring plump olives, pipping hot pastry and smoked ham and feta adorned frittata.
Pilsen is the Czech Republic’s fourth-largest city and the ideal spot to begin a sud-sloshed tour in Eastern Europe as it was here 170 years ago that Pilsner Urquell brewed the world’s first golden beer. Enjoy an educational tour of the historic brewery before heading to Prague where lively beerhalls and award winning restaurants offer a perfect ambiance to sip pretty pints of frothy beer until the wee hours.
Those who swoon for Fairytale castles should look no further than the enchanting Medieval town of Cochem perched over the Mosel River. If you’re keen on living like a King there are plenty of decadent indulgences to tickle your Royal fancy. Wine lovers hike to cliffside vineyards for a splash of award winning Riesling, history and architecture buffs delight on a tour of Reichsburg Castle and sweet teeth order Black Forest Cake for breakfast on picturesque cobble stone streets.