In the six part series of Notes From Around the World, here's what Europe looks like :
ALBANIA Undiscovered rustic beauty
Driving through the picturesque roads, heritage dating back to the Ottoman Empire, checking out the mosques, squares and colourful streets of Tirana, filled with cafés, and Ottoman-influenced food.
ANDORRA A low-fat dressing in a sandwich of France and Spain
Nothing much to do in this tiny principality in the Pyrenees unless you are in a mood to ski and want to hit the slopes. Your camera will have to live with a few pretty Romanesque churches and imposing peaks.
ARMENIA Europe’s best-kept secret
Centuries-old cathedrals, fine wine, strong coffee, Armenian pizza and delicious food inspired by Persia, Ottoman and Europe. A romantic night spent at the lovely Avan Dzoraget Hotel, located on the Debed river, surrounded by monasteries nestled by the Caucasus mountains. Watching the mild rapids of the river, enjoying the mezze and getting transported to medieval times.
AUSTRIA The Sound of Music and more
Drinking a huge stein of fresh hefeweizen in a beer hall in Salzburg, early morning walks with a million-dollar view of Hallstatt, relishing a divine sachertorte and biting into an overflowing wiener schnitzel in Vienna, guzzling jugs of wine in a heuriger outside of the capital, and finishing the night listening to a live Jazz band in a cosy Keller Bar.
AZERBAIJAN* The charm of the Caucasus
A beautifully designed capital on the banks of the Caspian Sea that is a tasteful assortment of the old and the new and hosts a Grand Prix race. Architecture that is a blend of Middle Eastern and European, mouthwatering food that is a delightful mix of Persian, Turkish, and Caucasia. Whether it is the beautiful town of Sheki or the quirky mud volcanoes of Gobustan, Azerbaijan has much to offer to all visitors.
BELARUS Hiding behind the iron curtain
Eastern Europe’s outcast, which has been rarely explored, is filled with thick forests, picturesque villages, pretty rivers, restored castles, riverfront walks and orthodox churches.
BELGIUM Beer pilgrimage and pure indulgence
Sipping ales in Trappist monasteries, gorging on decadent chocolates and fries, getting lost in cobbled streets next to the canals, and looking for Tintin.
BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA Boreks and bar crawls
Charming old towns on the banks of the Miljacka, surrounded by the Dinaric Alps, with influences of both the West and the Ottoman. Resilient people who are ready to share troubling stories from the war, souvenirs made from bullet casings, and addictive boreks with fresh yoghurt.
BULGARIA Alpine meadows and hillside monasteries
Extremely cold weather, walking through the boulevards of freezing Sofia, the outstanding Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, visiting the stunningly exquisite Rila Monastery, soaking in history at the Roman Amphitheatre in Plovdiv.
CROATIA Amazed in the Adriatic
A tourist-heavy Dubrovnik, thanks to Game of Thrones. Sleepy quaint fishing towns like Bol, charming islands like Korcula and Hvar, perfectly preserved walled cities made of stone like Split, getting lost in one of the multiple alleyways filled with centuries-old buildings converted into bars and restaurants, and sampling fine Dalmatian cuisine.
CYPRUS Two sides of the same story
Divided into two by a UN safe zone, Cyprus has a Turkish side and a Greek side, where you will need to clear passport control when you cross the divide by road. While nature and beaches and even ancient ruins is, of course, the same across both sides, it is very apparent in architecture, food, people and attitudes that there are two cultures in the region, and it is fascinating how a narrow division can create such a separation.
CZECH REPUBLIC Check in and Czech out
Medieval town squares and bridges that are right out of a fairy tale, ancient wine cellars, charismatic underground pubs serving beer to a country known for the largest beer consumption per capita, mind-blowing aerial views of a river hugging red-roofed townscapes, and visiting a pub in the town of Pilsen to pay homage to the creators of Pilsner beer.
DENMARK Scandic cool and Nordic food
Colourful houses lining pretty canals, cool designs all around, cyclists hitting the roads even on the coldest days, and pioneers of the craft beer revolution in Europe. Michelin-starred chefs, a smorrebrod sandwich, and you will never be bored.
ESTONIA A Baltic fairy tale
Medieval atmosphere, Gothic towns, traditional stone pubs and a stirring history.
FINLAND Arctic cool and bare
A country obsessed with sauna; for a population of around five million, there are more than three million saunas, in homes, offices, airport lounges and even parliaments. A hip young capital city, beautiful cathedrals, bland food, Aurora Borealis in the Lapland, and cosy pubs and hot chilli nodder.
GEORGIA Fine wine and magical monasteries
Influenced by both Persian and Russian cultures, Georgia has a turbulent past that you might never realise as you walk through the beautiful cobblestoned old town absorbing the diverse architecture that encompasses Orthodox churches, majestic fortresses and new-age buildings complementing Soviet monuments. And top it all by tasting Georgia’s renowned unique wine, a product of the world’s oldest winemaking culture.
GERMANY Romancing antiquity in Deutschland
Drinking Weiss beers in brauhauses, driving like the devil in the Autobahns, cruising across the most romantic rivers, getting lost in Christmas markets and cathedral squares, exploring castles and eating curry wursts.
GREECE Islands of the gods
Greece Islands of the Gods With an ancient revered and feared civilisation, mythological gods and folklore, monuments and artefacts steeped in Greek, Roman and Ottoman history, famed islands with white-washed homes bordering the bluest of blue waters, delicious food, wine, craft beer and cheese, Greece is one compact country that has sugared many honeymoons.
HUNGARY History as rich as its goulash
The iconic Széchenyi Chain Bridge that connects the hilly old town of Buda to the flatter and more modern Pest over the dazzling Danube river. If Buda is all old-world charm with Hapsburg Palace, fisherman’s bastion with sweeping views of the river and townscape, then Pest is distinct in personality with its vibrancy, trams crisscrossing the city, lovely opera house, Trinity Square, numerous cafés and bars. Budapest is where you get two for the price of one.
ICELAND Ice cold in Iceland
Four hours of daylight, desperately chasing the elusive Aurora Borealis, dancing geysers, semi-frozen waterfalls, milky blue waters of spas located in a lava field, and pylsurs that are finger-licking good.
IRELAND Drinking in the Irish culture, literally!
Fresh pints of Guinness at the temple of stout in St James Gate, pub-hopping like a local through the traditional bars of Temple Square, walking along the lovely Liffey river, exploring the campuses of University of Trinity, and talking craic inside a cosy pub filled with banter.
ITALY Italy is IT of any travel itinerary
What is not to like—the pasta, the pizza, the cannoli, the cassata, the wine, the Roman amphitheatres and forums, the history, the tradition, the coastlines, the villas, the galleries, the artists, the fashion, the Ferraris, the gorgeous people, the drama, the opera, the soccer.
LATVIA Europe’s alluring corner
A nation with a brutal modern history, still recovering from the influence of Soviet occupation, produces more female models per capita that almost any country in the world. Home to medieval churches and 20th-century grand architecture, and really wicked black balsam.
LIECHTENSTEIN Pocket-sized principality
Snuggled between Switzerland and Austria, this sliver of a micronation should ideally be a part of one of its neighbours, as it holds nothing distinct. It is same-old turreted castles and stone-walled buildings like in a Swiss or Austrian Alpine town.
LITHUANIA Ambered out in the Baltic region
A cool and compact capital called Vilnius, Baltic cobblestoned castles, fairy tale churches, hidden Soviet nuclear missile base, an overload of amber, and decadent cepelinai.
LUXEMBOURG Sleepy grand duchy
Perched on a cliff with medieval streets, Unesco World Heritage fortifications, a grandiose palace and a thriving gastronomic scene.
MACEDONIA Go slow in Yugoslavia
Bohemian cities with many Ottoman- and Byzantine-era influences, stone fortresses, churches on hilltops, heavenly lake lands with traditional towns and hilly old quarters like Ohrid, and a vibrant café scene in Skopje.
MALTA A historic playground
A capital loaded with Unesco Heritage sites and monuments, an eclectic history of 7,000 years, prehistoric temples surrounded by clear waters, blessed with 300 days of sun, and excellent Mediterranean cuisine.
MOLDOVA A Soviet colony still trying to find its identity
Not as much Russian feel here despite being a former Soviet colony, except for the cold weather. But the warmer people make up for the cold unlike in Russia. Nothing much happening or to see in the capital, but it is a gateway to the break away state of Transnistria.
MONACO A prince’s playground
Fast cars, Grand Prix, French flair, opulence in the air, home to hedonists and high rollers and, undeniably, the rich kid of the Riviera.
MONTENEGRO Tiny treasure of the Balkans
For a tiny country, just 300kms end to end, Montenegro has a lot to offer. Mountains rolling into the sparkling waters of the Adriatic Sea, pint-sized historic walled cities like Kotor or Budva, churches and monasteries. Narrow strips of beaches, the tasty snack börek, all help this nation prove that size doesn’t matter.
NETHERLANDS Beyond the brown smoke and red lights
Wonderful windmills of Kinderdijk, canal-hugging bars of Amsterdam, hipster coffee shops and restaurants of Utrecht, late-night pub crawls in Rotterdam, and sampling varieties of bitterballen and local ales.
NORWAY Scandinavia’s scenic drama
Picturesque cruises through fjords carved from millions of years of glacial activity, spectacular train journeys across one of the highest railway lines, viking heritage, and Winter Olympics venues.
POLAND Out of the Cold War cloak
Getting lost in the alleys of Stare Miasto, cafés lining cobbled old-town squares, exploring palaces and castles, partying in the university town Kraków, and yummy pierogi downed with vodka shots.
PORTUGAL The pearl of the Iberian Peninsula
Sampling the finest port wine and the decadent Francesinha at a riverside café in Oporto, drinks at Portas do Sol in Lisbon, taking a tram ride through old town, and a quiet retreat in the quaint Evora.
ROMANIA Charmed in the Carpathians
The castle of Count Dracula in Transylvania, dining in a traditional taverna in Brasov, being enchanted in the fairy tale town of Sighisoara, Gothic churches in Saxon towns, tree-lined Boulevards of bucharest, and mititei meatballs and Silva beer.
RUSSIA* Mysterious mother Russia
The Red Square, a night train ride, communist grandeur, Venetian-looking canals, baroque buildings, and, of course, cold people to match the colder weather.
SAN MARINO Soulless in San Marino
A hilltop village more than a country. A visit here is nothing more than crossing another country off the list.
SERBIA The proud prince of Yugoslavia
Smoke-filled restaurants, unrivalled riverfront party scene on floating bars and clubs, boulevards, hip neighbourhoods, old town with an imprint of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, little Yugo cars, and lip-smacking cevapcici sandwiches.
SLOVAKIA Dancing with the Danube
Cafés and opera houses that can give their Viennese counterparts a run for their money, grand civic architecture, thriving craft-beer culture, meandering Danube river, vintage trams, castles and cathedrals.
SLOVENIA Picture-perfect fairyland
A capital whose name you cannot pronounce easily, town squares and baroque buildings, dragon bridges that belong in Game of Thrones, serene Lake Bled, gourmet food in Gostlina’s, and refreshing ales.
SPAIN Spain es muy bueno
Passionate language and passionate people, home of Barça and Real Madrid, medieval palaces and cathedrals, matadors and bullrings, wine and tapas, paella and afternoon siestas, and Moorish colonies.
SWEDEN Finding style in Scandinavia
This nation has a bit of all the other members of Scandinavia: Copenhagen’s cool and Norway’s nature, Denmark’s style and Baltic ports. And, on top of those, it has Stockholm where you can stroll through the colourful historic Gamla stan, witness royal routines at the palace, shop and click pictures of dozens of castles.
SWITZERLAND Lakes, chocolates and the epitome of watchmaking
Part Swiss, part German, part French and part Italian. All of it combined into a country that may be neutral in politics and in tone, but is vivid in its landscape. The white ski slopes of the Alps, the green meadows of the plains, the crystal blue waters of the lakes, all make it hard to see everything in ‘time’. But there is help there too, with Switzerland’s world-renowned watches.
TURKEY* Harmony in diversity
The fabled Istanbul loaded with Byzantine, Roman, Asian and European influences. Like the sultan’s opulent palaces and harem houses, resplendent mosques, iconic monuments like the Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, lively grand bazaars, sizzling street food and the friendly chatter in sweet stalls and cafés.
UKRAINE Something like Russia
Orthodox cathedrals, Gothic churches, mystical monasteries, Soviet buildings, medieval town squares, hidden bunker bars, Obolon beer and delicious varenyky.
UK The mother lode
Roman, Victorian and Georgian architecture, the beautiful countryside, the historic towns, the iconic stadiums like Lords, Wembley, and Wimbledon. Scotch distilleries, the ubiquitous pubs and multicultural food.
*The country lies both in Asia and Europe