December 12, 2017

Less Crowded Options for European Summer Travels

School is almost out which means summer vacations are right around the corner. If you’re able to vacation any time of year, you might not choose summer to visit Europe but many vacationers only have summertime for a European family vacation.

So how do you beat the summer crowds in Europe?

In my local Sunday paper I found a list of travel options that are less crowded than the more popular destinations. Here are their suggestions for quieter summer destinations in Europe!

Budapest Hungary instead of Paris France

Danube and Parliament Building Budapest Hungary

Budapest by ** Maurice **, on Flickr

Paris is probably one of the most well known travel destinations in the world so it’s not surprising Paris is crowded during the summer! While Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, Seine River, the Louvre and the Champs Elysee bring people to Paris, Budapest also has its well known sites. People come to Budapest to see the Fisherman’s Bastion, Parliament Building, the grand boulevard Andrassy Ut and its Spas. Some even say Budapest is the most beautiful city in Central Europe and with the beautiful views over the Danube River I can see why Budapest has earned this label. Budapest and Paris both have long and tumultuous histories, grand architecture covering a vast array of time periods, beautiful cathedrals and gobs of cultural opportunities!

Korcula Croatia instead of Corfu Greece

Panorama of Korčula Croatia

Panorama of Korčula by Zupec on wikimedia

Korcula and Corfu are both stunning islands that offer warm weather, crystal clear waters and beautiful beaches but the comparisons stop there. Sitting off the coast of Greece, Corfu has been the playground for the rich and famous for eons. The island also has a rich heritage dating back to 1300 BC and is full of historic monuments and museums displaying archeological finds from the temples and ancients cities on the island. If you’re looking for a quieter vacation centered on water and beaches, then Korcula may be the perfect place for you! Relax on one of the beautiful beaches, kayak around some of the other islands or snorkel in the clear cool waters of the Adriatic. Korcula also offers great views back to the Dalmation Coast of Croatia!

Baltic Coast of Germany instead of Bavaria Germany

National Park Jasmund on Rugen Island Germany

National Park Jasmund on Rugen Island by Thomas Wolf on wikimedia

If Germany is your destination, you really can’t go wrong visiting either Bavaria or the Baltic Coast.  But if you’re looking for a quieter seaside trip, then the Baltic is an excellent option. When I wrote Warnemunde – A Baltic Beach Resort the number one comment I received was people were surprised Germany has beaches. Yes Germany has glorious beaches and Warnemunde is just one of them! The Baltic coast had been a popular resort area with the aristocrats for years and since reunification, this coastline is gaining in popularity but is still a peaceful respite from the summer crowds found in the more popular tourist destinations. Germany’s Baltic coast is full of long sandy beaches, rugged cliffs, sand dunes, popular resort islands, nature reserves and quaint seaside towns with centers that are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Baltic coast still maintains a very definite maritime feel and is a great place to relax while watching sailboats or enjoy a walk or bike ride along the miles of sandy beaches!

What other less-crowded European destinations can you suggest?

Wheeling Through Catalonia

This type of cycling holiday is something I’m very interested in, so I am very excited to bring this guest post to you today!  Elizabeth Banks is a freelance travel journalist and food lover.  She has a passion for discovering off the beaten track holiday destinations.

As a cycling novice, I was eager to see what my first cycling holiday would be like.  For my first trip I chose Inntravel a company specializing in walking and cycling holidays.  One of the reasons I opted for Inntravel was their rating system of the cycling trips.  Level 1 is mainly flat routes where a level 2 or 3 involves frequent ascents and descents. It was not a difficult choice for me to decide on an easy grade 1 cycling holiday in Catalonia.   Another huge benefit of Inntravel cycling holidays is they transport luggage between hotels!

Now I’m off on my cycling holiday!

On arrival in the rural hamlet of Joanetes, the starting point for our holiday, we were introduced to our bikes.  We were given a city trekking bike and helmet which has to be worn by law on all highways in Spain.  We also received a handy waterproof map case (which could be attached to the handlebars), saddlebags, a pump and puncture repair kit.  But don’t worry, with Inntravel also included is emergency assistance from the bike supplier should you run into any major problems with your bike during the trip. With this added reassurance we were ready to set off!

Day 1 started at El Ferres in a tranquil valley which was a gentle introductory route so we could get used to our bikes and get a first glimpse of this beautiful corner of Catalonia.  We cycled through pretty villages on flat quiet roads and made a picnic stop where we grabbed a delicious home-made lunch of crusty bread, olives, a selection of local cured meats and cheeses. After lunch we continued onwards to the larger provincial capital of Olot before taking a leisurely route along the former railway back to our hotel.  Our family-run hotel, Mas El Ferres was a charming farmhouse in a beautiful rustic style. We curled up in the lounge by the large inglenook fireplace to admire the amazing views.  After a delicious home-cooked evening meal, it was time for bed.

Cycling Along Narrow Gauge Railway Route Olot Girona Spain

Cycling Along Narrow Gauge Railway Route Olot Girona Spain

Day 2 we headed towards the charming hamlet of Els Hostalets d´en Bas.  Our route was flat and took us along pretty, winding lanes.  The route notes were easy to follow and at times I almost forgot I was cycling since I was so busy taking in the spectacular scenery and array of beautiful flowers lining the road.  The hamlet sits in the colourful Vall d´en Bass known as ‘Little Switzerland’.  The charming traditional houses with wooden balconies added to the fairy-tale appearance of the area.  We had fantastic views of the Pyrenees and decided it was the perfect spot for a picnic.  After a leisurely lunch and a wander around it was back on the bikes for the final stretch of the days cycling – which was slightly downhill and made for a very pleasant afternoon’s ride.

Cycling Europes Traffic Free Routes

Cycling Europes Traffic Free Routes

We arrived in the pretty town of Les Planes our destination for the night.  We stayed at Can Garay a truly stunning Art Deco family home, lovingly restored by our hosts Lluis Garay and his wife Sophie.  Lluis is the great-grandson of the original owner and has preserved many of the original features including stained glass windows.  With just six bedrooms, this hotel was a real find and the cozy lounge was the ideal place to curl up with a glass of wine after dinner.  The large gardens were another plus as they were shaded by centuries-old trees and scattered with fountains. Luckily, we arrived in time for an evening stroll around the gardens before our meal.

Cycling Spains Disused Railway Line

Cycling Spains Disused Railway Line

Day 3 we sadly left Les Planes for our final day’s cycle to Girona.  Our route was nearly all along a disused railway line.  The mostly flat terrain gave us some welcome easy pedaling.  We stopped off at the delightful village of Amer, an unspoiled (yet bustling) town with arcaded buildings set around the main square.  We continued parallel to the Ter River, past lush fields and woodland right into the heart of Girona.  There is plenty to explore in this medieval walled city, the striking gothic cathedral, hidden courtyards and a labyrinth of narrow streets.  The pastel-coloured houses that line the river give the city an enchanting element that was like no other city I have visited.  We stayed at the Hotel Peninsular, a family-run hotel on the site of an old convent, just a few minutes from the cathedral.

Girona Spain

Girona Spain

 

Would you consider a cycling holiday?

 
All pictures are the property of and used with permission of Inntravel.

Six Reasons to Visit Badenweiler Germany

I love reading and enjoy books that whisk me off to wonderful places in Europe. If you’re like me, you’ve spent hours traveling through European cities in books like The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown, London and Russka by Edward Rutherford or even Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes.

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know how much I love visiting Germany. So it was with great glee I purchased the book Badenweiler Waltz by SW Kroeker which is a book about a young woman diagnosed with a fatal disease who decides to spend her last days in Badenweiler Germany and also maybe find a cure in the spa village. While the book wasn’t a barn burner, I did enjoy visiting this small village in the Black Forest through the eyes of Elizabeth Kurz, the main character.

 

Panorama over Badenweiler Germany Black Forest

Panorama over Badenweiler by Wladyslaw wikipedia

I was enchanted by the people and sights she found in Badenweiler and decided to discover more about the village.

 

Here are six reasons I’d visit Badenweiler Germany!


  1. Badenweiler is a spa resort known for its curative treatments for tuberculosis, arthritis, osteoporosis and other cardiovascular diseases. Along with the main character in the book, the spa has been attracting the ill for a long time including Anton Chekhov who spent his last days here. The city’s spa, Cassiopeia Therme, is set in a wonderful garden which helps make the spa a great place to rejuvenate your body!

    Spa at Badenweiler Germany

    Spa at Badenweiler Germany by Jayjay P, on Flickr

  2. Wandering the streets of Badenweiler Germany visitors will find ruins of a Roman Bath and Castle plus a church which stands on the grounds of an ancient Roman temple. Today St. Paul’s Church is an example of neo-Romanesque architecture but its grounds have been sacred for many decades dating back to Roman times. The well preserved Roman Baths were discovered in 1784 and can be explored while the ruins of Baden castle, first mentioned in 1122, loom over the village and offer breathtaking views.

    Vestiges Roman Baths Badenweiler Germany Black Forest

    Vestiges Roman Baths Badenweiler Germany by Wernain S. wikimedia

  3. The Black Forest is a great place to hike and Badenweiler is no exception! There are short day hikes surrounding Badenweiler which bring you to wonderful forests in a very short time. If you’d like longer hikes, these can be found too.

    St Pauls Church Badenweiler Germany Black Forest

    St. Pauls Church from wikimedia

  4. The rolling hills surrounding Badenweiler are full of vineyards where visitors can explore wines of the region. You could opt to enjoy a hike through some of the vineyards or even a lovely bike ride. The orchards and vineyards in the area can also be explored by driving the Baden Wine Route
    Aerial view of Badenweiler Germany in the Black Forest
    Aerial view of Badenweiler Germany courtesy of Badenweiler spas and Touirstik GmbH / Erich Meyer
  5. Badenweiler is in a great location to not only explore more of the Black Forest but also neighboring countries. A quick 17 mile drive will bring you to Basel Switzerland and an even shorter 7 mile drive finds you arriving at the French border ready to explore the amazing vineyards and villages in the Alsace region Badenweiler is also only 19 miles from Freiburg Germany another quaint and wonderful city in the Black Forest.

    View over Badenweiler Germany Black Forest

    View over Badenweiler by Wenain S. wikimedia

  6. This enchanting village is known as a sanctuary for relaxation. Adding to the dream like feel of Badenweiler is the warm weather the area is known for. In fact, you may find that you come under the spell of Badenweiler and succumb to the most wonderful German tradition – Kaffee und Kuchen each afternoon!

 

What books have inspired you to learn more about a destination?

Humorous Gargoyle of Freiburg

Anyone traveling in Europe has seen Gargoyles staring down at you from high atop cathedrals like Notre Dame in Paris France.

Gargoyle Notre Dame Paris France

Gargoyle Notre Dame Paris France

They do have a menacing look to them and, in fact, part of their lore says they protect the churches from evil spirits. In actuality, they have a very useful function. Gargoyles are water spouts which keep rainwater away from the sides of the building where the forces of water would damage them in the same way rivers carve canyons.

Gargoyles on the Munster Freiburg Germany

Different types of Gargoyles look down on you in Freiburg!

Although we usually associate Gargoyles with medieval time they were used during other times until architects started using gutters. We also usually associate Gargoyles as being scary and grotesque but some Gargoyles depict monks, animals and some are even very humorous.

Horse Gargoyle Munster Freiburg GermanyHuman Gargoyle Munster Freiburg Germany

I ran into a humorous Gargoyle while visiting the Munster in Freiburg Germany.  As I was looking up at the church, I noticed many Gargoyles dotting the sides.  Then I ran into this one.  After a double take, I realized I was right.  This Gargoyle seems to be mooning everyone!  Since it rained while I was in Freiburg, I actually got to see it work too : )

Humorous Gargoyle Munster Freiburg Germany

Look closely at the Gargoyle on the left, it is mooning you!

Have you seen a humorous Gargoyle?


These pictures are part of Travel Photo Thursday! For more great pictures,make sure to check out Budget Travelers Sandbox.

Slovenia: Tiny but Beautiful!

From the Adriatic coast to the mountains of the Alps, tiny Slovenia is one of Europe’s most impressive countries and yet one of its best kept secrets.

Wedged at the crossroads of Austria, Italy, Hungary and Croatia, Slovenia is a unique blend of each country. Roughly the size of New Jersey, the surprises waiting for visitors include beaches, rolling green countryside, quaint Alpine villages, interesting architecture, snow-capped mountains and a multitude of outdoor activities.

I’ve never been to Slovenia but here are 7 reasons I would visit Slovenia!

1.  Beautiful coast along the Adriatic

Sitting on a beach in Piran you’ll feel like you could be on the French Riviera or Italy but you’re actually enjoying the beauty of the Adriatic from Slovenia! Piran is home to lovely views, rolling vineyards and a wonderful Italian cuisine but not the hordes of people, yet!!

 

Piran Sailboats Slovenia

Piran Sailboats Slovenia author: Ubald Trnkoczy from Slovenia Tourist Board

2.  Wine

The hills near the Austrian border are full of vineyards producing wonderful Slovenian wine! The last few years have seen a huge growth in the quality and quantity of wine produced here. At the same time, tasting rooms and Vinoteka’s have popped up all over Maribor’s streets.

3.  Fairy Tale Castles

There are hundreds of castles in Slovenia. Some rest on hills overlooking towns, cling precariously to the side of a mountain, sit in the middle of lakes and rivers while even others are linked to underground caverns.

 

Predjama Castle Slovenia

Predjama Castle Slovenia by Ayack wikimedia

4)  Cities

The cities of Slovenia are traditional and charming. Ljubljana, the capital, is a blend of Old World charm and contemporary energy. The picturesque medieval city of Skofja Loka is nestled amongst green rolling hill, Piran still has its town wall and Ptuj is the countries oldest city.

 

Skofja Loka Slovenia

Skofja Loka Slovenia from wikimedia

5.  Alpine Mountains

The Julian Alps are a mountain lover’s paradise full of hiking, climbing, skiing and other outdoor activities.  It is here you’ll find inspiration in Triglav National Park home to the highest peak in Slovenia, Mt Triglav ( 9,396 feet).  The lakes, rivers, mountains, villages and flowers of the Julian Alps create a picture perfect spot to unwind and enjoy nature.

 

Alpine Valley Slovenia

Alpine Valley Slovenia by Matijap wikimedia

6.  Caves

Not only is Slovenia beautiful above ground but it shines underground too! With over 8,800 caves, Slovenia has more than its share of caves. The world’s longest cave, Postojna Cave, will take your breath away and the underground canyon in Skocjan Cave is amazing. But these two caves are just the tip of the iceberg!

7.  Rivers and Lakes

The rivers and lakes of Slovenia only add to its charm. Famous Lake Bled is probably the most photographed place in the country but is still a tranquil spot especially since motor boats aren’t allowed. Bigger Bohinj Lake is pristine and surrounded by stunning mountains and some say the Soca River is Europe’s prettiest. The emerald water of the river allow for great rafting, kayaking and fishing while the lakes are great places for hiking and biking.

 

Lake Bled Slovenia

Lake Bled Slovenia author: J. Skok from Slovenia Tourist Board

 

 

What do you think, is Slovenia worth the visit?

Forbidden in Potsdam

The history of Potsdam Germany includes its glory days as the playground for the rich, famous and Prussian Kings, the years spent behind the “Iron Curtain” and today where it is experiencing a rebirth.

One of Potsdam’s darkest hours started at the end of World War II and ran until the fall of the Berlin Wall. During this time this once vibrant and beautiful city suddenly developed spots that were forbidden.

Crossing the Glienicke Bridge Potsdam Germany

Crossing the Glienicke Bridge Potsdam Germany

Sitting at the west side of Berlin, Potsdam was cut off from the capital city once the Berlin wall was erected. The Glienicke Bridge, which spans the Havel River and connects Potsdam to West Berlin, was closed to citizens from both sides and earned its nickname, Bridge of Spies, by being the location where many captured spies were exchanged. Today the bridge is open to traffic but in the dark days it was a forbidden spot in Potsdam.

The Havel River from the bridge Potsdam Germany

The Havel River from the bridge Potsdam Germany

When the Soviets came to power, one neighborhood within Potsdam became forbidden. This area was walled in and became known as the “little Soviet Union” because the Soviets took over the beautiful villas in the neighborhood moving the KGB in and residents out.

Belvedere on top of Pfingstberg Potsdam Germany

Belvedere on top of Pfingstberg Potsdam Germany

Potsdam’s highest hill, the Pfingstberg, is a wonderful place to hike and has amazing views over the region. But during the occupation, it was closed to the public and became known as the “Forbidden City”. Those views the public loved so much happened to include KGB headquarters and other sites important to the Soviets!

Reflecting Pool Belvedere Potsdam Germany

Reflecting Pool Belvedere Potsdam Germany

The views were also the reason this hill was selected by Frederick Wilhelm IV to be the home for the Belvedere. Designed after Italian Renaissance castles, construction began in 1847. The Belvedere was to be part of a larger castle project which never came to fruition. Today the Belvedere has been restored and still has its gorgeous views but is also a peaceful place to wander the Roman style building, hike or attend one of the concerts held on top of the hill that was once forbidden to all.

Columns inside Belvedere Potsdam Germany

Columns inside Belvedere Potsdam Germany

 

These pictures are part of Travel Photo Thursday! For more great pictures,make sure to check out Budget Travelers Sandbox.