Now that we can return to the splendor of vacationing in Europe, this mini-guide to the classic destinations that never go out of style – welcome back Spain, Germany, France, Italy, Greece and Portugal – will send your wanderlust soaring. Passports at the ready, the sky is indeed the limit.
Ahhh, Spain, the culture, the food, the wine, the festivals, the contagious energy, the beaches, and the beautiful, amorous people. It’s hard not to fall in love with Spain and with so much to see and celebrate, listing the highlights is no easy task, but here it goes. Starting with Madrid, known for its architecture, and monuments like the Royal Palace laden with frescoes, chic European vibe, trendy Chueca district, endless tapas, wine bars, and nightlife. In Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, explore bustling markets like its famed La Boqueria Market), the Gothic Quarter home to the Cathedral of Barcelona, El Camp Nou (whether you’re a soccer lover or not), and of course, nothing can beat its proximity to Ibiza and the pristine beaches of Playa del Silencio, Costa del Sol, Majorca and Tarifa for windsurfing and whale watching. There are also endless charming historical inland towns and villages to explore for a taste of real Spain like Llastres, Frigiliana, San Vicente de la Barquera, and the list goes on.
Where to stay in Spain: In Barcelona stay at the chic boutique hotel, Kimpton Vividora to enjoy the historic Gothic Quarter filled with restaurants and boutiques or Hotel Arts Barcelona for Meditteranean beachside luxury. In Madrid, Urso Hotel & Spa in the city center is also a stately early 20th-century palace that blends neo-classical architecture with slick modern design.
Germany has long topped the best destinations in Europe list for its unique culture, deep sense of history and tradition, and trendy modern cities. One of the coolest things about Germany is its contrast from the typical wooden houses and beer gardens of Bavaria to the trendy, creative, edgy vibe of Berlin, where you’ll find pulsating nightlife and an incredible Michelin starred culinary scene. City hopping is easy thanks to the meticulous Germans and their fast, efficient train system S-Bahn. History buffs should head to Dresden for its Baroque architecture and Heidelberg, one of few cities left intact after WWII. Munich is also worth a visit for its quintessential Bavarian charm, think lederhosen, Oktoberfest, and the gorgeous Englischer Garten. While in Bavaria, be sure to take a drive through Romantic Road to explore medieval towns and some of Germany’s most beautiful castles including Neuschwanstein Castle.
Where to stay in Germany: In Berlin’s Tiergarten popular artsy neighborhood stay at SO/ Berlin Das Stue, to enjoy the city buzz and dine at Cinco, a fine dining Catalan, and Mediterranean restaurant. In Munich Hotel Munchen Palace offers easy access to Prinzregenten Theater and the Munich Philharmonic. In Dresden’s Baroque district Relais & Chateaux Bulow Palais is a palatial dream.
France is the epitome of old-world European glamour, style, art, culture, and elegance. From the fashion to the food (the croissants and macaroons are out of this world) and the people watching, France is a bucket list destination from the chic streets of Paris, to the celebrity-filled French Riviera (home to Saint Tropez, Cannes, Antibes, and Nice) and the breathtaking countryside of Provence. In the City of Lights, The Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, Moulin Rouge, Tuileries Garden and the hip districts of the Marais, Montmartre, Pigalle, Saint Germaine, and The Latin Quarter are not to be missed. But also get off the beaten path to explore Bois de Boulogne (a beautiful park in the forest with a lake) Paris’ secret vineyard, Vignes du Clos Montmartre, and 59 Rivoli, an exhibition space for artists and creative innovators. South of Paris, visit magnificent Provence for its medieval architecture, endless vineyards, and lavender fields, and the wild horses and flamingoes of The Camargue.
Where to stay in France: On the Côte d’Azur, La Chèvre d’Or is a fairytale hotel with stunning views over the Mediterranean, infinity pools, and exquisite gardens. In Paris stay in historic luxury in the 2nd arrondissement at The Hoxton. Or to experience the grandeur of your own châteaux try Château de Courtomer in Normandy or check out our round-up on the 10 Best Relais and Chateaux in France. Also, stand by for the opening of Kimpton St Honore Paris minutes from Tuileries Garden and Musée de l’Orangerie.
Turn any corner in Italy to be blown away by the jaw-dropping architecture, delectable Italian food, and beautiful, beyond stylish people. Again it’s impossible to narrow down the highlights of Italia, given the movie set allure of Rome, the fashion capital Milan, the famous art and culture on show in Florence and Venice, the romance of Tuscany, and the stunning ocean cliff tops and sex appeal of the Amalfi Coast (Positano, Sorrento, and Amalfi – we are looking at you). Rome wasn’t built in a day and that much is abundantly clear as you meander through its cobblestone streets marveling at the Colosseum, gazing up at the domed ceiling of the Pantheon, ascending to new spiritual heights or the Vatican City, or making a wish and snapping an Instagram selfie in front of the Trevi Fountain. Finish the sightseeing with a personal pizza at Emma right in the heart of the city. Fashionistas heading to Milan should burn some cash at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (first opened in 1877), shop the luxury designer lined strip Corso Como, hang out with the well-heeled Milanese at the Bulgari Hotel or Hotel Armani and check out the iconic churches and architecture like the Duomo di Milano and Art Nouveau townhouses in the Porta Venezia neighborhood. And let’s not forget the hidden gems. Tuscia, two hours north of Rome is a small historical province filled with rolling hills, shimmering lakes, hilltop villages. And the medieval city of Maremma, Tuscany, is surrounded by thick forests of chestnuts, sprawling green fields of olive groves, and vineyards that stretch to the sea.
Where to stay in Italy: The Mandarin Oriental Milan has two Michelin star restaurants focusing on northern Italian cuisine and is the place to be at Aperitivo hour. On the Amalfi Coast, stay at Palazzo Avino, a 12th-century luxury villa with terraces overlooking the region’s pastel-colored villas and the breathtaking Mediterranean sea.
History and Greek mythology buffs will be in heaven seeing the archaeological wonders of The Acropolis, Delos, Delphi, and Mystras up close. Known for its warm hospitality, fresh Meditteranean fare, and the turquoise waters and whitewashed villas in the Greek Islands, Greece is a European paradise and nightlife lover’s dream. Spend a few nights exploring Athens, hike through the Samariá Gorge in Crete, and then island-hop through The Cyclades on the Aegean sea to soak up the sun and dance until dawn. Santorini holds a special place in our heart for its postcard-worthy blue-and-white stucco towns, incredible sunsets, dormant volcanoes, natural hot springs, and delicious Greek dishes like tomato keftedes (tomato fritters), moussaka, and saganaki (fried cheese in a filo pastry). If Santorini is for lovers, Mykonos is for those who like to party, the beachside bars and clubs are buzzing with beautiful, happy, people.
Where to stay in Greece: Marvel at sea and sunset at the Bill & Coo Suites and Lounge where you can spend your days floating in your private infinity pool, unwinding at the spa, or eating your way through the Mediterranean menu. In Santorini, the Andronis Luxury Suites are an exercise in dreamy Cyclades style (whitewashed walls, cave-like quarters, steep stone staircases) overlooking the azure Aegean sea.
Nestled in the southwestern corner of Europe bordered by the spectacular Atlantic ocean coastline with Spain to the North, Portugal is both a beach lover’s paradise and a haven for architecture and design aficionados. Lisbon, the capital, has become a hotspot for its trendy sidewalk restaurant and nightlife scene, overwhelming sense of history, and cool cultural vibe. Spend your days winding through the city’s charming hilly, cobbled streets lined with pastel-toned houses and marvel at the classical architecture and traditional azulejos mosaics and murals (elaborately-painted Portuguese tiles) that adorn many of the buildings and public spaces. Given its reputation as a famed new world wine region, be sure to visit Porto to sample their signature Port and Vinho Verde. For sun and sand worshippers the Algarve has some of the best beaches and dive locations on earth.
Where to Stay in Portugal: Santiago de Alfama is a restored 15th-century chic boutique hotel in Alfama, Lisbon’s oldest neighborhood. In the heart of Porto stay in historic luxury at Torel 1884 while in the Algarve Vila Vita Parc Resort & Spa is ocean paradise personified.