Frankfurt & Southern Rhineland
In this enchanting corner of Germany, the finer things in life take pride of place: good food, great wine, glorious walking and cycling, and exceptional art everywhere, from magnificent museums to quirky street sculptures. Vineyards ribbon the steep-sided Romantic Rhine and Moselle valleys, as well as the wisteria-draped German Wine Route, the country's warmest region.
Puglia, Basilicata & Calabria
The Italian boot’s heel (Puglia), instep (Basilicata) and toe (Calabria) are where you can witness the so-called Mezzogiorno (southern Italy) in all its throbbing intensity. This is a land of drying washing on weather-worn balconies, speeding scooters in Dickensian alleys and dilapidated centro storicos (historic centres) that haven’t yet qualified for a Unesco listing.
Valencia & Around
Principal settlement in the region and an utterly addictive city, Valencia exudes confidence. Its sophisticated cultural scene, kicking nightlife, quality museums, great restaurants, understated beach and stunning Modernista and contemporary architecture make it one of the peninsula's real jewels.
Hamburg & the North
Head to Germany's north because you love the water. From the posh pleasures of Sylt in the west, to the fabled Baltic heritage of historic towns like Lübeck, Wismar, Stralsund and Greifswald. Here, you can sense the legacy of the Hanseatic League in beautiful old quarters created with iconic black and red bricks. Even inland there is water.
Central Dalmatia is the most action-packed, sight-rich and diverse part of Croatia, with pretty islands, quiet ports, rugged mountains, dozens of castles and an emerging culinary scene, as well as two Unesco World Heritage sites: Diocletian’s Palace in Split and the medieval walled town of Trogir.
The beauty of northwestern Italy is its diversity. Piedmont's capital, Turin, is an elegant, easy city of baroque palaces, cutting-edge galleries and fittingly fabulous dining. The region might be an economic powerhouse, but has managed to retain deep links to the soil.
Cologne & Northern Rhineland
Cologne's iconic Dom has twin towers that might as well be twin exclamation points after the word 'welcome'. Flowing behind the cathedral, the Rhine River provides a vital link for some of the region's highlights: Düsseldorf, with its great nightlife and fabulous shopping, and Bonn, which hums to Beethoven.
Gdańsk & Pomerania
Cream-hued beaches shelving smoothly into the nippy Baltic Sea, wind-crafted dunes vivid against leaden skies, stern red-brick churches and castles erected by a medieval order of pious knights, and silenced shipyards that once seethed with anti-communist tumult – this is Pomerania, Poland’s north, a land with many faces.
Stuttgart & the Black Forest
If one word could sum up Germany’s southwesternmost region, it would be inventive. Baden-Würtemberg gave the world relativity (Einstein), DNA (Miescher) and the astronomical telescope (Kepler). It was here that Bosch invented the spark plug; Gottlieb Daimler the gas engine; and Count Ferdinand the zeppelin.
French Alps & the Jura Mountains
It took something as monumental as the collision of Africa and Europe to produce the Alps. Inconceivable forces buckled the land, driving it high into the sky, creating a place of enchantment and danger. And further north, where those forces finally reached their limit, the lower, lushly wooded ridges of the Jura mountains grew.
Puglia is Italy’s ascendant region, a place where savvy travellers bored or worn down by the crowds of Campania and Tuscany escape for something a bit less frenetic and manicured. Top of the list for prospective newcomers is the food. Puglia’s cucina povera is about as earthy as Italian cuisine gets without eating it straight out of the soil.
The Czech Republic's western province boasts surprising variety. Český Krumlov, with its riverside setting and Renaissance castle, is in a class by itself, but lesser-known towns such as Třeboň in the south and Loket in the west exude unexpected charm. Big cities like České Budějovice and Plzeň, the EU Cultural Capital for 2015, offer great museums and restaurants.