So you’ve feasted in Paris, fallen in love with Rome, and shopped-tip-you-dropped in Barcelona..where next to get your city fix? We’ve rounded up seven less-visited but still-terrific European cities with culture, cuisine and captivating sites galore…All within reach of our parcs, of course.
Only a select few cities have a syndrome named after them. Stockholm, Paris, Lima…and Florence. Also known as Stendhal Syndrome, Florence Syndrome is a physical response to extreme, overpowering beauty. Having been to this magnificent city, it’s not hard to see why. According to The Telegraph: “Staff at Florence’s Santa Maria Nuova hospital are accustomed to dealing with tourists suffering from dizzy spells and disorientation after admiring the statue of David.” Maybe you won’t be moved to quite such drastic extremes, but if you’re after Renaissance majesty, you’ll swoon in this city of exquisite art, architecture and marble beauties!
They say the good people of Tours speak the most perfect French. So, if your new year’s resolution is to brush up your linguistic skills, this could be the place. Or, should you wish to start the new year off with a wonderful wine or two, this human-sized city at the gateway to the Loire won’t disappoint.. The birthplace of Balzac is proud of its rich past, and its historical old town is beautifully preserved. Wander around its narrow, cobblestone streets past half-timbered houses and visit its wonderful Saint-Gatien Cathedral, before taking an al fresco lunch in the pretty Prébendes d’Oé gardens, or enjoying a glass of crisp Sancerre!
At over 2,700 years old, Palermo has a tale or two to tell. A big, bustling and boisterous place, it’s one of the most culturally rich of all Italian cities: a city literally at the crossroads, having traded with every major civilization since it was founded by Phoenician traders. Visit the stunning Cappella Palatine, Designed by Roger II in 1130, it’s all glittering gold mosaics and inlaid marble floors, showing Byzantine, Arab and Norman influences. Shop at the frenetic and fascinating central market, and sample the local cannelloni with a glass of surprisingly excellent Sicilian wine. In need of a blast of culture? The Teatro Massimo will knock your socks off. The theatre took 20 years to complete, and offers guided tours of its opulent six-floor interior.
Away from the beach, northern Costa Brava is full of surprises. Catalonia’s second-biggest city, Girona is a gem. The ancient, walled ramparts have been conquered by Romans and Moors over the years – much, it has to be said, to the delight of the city’s tourist chiefs. Their influences are everywhere, from architecture to cuisine. The old town is a warren of narrow lanes, which is complemented by the river, and the overall impression is of a medieval city, with excellent (family friendly) museums and, in The Rambla, lots of cafes and ice-cream parlours: great places to rest weary little legs. The Jewish Quarter is the most atmospheric corner of town (there’s a museum revealing the area’s fascinating past), with its little lanes offering some wonderful places for lunch.
They call Hamburg the ‘green city of the water’ – which is a fair enough description of this industrious yet harmonious northern German city. Yes, this old Hanseatic trading post’s always been a hard-working sort of place, but it’s always enjoyed the good things in life too. Yes, that means a nightlife that’s hard to beat (the Reeperhahn is every bit as intoxicating as you’d imagine), but it also means city parks, wide, airy square (where you’ll find the ornate and wonderful Town Hall) and exceptional culture houses too, such as the eye-popping Elbphilharmonie concert hall, seemingly an alien spaceship descended upon an old warehouse along the waterfront. Glorious new buildings aside, the city shows its grittier site in the bohemian Sternschanze neighbourhood, where the warehouses and cobbled lanes are animated every weekend with stalls selling vintage clothes, books and paintings.
Reims is a delight. Just a three-hour drive from Calais, this northern French gem is situated in the heart of Champagne country, and a far more relaxing prospect than heading a little further, into the bustle and frenzy of Paris. The town’s Notre Dame de Reims cathedral is a Gothic masterpiece – a huge one at that. But the city isn’t all ancient history. Much of it was flattened in the war. So today, the town centre mixes medieval with Art Deco, renovated warehouses and covered markets, especially in the trendy Boulingrin quartier. Of course, a Champagne tasting tour at Moët & Chandon and Taittinger is a not-to-be-missed experience for connoisseurs of vintage French bubbly. More shopping? The gorgeous Galeries Lafayette. Should be your first port of call.
The home of the mighty Philips electronics firm, Eindhoven is an old city with a modern heart where you can visit the factory where the first electric light was made! Eminently walkable, with lots of green spaces and a pleasing hotch-potch of ancient and modern, Eindhoven is a strong cultural centre too. Visit its strikingly designed Contemporary Arts Museum, with its particularly strong collection of works from the likes of Picasso, Mondrian and Flemish and American artists (Van Abbemuseum, Bilderdijklaan 10). The MU Artspace, Emmasingel 20, offers exhibitions, talks and explorations of the space between art, design and pop culture. For fresh air, head to the park and grass fields around Lake Karpendonck. Shoppers should head to Piazza Center on the 18 Septemberplein, home to de Bijenkorf, one the largest and most exclusive department stores in the Netherlands.