Gems of Europe
As the summer draws to a close we revisit some of our most treasured European locations. Combining some of the finest local cuisine, architectural beauty and rich history, these are places you simply cannot just visit once.
Reggio Calabria, Italy
Walking along the main coastal path in Reggio Calabria or Reggio di Calabria you will note its proximity to Sicily. Mount Etna sits bubbling away on the horizon with the Sicilian coastline at almost touching distance. This long panoramic seafront has made Reggio Calabria historically the most important shipping port between mainland Italy and Sicily and today it is still the main arrival and departure point for those travelling between locations. Part of Magna Graecia, Rhegion as it was known during the Greek colonisation of Italy is home to one of the country’s finest national museums in which the city’s history is laid bare. Two magnificent Greek bronze statues – I Bronzi di Riace – were discovered in the sea some 50 miles away from the city and are displayed within their own tightly controlled room within the museum. The city’s architecture is an eclectic mix of old and new, the result of civic problems including the infamous earthquake of 1908 which culminated in a tsunami and claimed the lives of many thousands of residents. Located close to the national park – Parco Nazionale dell’Aspromonte – Reggio Calabria is well known among hikers and nature lovers for its incredibly diverse walking terrain. In modern times Reggio Calabria has also become famed for its links to the Calabrian Mafia, known nationally to be a mafia stronghold. It is nevertheless also celebrated for retaining a strong sense of local cuisine, perhaps one of the few places in Italy today that is so largely untouched by international tourism you can still find local specialties in their most rustic form.
This acclaimed pizza restaurant shuns the use of traditional type ‘00’ flour preferring sourdough and vegan ingredients. With its Slow Food and health conscious ethos it is driving changes in traditional Italian cuisine in Southern Italy.
Pizzeria Mandalari, Via Udine, 5, Reggio di Calabria RC, Italy
It is not often that one finds a capital city that is an off-the-beaten-track destination, but the stunning city of Zaragoza in Northern Spain seems to be inexplicably overlooked by mass tourism. This is of course a blessing, as this unique city remains relatively un-blighted by the backpack-ridden tour groups and bustling queues found in Spain’s more well known cities. Capital of the region of Aragon, Zaragoza is a city filled with both history and charm. Founded by the Roman Emperor Augustus on the site of an ancient Iberian village, the city of Zaragoza also spent a number of years as a Muslim taifa kingdom before eventually being captured by the Aragonese; this rich heritage has created a melting point of architectural and gastronomic cultures. Top sites include the stunning Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Pilar, a multi-domed basilica which stands over the River Ebro, and La Seo de Zaragoza, a catholic cathedral which makes up part of a UNESCO World Heritage site.
On your next trip to Zaragoza, pop into a local tapas bar like Los Victorinos; this lively, intimate, standing-room-only bar serves authentic Spanish tapas and is a hot spot with the locals.
Los Victorinos, Calle José de la Hera, 6, 50001 Zaragoza, Spain
Isle of Islay, Scotland
Often forgotten next to its famous cousins Mull and Skye, The Isle of Islay is nonetheless famed for its rich history of whisky production and fine seafood. Accessible from Glasgow via a number of transport options, Islay is home to eight working whisky distilleries; ‘Islay malts’ have a distinct flavour with the island perfectly placed for whisky production thanks to its pure water source, sea spray and fertile lands for growing barley. Islay also has its own award winning brewery; Islay Ales which produce bottle and cask ales. All unfiltered and unpasteurised, the ale continues to ferment and condition over time making for a very distinct flavour. The island of Jura, one of Scotland’s most untamed places, is located off the mainland of Islay. There you can find soaring mountains and wild deer, George Orwell even lived on Jura for several years in search of peace and quiet, during which time he wrote his iconic novel 1984. Islay is also famed for its beautiful and natural beaches; the beach of Killinallan may be a long walk, but certainly a deserving one once you arrive on the white sands at Killinallan Point. With views across turquoise waters to Mull, Colonsay and Skye’s Cuillin mountains on a clear day it is one of Islay’s most charming locations. If you are looking to escape the city as you know it, Scotland’s Hebrides are calling.
Take a free tour of the brewhouse at Islay Ales to observe the ancient process of ale production, admire the skills of hand bottling and labelling and talk to the experts whilst you taste the ales.
Islay Ales, The Brewery, Islay House Square, Bridgend, Isle of Islay, Scotland
Nestled in the eastern corner of Italy on the border line with Slovenia and adjacent to the Adriatic Sea, the beautiful and hidden city of Trieste faced a very complicated history during the Second World War. It was only recently in 1954 that Trieste officially became part of the Italian Republic, after almost ten years of discussion among a population that for a long time wanted to formally become Italian. Trieste has been the favourite place of many international writers; James Joyce lived in the city for ten years and during this time wrote the Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, most of Dubliners and major portions of Ulysses. Joyce’s good friend and student, Italo Svevo father of the Italian modern novel and native of Trieste, based his masterpiece Zeno’s Conscience on the observation of life in Trieste. For its central position in Europe, Trieste has always been a multicultural city. From the Austro-Hungarian Empire – the stunning Miramare Castle, a sumptuous castle overlooking the sea and surrounded by gardens depicts the city’s ties with the Empire – to the grand literary cafés, the perfect meeting places for poets and writers. During the Second World War the German occupation of the city converted the Risiera di San Sabba, once just a local rice mill, into one of Europe’s cruellest concentration camps. It has since been converted into a memorial museum.
Overlooking the Adriatic Sea, the Liberty-style Savoia Excelsior Palace is the perfect luxury stay to enjoy the spectacular architecture of Italy’s most northerly center.
Savoia Excelsior Palace, Riva del Mandracchio, 4, 34124 Trieste, Italy
Azores: São Miguel, Portugal
The secret gems of the Atlantic Ocean, the Azores are a collection of nine islands hidden in the far reaches of this expansive ocean, approximately 1,300 km from the coast of Portugal and over 4,000 km from New York City. So isolated from both the European and Northern American continents, these small volcanic islands remained undiscovered until the 14th century and were only inhabited by Portuguese settlers in 1432. Although they are now touched by tourism – the town of Ponta Delgada on the Azores’ largest island, São Miguel, is becoming home to a number of luxury hotels and new restaurants – these remote islands are still a beacon of natural beauty and unspoiled landscapes. From sunken calderas, to the towering Mount Pico, to whale watching and dolphin spotting, the Azores is teeming with life. The tourism that has reached the islands revolves around maintaining the Azores’ natural beauty and ecosystems. From responsible whale watching to their renewable energy production (the government aims to produce 75% of their energy from a renewable source by 2018), it is clear how vital it is to preserve this delicate balance.
When visiting the Azores, stay at the newly-opened Azor Hotel in Ponta Delgada, São Miguel. This modern hotel with rooftop pool and marina-views is an ideal location from which to explore these exceptional and rugged islands.
Azor Hotel, Av. Dr. João Bosco Mota Amaral, Açores São Miguel 9500-765 , Portugal
September 1st 2016