March 26, 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?

Warnemunde – A Baltic Beach Resort

While I don’t make it to many beaches in Europe, last fall I did have the opportunity of visiting the lovely fishing village of Warnemunde Germany which is also home to a very beautiful beach!

Sand Dune Warnemunde Germany

Sand Dune Warnemunde Germany

Historic Warnemunde sits on the Baltic Coast at the mouth of the Warnow River just outside Rostock Germany. Strolling through the small village you’ll run into timber-framed houses, quaint squares, restaurants, shopping, pubs and a neogothic church where after visiting you’ll understand just how deep the maritime history goes!

 

Votiv Ship hanging inside church Warnemunde Germany

Votiv Ship hanging inside church Warnemunde Germany

 

The Beach

A long stretch of sandy beach straddles the river Warnow. During the summer the beach is full of people strolling at waters edge, children playing, kites soaring high and even some brave souls swimming! They say the water is very cold but it really didn’t feel colder than the water at home in the San Francisco Bay area.

 

Beach Chairs in Warnemunde Germany

Beach Chairs in Warnemunde Germany

 

Lined up on the beach are “strandkorben” or wooden chairs. These chairs were actually invented in Warnemunde to protect visitors from the coastal winds. Strong sea breezes create a perfect venue for sailing, windsurfing and kite boarding.

 

Beach in Warnemunde Germany with Teepott and Lighthouse

Beach in Warnemunde Germany with Teepott and Lighthouse

 

Along the edge of the sand sits the Teepott, an example of East German architecture with a restaurant and museum, and the lighthouse dating to 1897. Climb to the top for impressive views of the Baltic, Warnemunde and surrounding area!

 

Boats lining Alter Strom Warnemunde Germany

Boats lining Alter Strom Warnemunde Germany

 

The Harbor

Warnemunde is a fishing village so it’s no surprise that the harbor is not only lined with shops, restaurants and the famous fish market but also beautiful fishing boats. Walk along the Alter Strom (old channel) all the way to the end of the Westmole for amazing views, see the lighthouse at the end or just sit on the rocks and watch the boats come and go!

 

Boats by Mole in Warnemunde Germany

Watching Boats by Mole in Warnemunde Germany

 

Boats heading for Baltic in Warnemunde Germany

Boats heading for Baltic in Warnemunde Germany

Like most beach towns, Warnemunde is active and relaxed at the same time!

 

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

Discovering Ireland!

Last month I wrote a post about my European travel dreams for this year. I still haven’t made any plans yet but as I go over my European dreams I’ve been asking myself, what is it that draws me to Ireland?

In no particular order, here are 6 reasons Ireland is calling me!

Dramatic Landscape
Ireland is known for her spectacular scenery, varied landscapes, cliffs tumbling to the sea, seascapes, lakes, and many shades of green. I want to experience the translucent lakes of Killarney, see the masted boats in Kinsale harbor and picture perfect towns like Inistioge and Adare. In the southwest, the Beara and Iveragh Peninsulas are full of wild and gorgeous scenery while the Dingle peninsula is known for its harsh but beautiful land and seascapes. Ireland is also home to many prehistoric sights including the eerie megalithic tombs, ancient huts and rock formations found in the Burren. And then there is the excavation at Ceide Fields which is home to settlements older than the pyramids!

Cliffs of Moher Clare County Ireland

Cliffs of Moher by Shannon Development

Pubs, Music, Beer, Whiskey & Tea
Ireland seems to be synonymous with Guinness but besides this traditional beer, I’d also like to enjoy many of the ales the country is known for. Even though I’m not a whiskey fan, a tour and taste of this locally distilled beverage will make it on my itinerary! One of the things Ireland is most famous for are its pubs and it’s the pubs that are probably on the top of my list. I want to experience traditional Irish music and have conversations with local folks, which will be the best souvenir! Afternoons of tea and dinners of traditional Irish food will top off my culinary discoveries.

Jameson Distillery Dublin Ireland

Jameson Distillery by the Jameson Distillery

Lodging options
Ireland is known for its hospitality and one way to experience this is through the many different styles of lodging. From farmhouses, cottages, country houses to Bed & Breakfast’s and elegant castles there is a vast array of choices and I want to experience many different types including a Castle! Dromoland, Ashford and Adare Manor are some of the more famous in this category but there are other Castle hotels, such as Ballynahinch Castle, that are not as well-known.

Ballynahinch Castle Hotel Galway Ireland

Ballynahinch Castle Hotel by Manor House Hotels

History, Castles, Cathedrals and Fortresses
Anywhere I travel, one of my joys is learning about the local history. To say Ireland has a vast and varied history is an understatement. Ireland’s history dates back to 8000 BC and has seen invasions of Vikings, English, Normans and others. The tumultuous history includes wars for independence and other rebellions which have all left their mark on the country but have also made it what it is today. The remnants can been see in the many castles, fortresses and cathedrals dotting the land. “The gift of gab” will be mine after visiting Blarney Castle and its very famous stone. There are Bronze Age forts, monastic sites dating to early Christianity, Viking walls and Georgian estates strewn across the land. Waiting is Charles Fort, which has stood since Norman times, James Fort, Bunratty Castle, Kylemore Abbey, medieval Trim castle and the well preserved Cahir Castle.

Kylemore Abbey Connemara Ireland

Kylemore Abbey by Chris Hill 2006

Outdoor Activities
Normally I prefer sailing in fair weather but would make an exception to sail the waters near Ireland. Sailing is such a peaceful endeavor and when it comes with amazing views, I just don’t think I could pass up spending some time on the seas. With all the wonderful landscape I’ll find in Ireland, hiking seems like the perfect way to see and experience parts most people miss. I grew up fly fishing and wouldn’t miss a chance to drop a line in one of the pretty rivers traversing Ireland.

Killarney Lakes Kerry Ireland

Killarney Lakes by Tourism Ireland

People
When I visit Ireland, I want to take the time to really experience Ireland and a big part of this will be its people. I have long heard about the wonderful people in Ireland, in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a negative thing said about the Irish! The Irish are known to be friendly, relaxed, funny and kind. A fellow travel blogger, Jeremy Branham said in an article on Irish Central “. . . the Irish people are the friendliest I’ve ever met.”

American Folk Park - Bluegrass Festival Omagh Ireland

American Folk Park - Bluegrass Festival by Geray Sweeney

For a small country, Ireland seems to have more of everything. Each turn of the road displays more green, more history, more soul, more beer and I want to experience it all!

Why would you go to Ireland?

All images are courtesy of Tourism Ireland.

Picturesque Costa Brava

Marc Chagall called it “Blue Paradise” and Dali called it home.  No matter what you call it, both were inspired by the north western corner of Spain we know as the Costa Brava.

Picturesque Tossa de Mar Costa Brava Catalonia Spain

Picturesque Tossa de Mar by Gordito1869

This portion of Catalonia is famous for many things but none more exceptional than the picturesque resorts, sandy beaches and rugged beauty that stretches from Barcelona north to the border with France.

Cadaques Costa Brava Catalonia Spain

Cadaqués by clurr, on Flickr

Costa Brava, also known as the “Wild Coast”, is the name given to the coastline of the Catalonia region.  This coast alternates between cliffs and beaches which contrast with a Mediterranean Sea that is clear and deep blue. Today it is filled with small resorts that are sprinkled along a coast that is still as wild and beautiful as it ever was.

Scenic Costa Brava Catalonia Spain

Costa Brava by Albert T M, on Flickr

Fishing ports, scenic bays, sandy beaches, artist colonies, jagged cliffs and coves dot the landscape. The Costa Brava is full of picturesque resort and fishing villages which are nestled between craggy cliffs.  These cliffs make scenic drives impressive and a great way to enjoy the views of the Mediterranean. After driving the breathtaking and dramatic roads, you will know why this region is known as the Wild Coast!

Llafranc Costa Brava Catalonia Spain

Llafranc by Nanami Turambar, on Flickr

But the beauty of the area should be seen both from the coast and the water!  With the many rugged cliffs, a boat tour of the coast is one of the best ways to enjoy the dramatic views.

Scenic Costa Brava Coast Catalonia Spain

Costa Brava Coast by Gabriele Delhey

Among the scenic towns that litter the shoreline of the Costa Brava are Tossa del Mar, Loret del Mar and Blanes, which are known for their sandy beaches.  Roses is a beautiful city resting on the shores of a bay with the same name.  The coves of Aiguablava offer peace and serenity while the dramatic coast of Palafrugell enchant all visitors of this fishing port.

Calella de Palafrugell Costa Brava Catalonia Spain

Calella de Palafrugell by Jorge Franganillo, on Flickr

The Costa Brava is full of picture perfect villages which makes it hard to label one as the “most picturesque”.

What is your favorite spot along the Costa Brava?

Catalonia – Spain’s Best Kept Secret?

Sitting in the north east corner of Spain is Catalonia. Home to a varied landscape that offers many surprises, Catalonia is a well kept secret that is waiting to enthrall you with all its charm.

Barcelona is the capital and most well known city of the region but there is so much more to be found.  A land of contrasts, Catalonia offers a rugged coastline, mountain peaks, lakes, rivers, forests, and surprises around every corner.  The villages are as lovely as the natural environment. Sights range from Romanesque architecture to Arab remnants and from prehistoric relics to avant-garde art.

San Mauricio Lake Catalonia Spain

San Mauricio Lake by Gligan


Here are 5 reasons to visit Catalonia!


Natural Wonders

You are surrounded by nature in Catalonia. The countryside varies from coastline to mountains and includes wetlands, rivers, valleys, lakes, plateau, forests and even volcanoes.  All of this beauty combines to offer a multitude of options for outdoor activities.  You can find something to do whether your time is spent on the snow-capped peaks or on one of the majestic beaches. In one trip you can enjoy the Pyrenees and then find yourself lounging by the Mediterranean!

Boi Valley Catalonia Spain

Vall de Boi: Boi and the valley by David Domingo, on Flickr

Outdoor Activities

The options for outdoor activities are as vast as the landscape.  Ranging from gentle easy hikes to canyoning or enjoy an easy glide down a river or the intensity of white water rafting!  Your days can be spent on horseback or quads.  You may choose to explore the region from the heights of a hot air balloon or from a seat on a horse-drawn carriage.  You could even visit a Natural Park made of salt to feast your eyes on salt stalagmites and stalactites!

Kayaking in Catalonia Spain

kayak by miuina, on Flickr

Culture

The historical and artistic heritage of Catalonia is also very diverse. Catalonia’s cultural treasures include cave paintings, ruins of great civilizations both Greek and Roman, Romanesque architecture, medieval castles, Gothic cathedrals, Jewish quarters, modern buildings and great art.  This is the land of great artists such as Dali, Miro, Picasso, Gaudi and Pau Casals.  A visit to the museums, houses and scenes that inspired their works can be enlightening!  If this isn’t enough, enjoy one of the many concerts, performances or local festivals the region offers.

Village of Cruïlles Catalonia Spain

Village of Cruïlles by Vincent van Zeijst

Cuisine

The world famous cuisine of Catalonia uses all the resources of the region from the mountain, sea and farm. In fact, people travel to this destination solely for the cuisine.  Traditional favorites include Pa amb Tomaquet (bread smeared with tomato and drizzled with olive oil), Escudella (a meat and vegetable stew) and Bacalla amb Samfaina (Cod with a ratatouille).  But also of importance is the modern cuisine found by renowned chefs and Michelin rated restaurants.  Learn about local cuisine by enjoying a cooking class, visiting a local fresh market, gastronomic museum or at one of the many festivals and fairs.  Catalonia also produces great wine and Cava.  The wine production in this area dates back to Roman times and has been growing since.  Visit museums related to the wine industry or enjoy tastings at the vineyard.

Barcelona Cuisine Catalonia Spain

Barcelona by George M. Groutas, on Flickr

Wellness

Spas seem to have grown in popularity lately but wellness has been important to Catalonia since the Roman era! In Catalonia there are 18 thermal baths found in natural surroundings including at least one Natural park.  The spa towns can be found spread throughout the region.  Other wellness centers can be found in resorts near the coast and other inland areas.  Each offers a variety of treatments including mud treatments, paraffin baths, massage as well as facial and beauty treatments.

Tossa de Mar Catalonia Spain

Tossa de Mar by Gordito1869

 

Whether you want to spend your time on a bike, at a spa, on the golf course, touring the historic sites of a city or on the sea, you’ll find an abundance of options in Catalonia!

 

Why would you visit Catalonia?

Charming Biarritz & Her Lighthouse

Sitting on the Atlantic coast of Western France is Biarritz.  Once a whaling village, Biarritz became internationally renowned when Napoleon and Eugenie built their summer palace here which today is the Hotel du Palais.Biarritz Panorama Atlantic Coast France

At the north edge of the main beach is the Biarritz Lighthouse.  Dating back to 1831, the lighthouse sits 73 meters above sea level, offering an amazing panorama of this gorgeous city.Biarritz Lighthouse Basque Coast France

Part of the Basque region, today Biarritz offers lovely beaches, casinos, nightclubs, shops and museums.  If you love chocolate you may want to include the chocolate museum to your visit.  You did know chocolate originated here in the Basque Country!

Biarritz Lighthouse Basque Coast France

Yes the lighthouse is in the distance!

Although Biarritz may seem a bit large it does have a small town feel to it.  Spend time wandering the lovely promenade that parallels the main beach or strolling the old fishing harbor.  This is one of the few places that surfing is popular in Europe!  Biarritz is both captivating and charming.

 

Have you explored Biarritz or the French Basque Region?

 

These photo’s are shared as part of Travel Photo Thursday.
For more great pictures, make sure to look into Budget Travelers Sandbox.

Maybe I’ll see you there.

 

Off the Beaten Path in Rostock Germany

Germany offers a lot for any traveler.  Unfortunately most of us only touch on a few destinations of this wonderful country – Munich, the Castles of Ludwig, Bavaria, Berlin and the Rhine river garner most of our travel dollars.  I’m as guilty as any and this is one of the reasons I’ve decided to dig into other parts of Germany and see what they can offer us travelers.

After I saw a few pictures of Rostock, I decided to Go North and explore this Baltic area.

Hanse Sail Rostock Germany

Hanse Sail © Lutz Zimmermann

Rostock was once one of the most powerful trading centers in Europe.  Today it is a more quiet and peaceful location offering unique architecture, coastal scenery, wonderful beaches and a maritime history that will fascinate us all!

In Rostock you will discover churches, gabled houses, town gates, a Fisherman’s bastion complete with canons, an astronomical clock and red brick building dating back to Hanseatic times!

Alter Strom river Rostock Germany

Alter Strom River © Angelika Heim

Here are 4 great reasons we all should spend time in Rostock –
Germany’s “Gateway to the North”!

Architecture

Eight hundred years of history are preserved in Rostock’s gabled houses, brick warehouses, town gates and churches.  Of the important medieval and Renaissance buildings, the Hausbaum House dates back to 1490.  Other architectural beauties, many of which date back to the same era, include the Marienkirche (don’t miss the astronomic clock), Petrikirche (climb the tower for views of town and Baltic) and the Rathaus.  These are some of the buildings created using the deep red bricks characterizing the Gothic Brick style of architecture famous in Northern Germany.  Wander Rostock and you’ll find many more fine examples.

Brick Gothic House Rostock Germany

Brick Gothic House © HHoG/Mayerer

Maritime History

Founded by maritime traders in 1218, it is no wonder Rostock holds on to its nautical atmosphere.  A great place to learn about the maritime and shipbuilding history of Rostock is at the Maritime Museum.  This unique museum is situated on a ship that is moored on the Warnow River opposite the port of Rostock.  Not only will you find exhibits detailing shipping history but you will also discover sea plane construction and marine research.  There is also an open area portion of the museum where you can see a floating crane and other items dealing with the shipping business.

Waterfront Harbor Rostock Germany

Waterfront Harbor © Nordlicht

Hanse Sail Festival

The 2nd weekend of August brings fully rigged ships, schooners, cogs, cutters, steamboats, the ice-breaker “Stettin” and “Waltman” the tugboat to Rostock for the annual Hanse Sail Festival.  This festival is one of the largest maritime festivals in the world and will be any maritime history buff’s definition of nirvana!  Visitors are also able to view water-skiing demonstrations, rowing regattas and have the opportunity to actually sail on some of these wonders! If you need a break from the maritime themed events, enjoy the markets or fireworks.  The festival closes with a ship parade of nations.

Hanse Sail Beach Rostock Germany

Hanse Sail Beach © Nordlicht

Beaches

In 1323, Rostock purchased nearby Warnemünde to ensure it would have free access by water to the Baltic.  Today, this is where you will find a long stretch of beautiful white sand beach and a 19th century lighthouse.  This old fisherman port is a great place to wander the streets looking for local food or just a nice respite from sunbathing.  If you’re looking for a beach town with a laid back small town charm, Warnemünde is it.

Lighthouse Rostock Warnemunde Germany

Lighthouse Rostock Warnemunde© Tourismusverband Mecklenburg-Vorpommern

 

I’d love to hear about your experience in Rostock!

Bucket List – European Style

Ah, the infamous Bucket List.  When Michael from EasyHiker asked me to share my “Bucket List” I was, honestly, a little overwhelmed.  Yes, overwhelmed because my list is quite large and I’m sure you don’t want to spend that much time reading this post.  How to cut it down?  Instead of sharing countries or cities I’d most like to visit I whittled it down to some European adventures I’d most like to enjoy.

In no particular order, here is a sampling of my Bucket List – European Style!

While thinking about my Bucket List, I realized I’ve actually shared quite a few of these already.  In Springtime Yearnings I shared my desire to Hike in Black Forest, Canoe along the Dordogne plus bike and taste wine near the Moselle River in Germany.  Italy’s South Tirol is still one of the places I would most like to visit.  The Dolomites are just too dramatic and picturesque to not see in person.

Here are more European adventures I’d most like to enjoy:

Bastille Day in Paris

Sharing this day of celebration with the Parisians would be fabulous.  I can only imagine the pageantry of the military parade down the Champs Elysees and the beauty of the fireworks with the Eiffel Tower as their back drop.

Bastille Day Fireworks Eiffel Tower Paris France

Bastille Day Fireworks by Lauren

Oktoberfest

Let’s see, I love Bavaria, Munich is one of my favorite cities and, in my opinion, beer is a food group.  So why wouldn’t I need to experience the Granddaddy of all beer festivals?  One thing I wouldn’t miss is the opening day parade. I hope they still roll barrels of beer down the street!

Cruising the Greek Isles

A lot of folks cruise the Greek Isles and while I want to join their ranks, I want to rent my own sail boat so we can steer our ship around the Aegean as we wish!  Enjoying the blue water, culture, sunsets and ruins while reliving mythology from the bows of our own little boat seems quite luxurious.

Samos Greece in Aegean Sea

Samos Pe-Sa

German Christmas Markets

About 2 months ago I shared one of my fondest birthday wishes in All I Want For My Birthday.  At this point in time, I can’t imagine a better way to celebrate my birthday than being in Germany visiting some of the magical Christmas markets!  Gluhwein, German trinkets and beer. . . need I say more?

Viennese Ball

Gliding and twirling across a dance floor at one of the amazing balls during Imperial Ball season in Vienna is one of things this girl dreams of.   Of course, I’ll be dressed to the nines in a full length formal gown complete with gloves and I will float across the dance floor thanks to those dance lessons I desperately need to take!

Ball Vienna Austria

Ball by moritz.schmaltz, on Flickr

Live in Europe
One of my fondest dreams is to live in Europe for at least 3 months.  I want to experience the culture and history that Europe offers.  I haven’t figured out where I would spend my time but I have a feeling a lot of it would be spent in some little Bavarian village!

Wachau Valley Danube River Austria

Wachau by jay8085, on Flickr

Somewhere along the way I will also stay in a Castle or Chateaux, enjoy a Tapas Crawl in Spain and wine taste in the Wachau Valley!

Well those are a few of the items that have made it to my European Bucket List.

 

Tell us a few of the items that have made it to your list!

Off the Beaten Path – The French Basque Region

I have been fortunate to travel in some wonderful areas of Europe.  Some  are the tried and true tourist areas and others are lesser known and less traveled areas, at least to Americans.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit one of these “off the beaten path” destinations in France. The French Basque Region is an area not regularly frequented by Americans.  I find it interesting that Americans tend to spend their time in more well-known destinations – Paris, Rome, Florence, London or Munich – but don’t venture to some of the lesser known areas. I really have no clue why this is but wonder if US travelers view their European trip is a once in a lifetime event and must cram as much in as possible and, therefore, only hit the highlight.  Or is it because they are trendy spots and ones they must visit or they are just not “with it”?

No matter the reason, I truly enjoy getting “off the beaten path” and enjoy areas not on the usual tourist track.   It is one of these that I want tell you about.

I had the pleasure to spend a week in the French Basque region specifically the area between Bayonne and St. Jean de Luz a few years ago with the French Government Tourist Bureau. This trip was busy and I didn’t get do some extensive exploring but I definitely came away wanting to spend more time in this beautiful less traveled area.

Basque vista Southwest France

Basque Hills

The Southwest corner of France, from Bayonne to St. Jean de Luz, offers something for everyone. Whether you want beautiful beaches or rolling green hills, sleepy villages or towns of international renown; you can find it all in this striking region. The coastal villages offer dramatic sandy beaches, fishing ports, beautiful architecture and storied histories.

Bayonne France

Bayonne

Bayonne is the capital of the region and is known for its narrow streets, cathedral and chocolate. Bayonne was the first city in France to make chocolate  dating way back to the early 1600’s. Wandering the streets will offer ample opportunities to sample the wonderful chocolate of Bayonne.

Biarritz Seaview France

Biarritz

Once a whaling village, Biarritz is now a resort to the rich and famous. Biarritz was the summer home of Eugenie and Napoleon and you can still see the impact of this in the stunning Hotel du Palais. Biarritz offers shopping, scenic views, museums and more. You will enjoy wandering the charming old town. After enjoying the sights which include a lighthouse and a Chocolate museum, you may want to spend some time in the casino before turning in for the night.

St Jean du Luz French Basque region

St Jean du Luz by marsupilami92, on Flickr

St. Jean de Luz is an enchanting town offering a sandy beach, picturesque harbor, outdoor cafes, architectural gems and a quaint town square. St. Jean de Luz is another great strolling town with beautiful narrow streets.

Basque Farm in Southwest France

Basque Farm

The French Basque have a well preserved culture and once you start moving inland you sense a more Basque feel to the environs. Moving inland you will find rolling green hills, peace and quiet, tradition and villages called “most beautiful villages in France.”

Scenic Basque Country France

Scenic Basque Country

Driving inland you will meet charming villages like Ascain, Sare and Ortillopitz. The storybook quality of this area make drives through the region an amazing journey. The discoveries you will find include churches, distinctive Basque architecture, lush countryside, vineyards, farms, pilgrimage routes and spectacular vistas. If you are a walker, you will be able to find many walking routes.

This section of France left a definite impression on me and I intend on returning.

 

What “off the beaten path” destinations have impacted you?

European Villages Discovered-Kuressaare

Europe is home to many world famous cities; Paris, London, Prague and Munich to name a few.  We have all visited or dream of visiting these cities but there are many more small villages that offer travelers a closer look into the culture of the country.  There are even some that may be labeled as “secret” because they are not on the normal tourist routes.

I thought it would be fun to open the door on a few of these “secret” villages.

First up is a wonderful village on Estonia’s largest island, Saaremaa.

Kuressaare on Saaremaa Island of Estonia

by ** Maurice **, on Flickr

Estonia may not be Europe’s best kept secret anymore but Kuressaare is one of Estonia’s.  This lovely village has a feeling that time has stood still and, if this is true, we have the Soviets to thank. During the 1940’s they closed the island, Saaremaa, to all foreigners and most Estonians.  So for 50 years Kuressaare was isolated allowing for its small town feel to remain intact.

Kuressaare church Saaremaa Estonia

Church by Ivo Kruusamägi via Wikimedia

This favored summer get-away was reopened in 1991 and the charms of Kuressaare can once again be enjoyed.  Long summer days and warm weather make this a favored spot.  There are many beaches to enjoy and swim in.  I didn’t know this but the Baltic has a lower salinity level due to the amount of fresh water that flows into it! So swimming in the Baltic won’t leave you with the icky crusty salt feeling.  The weather during the summer months averages in the low 70’s making it not balmy but an enjoyable temperature.

Kuressaare Castle Saaremaa Estonia

Kuressaare Castle & Park by Erik Christensen

What else can you find in Kuressaare?

  • The best preserved medieval castle in the Baltic’s sits at the waterfront and will make all castle lovers happy!  Wander the halls and make your way to the fortifications for amazing views!  While visiting the castle
    Suur Toll Sculpture Kuressaare Estonia

    Suur Toll Sculpture by Beentree via wikimedia

    make sure to visit the regional museum with its own creepy legends.

  • For peaceful way to spend an afternoon, rent a row boat and float in the lake surrounding the castle.
  • Golfers can enjoy a round on the 18 hole golf course.
  • Walking around town you will find some interesting and unique sculptures including the Suur Toll which depicts one of Saaremaa’s heroes.
  • Spend time wandering the historic buildings and churches nestled in the Keskvaljak square area.  Many date back to the 1670’s.
  • The city is flat and, therefore, very friendly to bikers.  Grab a picnic and take off to explore on your own.
  • Kuressaare also has a spa offering a bit of pampering.  How about a bath full of coastal mud?
  • Enjoy the many restaurants, shops, museums and galleries waiting to be sampled.

What do you think?  Could you see yourself wandering Kuressaare?