WHEN IT COMES TO EUROPE, everyone has seen it all. Paris, Milan, Rome, London, Prague, Copenhagen, and even Reykjavik and Tbilisi have been hot for one long minute. The travel boom has also meant crazy crowds in the major cities.
What’s the refined traveller to do? We’re here to tell you that you don’t need to look for destinations that are difficult to get to. You just need to take a better look at classic, older towns and cities that have been off the travel radar. Here are three European destinations that are ripe for new explorations.
Forget about Milan and Rome, and even eschew Tuscany. Instead, head to Bologna in the north. The seventh-largest city in Italy and the historic capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, Bologna is home to hundreds of stunning pieces of Renaissance architecture and art, fabulous food, the famous Fountain of Neptune and the Basilica di San Petronio.
There are some great boutique hotels to stay in. The sharply modern Aemilia Hotel Bologna is a contrast to the city’s historic buildings. On the other side of the equation, the Hotel Al Cappello Rosso dates back to 1375 and is a charming option, being the oldest boutique offering in the city.
There are a number of to-die-for foodie destinations, including the chocolatier Majani Cioccolato Boutique and bread and confectioner Paolo Atti e Figli. Head to gastronomia Bruno e Franco – La Salumeria Bologna for excellent handmade pasta, cheese and Italian meats.
What of the shopping? Bologna doesn’t disappoint. Lovers of interior design must check out the Fabrizio Cocchishowroom. Fashion fiends should hop over to Casa dello Sport near the stunning Two Towers. Unique boutiques like Cappelleria Trentini, Disco d’Oro, and Gala in Via San Felice carry an eclectic mix of fashion and accessories. You’ll find jewellery that won’t break the bank at Samarcanda Artigianato D’Oriente. Handmade shoes take pride of place at Tassinari.
Famed for its vintages, travel to this ancient city to see its stunning public gardens. You’ll want to plan a visit to the major art museum, the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux. See beautiful classical architecture at the Place de la Bourse, with the Three Graces fountain and the Miroir d’Eau reflecting pool.
Stay at the Hôtel Cardinal Bordeaux Centre, set in an ancient building in town. It’s a modern dream, resplendent with rich colours and velvet. Or, live like a royal at the Château Grattequina Hôtel, to be found in an elegant 19th century estate around 9km outside the city center.
Shop along the Rue Sainte-Catherine, said to the be the longest pedestrian shopping street in Europe. It is packed with the best European luxury boutiques in stunning, historic buildings. An alternative spot is the area around Place Fernand Lafargue that houses small, hip boutiques with a rock vibe. For wine, visit the traditional wine shops of Chartrons.
For a vibe that’s laidback, warm and sunny, avoid Spain and head to Porto on the northwestern coast of Portugal. It remains filled with amazing medieval districts of narrow streets, massive old houses and hip cafes. It is the center of production for port wine, so there’s lots of drinking and eating to be done in this baroque town.
You won’t find a better place to stay than the 5-star Pestana Vintage Porto Hotel. It is actually part of a World Heritage Site right on the river with stunning rooms. Set in a 16th century building and with brilliant views, it’s centrally located — within walking distance of everything you want to see. For a modern twist, try the Torel Avantgarde.
Lovers of shopping will be happy in Porto. The best places for unique luxe buys are the independent stores like The Feeting Room for Portuguese handmade shoes. Visit THE for international and local designer brands. And head to Almada 13, the Porto version of Dover Street Market featuring high-end Portuguese brands. Don’t go home without visiting Mercado Loft Store for stunning and unique interior pieces, where old furniture is upcycled into stunning new masterpieces.
Luckily for us, Finnair has recently announced new flights to Europe from Asia that include Porto, Bordeaux and Bologna as destinations. Next summer will see increased flights to places like Alanya-Gazipasa, Palma de Mallorca, Split and Tel Aviv.