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‘It began, like all the best travel discoveries, by chance’: 21 writers on their finds of 2021 | Europe holidays

Sandy seashores and a vigorous buzz, Sicily

I spent September travelling round Sicily alone, largely on foot, and I wished to flop on a seaside earlier than going dwelling. I settled on Cefalù on the north coast, as a result of of its uncommon mixture of sandy seaside and medieval city – and it was love at first sight. I had heard that the tiny city will get unpleasantly packed in summer time, however by late September there was only a vigorous buzz. Cefalù appeared a distillation of all over the place else I had been: Sicily in miniature. I gazed up at the mosaic-bright Christ Pantocrator in the twin-towered Arab-Norman cathedral. I got here head to head with Antonello da Messina’s enigmatic Portrait of an Unknown Man, a masterpiece in the unassuming (and empty) Museo Mandralisca. I climbed La Rocca, an enormous crag that looms over the city, to a fourth- or fifth-century temple and ruined fortress.

I pottered round the cobbled streets, popping into ceramic retailers and a gelateria; joined the passeggiata alongside the seafront at sundown; and idled in piazzas ingesting Campari spritz and consuming pasta con le sarde. In truth, it wasn’t till the final afternoon that I lastly discovered time to laze on the seaside.
Rachel Dixon

Bay-hopping in Croatia

Telašćica park. Photograph: Dalibor Brlek/Alamy

Looking like an enormous misshapen claw, Telašćica nature park dangles from the southern finish of the Croatian island of Dugi Otok, close to the islands of Kornati nationwide park. But whereas the Kornatis are scrubby barren dots of sheep-covered land, most of Telašćica is lusciously inexperienced – all the higher to indicate off its distinction with the vivid blue of the Adriatic. Within this unusual claw are 25 bays and 6 islets surrounded by olive groves, vineyards and forested hills heavy with the scent of pine. I adopted a highway as much as a viewpoint in an outdated Habsburg fort, from which I might see glistening swimming pools of the Adriatic flowing between inexperienced mounds, and moored crusing boats. Nearby is Mir, a saltwater lake skirted by limestone cliffs. It’s a preferred swimming spot for day-trippers from Zadar, so I headed as a substitute to Jaz bay for a swim off the pebbly shore. Here I discovered the peace that was missing in Mir, which, paradoxically, interprets as peace. Luckily, right here at Telašćica, there’s loads of that to go spherical.
Mary Novakovich


Rousseau’s romantic retreat

Les Charmettes, home of Rousseau. Photograph: Only France/Alamy

When an sudden chilly snap descended on Lac Annecy and compelled us off the pedalo, we headed into close by Chambery for a scorching chocolate – and found the indicators for Les Charmettes, the museum and former dwelling of thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau. A teenage Rousseau met Madame de Warens, 13 years his senior, in 1728. He referred to as her “maman” they usually moved into Les Charmettes farmhouse collectively in 1736. With no guards or velvet ropes, guests are free to wander round Rousseau’s bed room and Madame’s extra romantic quarters (with hand-painted wallpaper). Downstairs, there’s a clavichord, a chaise longue and a desk set for lunch à deux. Rousseau wrote that in the 5 years he spent there, he “enjoyed a century of life and total and complete happiness.”

He handed the time devising a numerical kind of music notation, mountain climbing in the Chartreuse mountains and advancing his philosophical “storehouse of ideas”. The gardens embrace uncommon vines, beehives and an orchard with views which have barely modified since Rousseau gazed throughout the valley. His philosophy influenced the French Revolution and Charmettes turned a spot of pilgrimage after his dying.
Jon Bryant

The world’s longest wood staircase, Norway

Flørli in southwest Norway Photograph: Thomas Rasmus Skaug/Visit Norway


Spending my summers rising up in Glencoe means I’m continuously carrying the emotional affect of its serene mountains and lochs at the again of my thoughts. Which is to say that after I’m travelling I’m all the time assessing nature’s most awe-inspiring sights compared, even when that always ends in disappointment. So the very first thing that struck me whereas climbing to the prime of the world’s longest wood staircase, all 4,444 steep steps above the roadless village of Flørli in south-west Norway, was how empty it was. Barring a handful of hikers from Stavanger behind me, I used to be alone and that was barely unnerving, if thrillingly welcome in late summer time. It was virtually unreal.

The second factor I’ll always remember was the heart-in-mouth panorama at the prime. From the Ternevass dam, the deep-blue Lysefjord and the mammoth cliffs of Preikestolen throughout its sun-brushed floor jostled for my consideration. The panorama was bare and virtually Caledonian, and but it was a Norwegian wilderness to dream on.

So, in a salute to my short-term hosts, I indulged in friluftsliv, the Nordic thought of open-air dwelling and outside journey, and got here again for extra the subsequent day.
Mike MacEacheran

Wine from Flanders? I practically spilt my beer

entre deux monts winemaker Photograph: John Brunton


French folks have a tendency to offer you an odd look if you speak about wine from Belgium, a rustic extra readily related to beer, mussels and frites. But my eyes have been opened throughout a winery and foodie tour of the bucolic nook of west Flanders often known as Heuvelland, the Hilly Land, not removed from the sombre struggle memorials of Ypres.

It is a shock to find these hills lined with vines and younger, dynamic vignerons opening their cellars for tastings of wines whose high quality actually impresses guests. Martin Bacquaert makes some excellent glowing vintages at Entre-deux-Monts, following the traditional méthode traditionelle made well-known by champagne makers.

Over at Monteberg, wine lovers can sit out at a panoramic terrace, feasting on cheese, charcuterie and fruit from an natural farm whereas sipping bubbly, a fruity purple or attempting artisanal gin. Heuvelland’s tourism office excels at recommending visits. A romantic spot to remain is B&B De Rentmeesterhoeve, an historic manor home surrounded by a moat and gardens.
John Brunton

Rambling to Portugal’s mountain villages

Portugal, National Park Peneda-Geres Photograph: Cro Magnon/Alamy

My go to to Peneda-Gerês, Portugal’s solely nationwide park, had been a very long time coming, Covid-postponed from spring 2020. But lastly, in late August, I discovered myself rambling round its granite massifs, alongside shepherd tracks and pilgrim trails – and into Soajo. This little mountain village is one of Peneda-Geres’s most conventional, with tight-knit alleys, an historic pillory (carved, normally, with a smiley face) and an abundance of espigueiros, the area’s typical stilted, stone granaries. I stayed at Casa do Eiró, an outdated home by the important sq.. It has been in proprietor Rosa Rocha’s household for generations; her images and knick-knacks are nonetheless scattered inside. Each morning Rosa introduced a breakfast basket, with contemporary bread from Soajo’s bakery and peaches from her backyard. In the evenings I ate at restaurant Saber ao Borralho the place Rosa – additionally owner-chef right here – cooked up enormous parts of carne de cachena (native beef) and fig cheesecake.
Sarah Baxter

Mosques, minarets and moreish meals, Istanbul

Mihrimah Sultan Mosque, Uskudar, Istanbul, Turkey Photograph: Czgur/Getty Images

“As I was going to Üsküdar,” sang Eartha Kitt in the Fifties in her fabulous rendition of the Turkish music Kâtibim. Üsküdar, a neighbourhood on the Asian aspect of Istanbul, had someway handed me by … however now I had Eartha’s voice in my head as I boarded the ferry for the quick scenic journey from Karaköy on the European aspect. Two issues drew me there: a selected lokanta (restaurant) and a well-known waterside mosque. The chestnut pilav and dolma at Kanaat Lokantası, arrange by the Kargılı household in 1933, was nearly as good as I’d been instructed by pals, the setting distinctly quaint, the meals moreish and wealthy. Then a five-minute stroll again in direction of the ferry dock took me to Mihrimah Sultan mosque), inbuilt 1548 for the daughter of Süleyman the Magnificent. Strikingly lovely with its slender minarets and stained-glass home windows, it’s however one of Üsküdar’s many historic mosques, giving cause to return.
Caroline Eden

The ‘improbably pretty’ Welsh Marches

Montgomery church of St Nicholas Montgomeryshire, Powys, Wales Photograph: David Bagnall/Alamy

It was whereas studying Jan Morris’s e-book, Wales: Epic Views of a Small Country, throughout lockdown that it dawned on me how little of this “damp, demanding and obsessively interesting country” I had visited. Previous journeys had traced the ordinary vacationer routes from Cardiff’s Millennium stadium and the seashores of Pembrokeshire to Snowdonia.

My post-lockdown decision was to discover an element of the nation that always will get bypassed – the drive-through borderlands of mid-Wales. The first shock was that we arrived in the center of a heatwave. The second got here once we climbed as much as the ruins of the Norman fortress in Montgomery and took in the view. It was expansive, filmic even: an improbably fairly scene with the church tower of the little city in the foreground, and the inexperienced pastures of Powys and Shropshire working out to Corndon Hill in the distance.

Another line from Morris got here again to me: (*21*)
Andy Pietrasik

A navy lark in Puglia, Italy

City view, Brindisi, Puglia Photograph: Jacek Sopotnicki/Getty Images

The port city of Brindisi has by no means bothered a lot with vacationers. In its 2,600 years of historical past, the doings of troopers, seafarers and merchants in its enormous pure harbour have been way more essential. While in the previous decade it has added a wise seafront promenade lined with eating places, bars and gelaterias, its outdated city, with all the windy stone streets and church buildings you’d count on, nonetheless sees little in the means of crowds. The archaeological museum subsequent to the cathedral is even free to enter. Its assortment of historic Greek vases and beautiful Roman mosaics rivals these in Naples and Sicily, but we had it to ourselves on a sunny autumn afternoon. The imposing Thirteenth-century fortress is just not open to the public as a result of – think about! – it’s nonetheless in navy use, a base for the Italian marines.

There’s loads of civic life too: Brindisi bursts on to the streets for the early-evening passeggiata, significantly alongside palm-lined Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi (the 4Erre bar, on the nook of Vicolo Sacramento, does a really beneficiant Aperol spritz). Below the fortress, Antica Osteria La Sciabica served us fishy starters and pillowy pizzas on a waterside terrace overlooking moored trawlers – and a giant gray gunship.
Liz Boulter

Glamping and milking cows in Romania

Kate Shelby in Romania Photograph: Kate Eshelby

I heard about Dobraia – a brand new glampsite excessive in the wild Cerna mountains – due to Romania Private Tours. The distant camp inside the Domogled-Valea-Cernei nationwide park, in Romania’s little-visited Banat area, is just not simple to succeed in: it’s a seven-hour drive from Bucharest, after which a steep two-hour hike (a tough observe reaches the spot, however you want an off-road automobile). Yet it’s value each step if you lastly see 4 white bell tents (every costing about £35 an evening) gazing at limitless mountains.

All meals are homecooked by the self-sufficient homeowners, the Raduta household – each ingredient is organically grown or produced by them. I went in August with my husband and two younger youngsters, who cherished serving to deliver the cows dwelling from foraging in the forests, then milking them by hand; and we swayed in hammocks below plum timber, picnicked in orchards and walked to remoted hamlets strung amongst the peaks. It’s so bucolic I half anticipated the Greek god Pan to look along with his flute.
Kate Eshelby

The best of the Pennine Way

High Force waterfall Photograph: Mike Robinson/Alamy

Some of the Pennine Way may be depressing. Days are spent trudging throughout desolate moors. Even when it’s dry, secret bogs lie beneath, hungry for drained legs. Cottongrass is the solely factor in a position to abdomen the acid beneath and gloom above. But there’s historic majesty in these 268 miles. West of Middleton in Teesdale, the path runs alongside the river and the shrubs thicken with juniper, a relic of the finish of the ice age. Soon, the water gathers tempo and turns into High Force, a 22-metre waterfall that plunges over a shelf of dolerite fashioned 295 million years in the past. Two hours west and the skies widen as the river yawns round Cronkley Scar. The grass flows in the breeze, tickling the tummies of the Belted Galloways from Widdybank Farm. Above, curlews and lapwings soar with delight. When I used to be there, the solar perched above Cauldron Snout. It appeared to attend for hours, as if loath to show its again on the magnificence beneath.
James Gingell

The solely means is Essex church buildings

St Clements church, West Thurrock.St Clements church, West Thurrock. Photograph: David Lyon/Alamy

It started, like all the best travel discoveries, by likelihood. I used to be in Brightlingsea on the Essex coast when somebody beneficial All Saints Church. There I found a dado path of 211 massive sq. tiles girdling the inside, every recalling a neighborhood sailor misplaced at sea. Starting in 1872 with a father and son drowned off Hartlepool, it continues via horrible winters, giving just a few particulars: Samuel Bridges, for instance, was “washed overboard from the Mary Anne of Aberystwith 15 miles north of Bishop Light”. There was even a neighborhood man on the Titanic: steward Sidney Siebert, who leaped overboard however died in the lifeboat.

Essex church buildings repay your dedication. Too many are locked, or open not often, however be persistent: St Clements in West Thurrock, is a flinty-faced Twelfth-century chapel overshadowed by a cleaning soap manufacturing unit , a visible oxymoron and magnet for movie scouts (keep in mind the funeral half of Four Weddings?). Walk down the Thames from Purfleet station previous a feast of graffiti artwork and industrial structure.
Kevin Rushby

Going Gothic on Germany’s Baltic coast

Gables of patrician houses in the Hanseatic City of Greifswald Photograph: Senor Campesino/Getty Images

Flanked by the Baltic Sea with its vigorous harbour dipping into the Ryck River, I spent two days in the Western Pomeranian metropolis of Greifswald throughout a blisteringly chilly October break. It was the first time I had visited the lovely Hanseatic metropolis, 50 miles from the Polish border. Around each nook was yet one more magnificent piece of structure with an equally spectacular historical past – from its St Nikolai cathedral, peeping above its central sq., to the former Cistercian monastery, Eldena Abbey, on the outskirts. Stood in the centre of its marktplatz you might be cocooned inside renovated Gothic-style buildings in shades of crimson, sunshine yellow and dusky pinks. These buildings have been immortalised in the work of its most well-known son, the Romantic interval artist Caspar David Friedrich. There is an exceptionally vigorous bar scene resulting from the metropolis’s Fifteenth-century college and an opportunity to go on a ship journey to the close by charming city of Wieck with its conventional salted fish eating places.
Nazia Parveen

Surprising safaris on the Isle of Wight

A wall lizard Photograph: Silent Foto/Getty Images

Funnelling into the thick cover of timber at nightfall, I felt as if somebody out of the blue turned out the lights. “Can you see anything?” I whispered to my information Dave Fairlamb, as my eyes strained, hoping to make out the form of an elusive and endangered creature. “Not yet,” he replied as we continued to really feel our means alongside the footpath on our nocturnal safari.

When it involves observing and photographing wildlife in its pure habitat – significantly in Britain – my mind routinely wanders north, picturing deer and pine marten in Scotland’s Cairngorms, seal pups on the Isle of Mull, or puffins on the cliffs of Northumberland’s Farne Islands. Yet 2021 was the yr I found that we have now a very wild isle additional south – the Isle of Wight.

I visited this summer time to spy sea eagles at Brading Marsh, red squirrels in Borthwood Copse, wall lizards at Ventnor, stingray at Thorness Bay and, guided solely by the gentle from the moon, elusive dormice in Alverstone. And although some of my safari was spent in the darkish, I felt like a lightweight had been shone on the wilder aspect of this Victorian beachside favorite.
Phoebe Smith

A monster journey to Loch Ness

Eilean Donan Castle.Eilean Donan Castle. Photograph: Travelling Light/Alamy

While there are lovely parks close to us, we do stay in the center of a concrete jungle in east London and I usually dream of being in the wilderness. So, in October, in celebration of our third wedding ceremony anniversary, we obtained on a practice to Inverness. The eight-hour practice journey was one of my favorite elements of the vacation. I cherished seeing the distance I used to be placing between myself and the place I had felt so caught in for thus lengthy and at last having the time to learn.

We spent just a few days driving throughout totally different areas of the Highlands, from Loch Ness to the Isle of Skye. In Inverness, I cherished visiting Leakey’s secondhand bookshop, and the Culloden Battlefield. The boat trip in Loch Ness is unmissable – even on a wet October day – as is the fantastic stroll we went on in Kinloch Forest and the fortress, Eilean Donan. I significantly cherished how small I felt driving round the North Coast 500 route. It was an essential reminder that after greater than a yr of feeling my world shut inwards, there are such a lot of issues a lot larger than me.
Aamna Mohdin

Pigs trotters with prawns in the Pyrenees

Aigues tortes national park forest landscape. Sant Maurici lake. Spain‘Crystal clear mountain lakes’ … Sant Maurici in the Pyrenees. Photograph: ABB Photo/Getty Images

With Spain below partial lockdown for a lot of the yr, and inter-regional travel off the playing cards, dwelling right here I discovered it a terrific reduction to have the various landscapes of Catalonia shut handy: its ragged shoreline of lengthy, sandy seashores and hidden bays; the rice paddies of the delta to the south; the crystal-clear mountain lakes and aromatic pine forests to the north. Up right here close to the border with France, on the roads that wind via the foothills of the Pyrenees, is the place you’re most definitely to stumble throughout one of Catalonia’s best charms – the random apparition of the kind of restaurant city-dwellers can solely dream of. Thick stone partitions, backyard tables dappled with shade, and a blackboard trumpeting the sticky chargrilled soul meals that ought to all the time spherical off a day’s mountain climbing. And so it was with Restaurant Girul, simply exterior the village of Meranges.
Oxtail stew, pigs’ trotters with prawn, and doormat-sized T-bone steaks share the billing with trinxat (a Catalan take on bubble and squeak) and a tray of snails simply as they need to be: not bland, not rubbery, simply the correct amount of garlic. Three programs and a bottle of first rate native purple introduced the invoice for 2 to €70.
Sally Davies

Following Hippocrates into Greece’s therapeutic springs

Lake VouliagmeniLake Vouliagmeni Photograph: Sara Giovannoni/Getty Images

As somebody who begins shivering as quickly as the mercury sinks beneath 15C, I’m a agency fan of Greece’s scorching springs, which surge out of the floor at blood-warming temperatures.
Said to treatment every little thing from eczema to arthritis, they’ve been widespread since antiquity: celebrated doctor Hippocrates was satisfied of the therapeutic properties of thermal water and fifth-century BC historian Herodotus was additionally an enormous fan of balneotherapy, appropriately sufficient in a rustic the place legend has it that child Achilles turned (virtually) invincible after his mom dipped him in the Styx’s spring-fed waters.

I found the scorching spring lake of Vouliagmeni whereas exploring the Athenian riviera, 30 miles of beach- and tavern-fringed shoreline stretching from the stylish suburbs of Palaio Faliro to Poseidon’s temple at Cape Sounion. Surrounded by pine forests, the lake is definitely a sunken cave fed by thermal springs that bubble up at about 21C. Wallowing in the (barely smelly) sulphur-rich waters the place Greeks have bathed away their aches and pains for two,500 years was a legendary expertise. A day move is €15-18 and under-fives go free.
Heidi Fuller-Love

The Clarion name of Britain’s final socialist refuge

Clarion House

I got here throughout Clarion House by likelihood, driving dwelling from Roughlee, in Lancashire. There, by the roadside, was a fairly, single-storey red-and-white constructing, with a easy trumpet for its emblem. It was inbuilt 1912 for mill and manufacturing unit staff who got here up into the countryside round Pendle Hill to flee the grime and noise of more and more congested cities similar to Colne and Brierfield. Inside are posters from the Spanish civil struggle, a phenomenal piece of stained glass and a banner emblazoned with “Workers of the world unite”. Soft daylight streams in via the home windows. Long benches are laid out for chatting over a cup of tea and the Communist Manifesto. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Clarion Houses popped up in a number of rural areas – many linked to biking golf equipment – together with Halewood in Merseyside and Sheldon in Birmingham. Sadly, the Clarion House I “discovered” in 2021 is the just one nonetheless standing. In my dream future, there are Clarion Houses dotted all over the regreened, rewilded UK, serving as waystations and watering holes on “slow ways” that be a part of up all our hamlets and villages, cities and cities. That’s my clarion name for right this moment.
Chris Moss

Drinking in the environment of Valletta’s again streets

Malta street from Monisha Rajesh Photograph: Monisha Rajesh

Like most of my favorite locations round the world, this one was uncovered by accident. Dropped off at the flawed tackle down a backstreet in the Maltese capital, I scanned the heat limestone partitions, balconied and shuttered, and questioned which housed our restaurant. Early for our seating, we climbed a set of steps anticipating an empty alley and appeared up at what gave the impression to be a makeshift restaurant cascading in direction of us. Tables and vibrant wood chairs wobbled on the slabs, {couples} sipped cocktails and shared deep-fried duck rolls and steaming pizza. Waiting workers appeared from wood shutters in the partitions and strings of golden bulbs zigzagged from one aspect of the avenue to a different. Warm, inviting, quiet sufficient to talk, noisy sufficient to mix in, Saint Lucia Street was the excellent spot for a pre-dinner drink, naked shoulders and flip-flopped ft nonetheless heat in the salty coastal air.
Monisha Rajesh

Riverside hike close to Belfast

Lagan towpath. Photograph: Paul Lindsay/Alamy

In May, I spent every week exploring the wild inexperienced areas round Belfast: the basalt cliffs of Cave Hill, heather-covered Black Mountain, the glens of Antrim and the wooded seashores of North Down. One revelation for me, even in the rain, was the widespread 11-mile towpath beside the River Lagan to the neighbouring metropolis of Lisburn, with trains again to Belfast. Walking upstream from the ceramic huge fish sculpture, celebrating the river’s 1999 regeneration, I detoured via the clematis-covered arches and 1840s palm home of Belfast’s Botanic Garden. Cows have been grazing the flowery Lagan meadows, two miles additional on, and a lock-keeper’s cottage stood below pink-and-white apple blossom. My favorite stretch was Minnowburn with its mossy waterside beeches, winding waterways, and van promoting tea and cake. There have been clouds of cow parsley, clumps of yellow kingcups, herons in the willows, and a swan nesting proper by the path.
Phoebe Taplin

The industrial landscapes of Luxembourg

Esch/Alzette: Industrial plants meet modernity in Esch/Alzette Photograph: Dpa Picture Alliance/Alamy

It was an curiosity in migrants from Cape Verde that took me to the south of Luxembourg. Most guests to the Grand Duchy make first for the capital after which, in the event that they go wherever else at all, enterprise into the hilly Ardennes area in the north. But the former industrial landscapes that nudge up in direction of the French border are actual hidden Europe territory. This southern fringe of Luxembourg is wou dat roud Gold gegruewe gou – Luxembourgish for “where the red gold was dug”. The purple gold was iron ore. The foundries and smelters in the Alzette Valley are lengthy gone, and the area round Esch is now the hub of one of Europe’s most-ambitious programmes of regeneration and concrete renewal.

There’s actual visible drama in these erstwhile industrial areas and I fancy we’ll be listening to much more about this area in 2022 as Esch-sur-Alzette steps into the limelight as a European Capital of Culture.
Nicky Gardiner

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