Mar 29, 2013 3:00:16 AM
Six weekend breaks in Europe
Jerez de la Frontera, Spain
Jerez distils Andalucian culture down to its most dramatic elements. It is a beguiling town of sherry bodegas, sleek horses and flamenco, all of which are celebrated each year in a series of hedonistic fiestas. A stroll around the old town, with its 11th-century Almohad fortress and promenade lined with orange trees, makes for a great introduction but to get to the heart of Jerez, you need to see how its namesake fortified wine (‘sherry’ is an anglicisation of ‘Jerez’) is produced. One of the best bodegas to visit is the Bodegas Tradición, which stores 20-year-old sherries alongside artwork by Goya and Velázquez. If all that wine-tasting has put you in the mood for a little dancing, check out the flying heels and skirts at one of the superb flamenco shows at the El Lagá de Tio Parrilla restaurant.
It’s easy to see why the residents of Lviv proudly proclaim their city to be the least Soviet in Ukraine. Far from the grim tower blocks that blight much of the rest of the country, Lviv’s old market square of Ploshcha Rynok and the surrounding streets full of carved facades and fine churches are of such splendour they were granted Unesco World Heritage protection in 1998. Wander through the town centre at dawn on a Sunday to hear the wafting strains of church music fill the empty streets, or head up to the best vantage point in the city, the High Castle, at sunset for spine-tingling views. The nightlife is good, too, with charming cafés like the atmospheric cubby hole that is the Pid Synoyu Plyashkoyu and the three-stories-underground Robert Doms beer house making Lviv an excellent alternative to the over-subscribed cities of Prague or Kraków.
There’s an unmistakable 1920s nostalgic charm to this corner of Brittany, and everyone from Churchill to Alfred Hitchcock is said to have enjoyed the classic seaside delights here. Blue-and-white striped bathing tents dot the curved expanses of sand, overlooked by venerable Victorian villas and the rather lovely Promenade du Clair de Lune, or moonlight promenade (bathing tents can be hired on Plage de l’Écluse). There are nightly beachside sound-and-light spectacles during the summer months. Picasso was a big fan of the area, having spent summers in Dinard for most of the 1920s, and with the glorious views, it’s easy to see what captured his imagination. Freshly caught fish happily dominates the food scene – the cod roasted in bacon and parmesan at the innovative Chez Ma Pomme is a particular treat.
In a country overflowing with outlandish natural beauty, Iceland’s second city more than holds its own. Fortuitously set on the banks of an ice-blue fjord with a backdrop of cut-glass mountains, Akureyri manages to top the capital Reykjavík in the good-looks stakes. A compact knot of relaxed Paris-style cafés and bars on the main strip of Hafnarstraeti serve excellent pastries and coffee by day, before transforming into lively drinking dens and restaurants at night – visit the friendly local favourite of Bautinn to try Icelandic delicacies such as puffin and horsemeat. In summer, when the Scandinavian sun downright refuses to set, you can even go golfing at midnight at Akureyri Golf Club.
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
The remarkable architecture that is Rotterdam’s calling card is a legacy of its destruction in WWII and gives the city a modernist aesthetic that is unique in Europe. Rotterdam is home to some tremendous art, too, with the collection of old Dutch masters and an enthralling surrealist wing at the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen reason enough for a visit. At night, this port city erupts into life, with lively beer houses, coffee shops and brown cafés rubbing shoulders with some excellent cosmopolitan restaurants and bars that more than match those of the city’s fierce rival, Amsterdam. Try Locus Publicus on Oostzeedijk for an awe-inspiring selection of some 200 beers.
A medieval hill town at the heart of Umbria, one of Italy’s most beautiful regions, Perugia is an intriguing mixture of wonderfully preserved 13th-century architecture and – thanks to its large student population – a very modern cultural scene. World-class public art and museums seem to come as standard in Italy, and Perugia is no exception, try the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria for excellent collections of fine art dating back to the Byzantine era. Each evening, it feels like the entire city emerges out onto the main strip by the Fontana Maggiore (Great Fountain) – it’s an endlessly fascinating display of outdoor theatre as students strum guitars, families share gelati and men gather to drink one more espresso in the pavement cafés. Even for Italy, Umbria is a particularly fine region for food; try the seasonal set menu at the traditional Ristorante dal Mi’Cocco for an exquisite no-frills taste of the local produce.
This is an excerpt from a previous edition of Lonely Planet Traveller magazine.
This article was first published in March 2011 and was refreshed in March 2013.
Want more travel inspiration? Snap up a copy of Lonely Planet Traveller magazine.