A recent study by the United Nations’ world tourism organization found that 43 per cent of all the tourism money spent in the world last year was spent in Europe.
Meanwhile, the folks at TripAdvisor this week announced their 2013 Travelers’ Choice Destinations, based on reviews and opinions of millions of TripAdvisor travelers. The top 10 was as follows: Paris, New York, London, Rome, Barcelona, Venice, San Francisco, Florence, Prague and Sydney. That’s seven of 10 for the Euros, which is why so many of us book trips to places like Paris and Prague each summer.
With that in mind, here’s a personal look at a few European faves (or not) I’ve discovered over the years.
Best-looking museum (outside): City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, Spain. A beautiful interplay of structure and light by Santiago Calatrava, who designed the interior of what’s now Brookfield Place at Yonge and Front Streets (the old BCE Place).
Best-looking museum (inside): The Musee d’Orsay in Paris is a former train station that’s a joy to simply sit in. Toss in some of the world’s best Impressionist art and you’ve got a killer combination.
Sweetest treat: Some folks swear by macaroons in Paris, but I’ll take the crème cakes in Lake Bled, Slovenia; thin pastry with custard-like crème and vanilla and powdered sugar. The views of Lake Bled, a perfect church on a small island, a fort on a towering cliff and the Slovenian alps are even sweeter in what might be the prettiest spot in all of Europe.
Best place to get fat: The Dordogne region of France, east of Bordeaux, features tons of Foie gras, local duck, good wine and more foie gras. The rivers are lined with beautiful castles on high hills, which makes for a great canoe trip to work off some calories.
Best golf course views: Nefyn and District (photo at left) is a fabulous links setup in northwest Wales. The last couple holes are played out (mostly) on a tiny peninsula high on a hill. You can peer down at a small, beachside village that’s achingly beautiful and features the renowned Ty Coch Inn.
Best tour of Paris: Take a ride in an old Citroen and tour the City of Light with a company called 4 roues sous un Parapluie.
Best place to get to another continent: If you stay on the European side of Istanbul, you can take a short ferry across the Bosporus and plant your feet in Asia for lunch.
Best place for a cheap hotel in London: Inexpensive places abound in the area near Bayswater and Paddington, north of Kensington Gardens. Good access to the underground, too.
Best place to get in touch with George Clooney (in your dreams): They say he still hangs out occasionally in the Lake Como area of Italy. It’s a beautiful spot with Swiss effiency, alpine scenery and Italian food. The perfect match.
Best mix of sweet and spicy food: In Holland, be sure to try Indonesian rijstaffel; a huge array of small dishes surrounding a serving of rice. Too exotic? You can’t go wrong with a Dutch pancake house.
Easiest Athens escape: Sick of the crowds in the Plaka? Hop on a short ferry ride to the island of Hydra, where there are no cars but wonderful seaside bars or places to dip into fresh calamari or a giant bowl of rich, Greek yogurt.
Best view of Rome: Snag a room (if you can afford it) or dip into your pocketbook for a drink or a small meal at the Hotel Hassler, built at the top of the Spanish Steps. Magnificent views of beautiful churches, piazzas and The Vatican (see photo at right).
Tastiest coffee: Caffe Al Bicerin is an Italian institution in Turin that serves up a mix of espresso, chocolate and crème in a small but glamorous shop. Heavenly.
Best place to hit the beach in Sweden: Halmstad offers a lovely stretch of sand on this Scandinavian country’s gentle west coast. A great place for a game of beach soccer.
Worst Mexican food: I don’t remember the name but I had without a doubt the most inexcusable, sorry plate of Mexican food at a place in Salzburg a dozen years ago. Yes, I know, why would anyone order Mexican in Austria?
A great place to impress your friends: The island of Corsica is part of France but feels like old-time Italy. Towering, craggy mountains that plunge into impossibly blue seas, small villages that are perched on top of giant cliffs over the water, fabulous drives, terrific food and wine, amazing historical sites and lots more. Easily one of the best places I've ever visited.
Best place to rub something: Folks have been rubbing a likeness of St. John of Nepomuk on the Charles Bridge in Prague for years. They say if you do you’ll return to the city. I gave it a go in 2003 but haven’t returned. Yet.
THIS AND THAT
What's up with the freaking weather? It was four degrees Celsius and windy this morning in Toronto. In northern Italy, heavy snow forced cancellation of stage 19 of the Giro d'Italia cycling race. It's almost June; will someone PLEASE turn up the thermostat? ... Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey held a grand opening Thursday for Margaritaville, the $35 million restaurant, bar, and gambling complex that's part of a $70 million expansion and renovation of Resorts ...
JAUNT.CA DEAL OF THE DAY
Jaunt.ca, a division of Torstar, has a deal today for a fabulous trip to Scotland, priced at $1,492, including $623 in taxes.
- BONUS: Includes 7-day Economy car rental (Ford Fiesta or similar)
- BONUS: 1-day Edinburgh Hop-on/Hop-off Bus Tour Passes
- 9-Day/7-Night Scotland Freedom vacation with Air Canada rouge, offering the freedom to explore Scotland at your own will!
- Only 3 nights of included accommodation lets you decide where you'd like to stay next
- Scotland's diverse geography is one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world
- Having your own car rental leaves you the freedom to choose where you want to go and allows you to travel at your own pace
- Valid for travel on July 4 & 9, 2013
- Includes return airfare from Toronto to Edinburgh via AC rouge
- Accommodations for 3 nights at the 3-Star Edinburgh City Centre Haymarket Premier Inn
- Pricing (Rates are per person, plus tax and based on double occupancy):
July 4, 2013:
July 9, 2013:
- Valid passport required for travel from Canada
- Car rental insurance and local fees not included and to be paid locally
- This offer is 100% non-refundable at time of booking