I’ve always loved Europe. In some ways, its familiarity means that for some it doesn’t have the exotic allure of other parts of the world, but once you’re cycling past fields of lavender in southern France or sipping a limoncello on a terrace bathed in Amalfi sunlight, you can keep your exotica – there’s nowhere better.
Spain may be my favourite European country, but it’s difficult to choose. And why should one? There’s something to love about everywhere you visit on the continent, and the ‘new’ European countries just mean there’s now even more to explore!
There’s a unique feeling in the cities of southern Spain, on the streets, in the bars and flamenco houses. The locals call the feeling of passion you get with flamenco duende, and I think that intensity and extravagance somehow infects other parts of life there as well. The towns and cities are sometimes woozy, as if the place is taking a well-earned rest, catching its breath, then all of a sudden everything becomes totally untamed, unbridled – it’s like an on-off switch, with no setting in between; a carnival breaking out of a siesta.
Seville or Granada? Easy: go to both. Maybe the old town in Seville is that little bit more atmospheric, but Granada’s backdrop of the Sierra Nevada is more amazing than Seville can manage, so we’ll call it an honourable draw. Really though judging one against the other is like comparing two beautiful, rough diamonds. Anyone who goes to either and doesn’t have a good time should have their passport revoked – travelling’s obviously not for them!
My big discovery recently has been central Europe’s cities. Budapest and Prague are about as different in atmosphere to southern Spain as Europe gets, but they’re absolutely wonderful places. Both cities were obviously dreamt up by a wild romantic: cute cobblestoned old towns, lavish art nouveau architecture and beautiful bridges spanning rivers – perfect for lingering stops. Great walking towns, but I discovered several ways of losing afternoons indoors as well: a long steam in one of Budapest’s thermal baths was heavenly, while Prague’s beer halls can turn into the land that time forgot!
Whatever town or city you’re in, one of the great things about Europe is that you’re bound to be close to countryside that is perfectly set up for walking, trekking or cycling. People have been working the land or going on religious pilgrimages for millennia around these parts, so the ancient trails are well established, easy to follow and plough past great sites. Pick any path in Provence, for example, and you’re pretty much guaranteed the following: rolling fields of green and gold, rocky escarpments with pretty perched villages, and total peace and quiet.
And the food! At any one of those French villages, or those in Italy for that matter, my perfect European holiday resembles a fortnight’s feast. Give me the bread and the pasta, the cured meats and a rich bouillabaisse washed down with wine, a lavender crème brulee or blackberry panna cotta, ristretto and grappa. If France and Italy haven’t perfected how to live the good life, I don’t know where has.
"We had a great trip. The group size was ideal, the itinerary was excellent. The tour leader was outstanding and his choice and suggestions for eating places could not have been better. A trip we would be happy to recommend to anyone."