Europe holidays

Architecture

Concrete thinking’s in fashion at Brussels’ brutalist Jam Hotel

Budget hotels always offer basic, boxy rooms, but not many are as creative as this alternative gem in the Belgian capital

Brussels is a city of grand townhouses and art nouveau. Yet plonked in the middle of the Belgian capital, on a nondescript street corner, has appeared a hotel that looks like downtown LA had it been swallowed by lava. An old 1970s art college has been redesigned and rebuilt, by people who usually make film sets, to become the oddest, most fashionable, most affordable stopover in Europe.

The reception desk is held up by a pair of motorcycles dipped in concrete – above it rest maquettes, Paolozzi-like little bricks of angles and texture. Three guests under 10 years old leap joyfully between leather sofas and concrete benches while they wait for their parents to check into one of the Supra rooms which sleep five, one up by the ceiling, in what they call a “cabine bed”.

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Travel

Normandy conquest: all-action family fun in the French countryside

On a group family holiday at a Normandy chateau, a sceptical dad is pleasantly surprised by how much fun the entertainment and activities are – and that doing nothing is an option, too

Call it an exercise in contrasts. At the summit of Mont Saint-Michel, the bronze statue of the archangel is glinting in the midday sun, sword raised and wings outspread. At the foot of Mont Saint-Michel, a small jam-smeared boy is wriggling through a tiny window in the fortress wall and idly breaking into the courtyard of a gendarmerie. The archangel is the protector of the mount. The boy is my son.

Four of us – me, my wife, our four-year-old daughter Bethan and seven-year-old apprentice cat burglar, Joe – have come to western Normandy to join 15 other British families on an all-ages adventure break. This group day trip is a mere bit-player in the week’s itinerary. The holiday is primarily based 45 minutes inland, at an old countryside chateau near Les Chambres on the Manche coast, near Brittany. It’s a wholesome setting in which rabbits hop, peacocks preen and mobs of croissant-fuelled children tear around, brandishing makeshift lightsabers.

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Travel

10 of Bilbao’s best pintxos bars

The city’s many bars are piled high with pintxos, the Basque country’s take on tapas, which are a great way of sampling regional specialities for a few euros. Or string a few together to create a brilliant bar crawl

Bilbainos consider good pintxos a fundamental joy of daily life, and bars dedicated to providing them abound; jocular crowds rather than fancy decor or high prices are the clue to the best. Many also offer a good-value menú del día. The best place to get a flavour of what’s on offer or start a pintxo crawl is Calle Ledesma, in the centre of Bilbao. It’s an eating party street lined with bars, with outdoor tables all the way down the middle. Explore pintxo styles through the ages by starting with old favourites such as Cafetería el Molinillo and Artajo and then move on to stylish additions like Bilbao Berría (now with a central London branch).

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Travel

Discovering Portugal’s wild side

For unspoilt countryside, top camping, hiking, wild swimming, plus great local food and wine – and all doable in a weekend from the three main airports – try one of these itineraries from Edwina Pitcher’s Wild Guide Portugal

Away from the busy coastal resorts, Portugal is a timeless and magical place. To the north and east, there are wild mountains and sparkling lakes; to the south and west, there are dusty olive groves, secret beaches and hidden caves; and everywhere you will find rustic villages, standing stones, magical woodland and hilltop castles. So head inland from the airports on one of these three weekend itineraries and discover a country where shepherds bake bread, villagers make wine, honey and olive oil, and the hospitality is perennial.

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Travel

Want a holiday where beer is just 70p a bottle? Head to Sunny Beach, Bulgaria

Sunny Beach is Europe’s cheapest beach-break destination for the fourth year running, according to the latest survey of typical holiday costs

UK tourists looking for a budget beach-break should head to Bulgaria, where a bottle of beer costs just 70p and a three-course meal for two – including a bottle of wine – will set you back less than £20, according to a new holiday costs report.

The Balkan country’s flagship resort, Sunny Beach, has been ranked the best-value beach resort for the fourth year running by the Post Office Travel Money Holiday Costs Barometer, which compares the average costs of tourist staples in European holiday destinations.

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Travel

The best of rural Portugal: readers’ travel tips

Lush mountains, meandering rivers and hilltop villages await visitors to Portugal’s understated countryside. But where’s best place to stay, eat and enjoy a vinho verde? Our tipsters have the gen

We had our best glass of Portuguese wine on the whitewashed rooftop of a tiny shop in the medieval hilltop village of Monsaraz, on the Spanish border. Local family winemakers Ervideira has one of the best spots to relax after a morning walking the town’s winding passages, scrambling around its castle and visiting the flower-filled 16th-century church. Ask in the shop for a bottle of crisp Invisivel white wine and head up some creaky stairs to the sun-trap terrace, overlooking the plains of Alentejo and across to the Spanish border. We were even invited for a guided tour of the family vineyard, 20 minutes down the road. The wine sold at shop price, no extra corkage – from about £5 a bottle.
Quentin Laurent

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Travel

10 of the best country campsites in France

The authors of the latest Cool Camping: France book pick the best family-friendly sites from Normandy to the Pyrenees

Since its commission – by none other than William the Conqueror – Château de Monfréville, 10km from the Normandy coast, has housed everyone from Walt Disney’s whole family to invading German soldiers. Today it is limited to just 25 tent pitches, with ample room for little ones to roam and Bert the donkey to graze. There’s a natural swimming pond, an honesty shop (stocked with organic veggies from the garden) and fresh pastries delivered each morning. It’s a 30-minute drive to the medieval town of Bayeux, home of the world’s most celebrated tapestry.
Tent and 2 people from €26.50 (tents only)

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Art

Guernica: the town that became a symbol for peace

Eighty years since bombs devastated it – and as a new exhibition opens in Madrid displaying Picasso’s fabled artwork – the Basque town is a proud advocate of peace, as well as gateway to a region of lush hills and wild Atlantic coast

Past the handgun factory that has become an arts centre, behind the rebuilt station with its shiny statue of the first Basque president, there’s a long blackened tunnel with a padlocked door. Begoña unlocks it and we step inside. It smells of weeds. Eighty years ago this month it would have smelt of fear, as crowds of townsfolk sheltered from one of the most infamous air raids in history.

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Music

10 of the best music festivals in Europe

Whether they’re in countryside or a post-industrial landscape, Europe’s 2017 festival calendar means new events, old favourites, frenzied masses and boutique charm

A small festival in Katowice in south-west Poland, OFF has, over the past 10 years, built an international audience thanks to a challenging and intriguing mix of acts. This year’s selection emphasises female artists: singer-songwriters Feist and PJ Harvey headline, while Swedish art pop singer Anna von Hausswolff and classical composer turned electronic producer Anna Meredith are also on the bill. Meanwhile, the experimental poetry and performance project by afrofuturist Moor Mother will undoubtedly be an unmissable show.
4-6 August, £55, off-festival.pl

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Travel

Italy on a budget: live la dolce vita at affordable restaurants, hotels and spas

Italy is a nation that loves a bargain, so follow the locals’ example and explore great-value food options, low-cost hotels and cheap – or free – beaches and spas

Italians really know how to stretch their euros on holiday. They may have a reputation for living the dolce vita, but they really, really don’t like spending too much money – parsimonioso in Italian is taken as more of a compliment than an insult. Italians have a nose for a bargain and are great at finding things to do, and beautiful spots to visit, for free. Follow their lead.

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Business

EU departure but … UK sees record-breaking increase in visitors

Visit Britain is predicting a bumper year for overseas tourists with a weak pound making the UK a more attractive holiday destination

Stay-at-home holidaymakers in the UK are likely to be rubbing shoulders with even more overseas visitors this summer, according to statistics that suggest Brexit could lead to an influx of foreign tourists.

As Article 50 is triggered, marking the start of the process through which Britain will leave the EU, voices from the tourism industry suggest this summer will be a strong period, with a record-breaking increase in visitor numbers, as well as an increase in how much they spend.

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Travel

Weimar memories: walking Berlin … in a flâneur’s footsteps

Armed with Franz Hessel’s cult guidebook, Walking in Berlin, published in 1929, Vanessa Thorpe is transported back to the city’s decadent period

Time travel is still a long way off as a short break option, but happily there are some good approximations. Last month, in a very chilly but sunny Berlin, I opened up a copy of Franz Hessel’s cult 1929 guidebook, Walking in Berlin: A Flâneur in the Capital, and, sure enough, the jaunty, literary tone of the book, now published in English for the first time, is like a private invitation back to the city’s most beguiling era.

Hessel had an appetite for cafe culture and people-watching, although his own life was easily as colourful as the life he observed around him. His open relationship with his wife, fellow writer Helen Grund, inspired Henri-Pierre Roché’s famous ménage-a-trois novel Jules et Jim. He was, to use his preferred French term, a flâneur – a man of means at ease in the cosmopolitan hub of Weimar Germany.

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Travel

‘I always come back from Chianti a kilo or two heavier’

Colin O’Brien, author of a new book about the Giro d’Italia, celebrates the Tuscan region’s enduring legacy of cycling heroes and simple-but-superb food, as well as its working class roots

There’s nothing I look forward to more each year than the Giro d’Italia – with the possible exception of Christmas dinner at home in Dublin. It heralds the arrival of summer. The weather in May is still capricious, but once you see the pink of the maglia rosa you know long, sun-drenched days are not far off.

This year is the 100th edition of the cycle race, so it’s going to be pretty special. It ingrains itself into everyday life in a way few cultural events can. One of this year’s stages departs from the village of Ponte a Ema near Florence, birthplace of the great Gino Bartali, three-time winner of the Giro.

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Travel

Step aside Denmark. Norway takes world’s happiest nation crown

Knocking their Scandi neighbours off the top of the happiness index, Norwegians put their joyful outlook down to shared experiences, the great outdoors – and lots of country cabins

This week five million Norwegians woke to happy news. Our country now comes top in the World Happiness Report, having leapfrogged several countries. We celebrated our official happiness with an extra piece of brown cheese on our breakfast bread. Best of all, we’re above Sweden, the neighbour we love to beat in skiing, football – and euphoria. And we’ve knocked Denmark, three-time world champion, into second place. How did we do it?

Related: ‘As countries go it really is the golden ticket’: readers on living in Norway

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Music

10 of the best clubs in Amsterdam – chosen by the experts

Amsterdam’s nightlife is thriving, with three major new clubs adding to the existing scene. We asked local DJs, producers and music writers to name their favourite party venues

De Marktkantine has been around for about two years. For me, it’s the most unappreciated club in the city even though the programming is high-quality, and varied. There are other clubs in Amsterdam that are trying hard to trademark a certain style but Marktkantine is more relaxed about who can come in. You can still see the balconies and booths from when it was a theatre. The balcony is particularly large and gives a great view down onto the stage. Then, behind the stage there are stairs up to another level with a small bar. They just started a new series of nights, curated by DJ and producer duo Red Axes, with shows every couple of months. The first edition was a success and musically it was amazing.
Jan van Galenstraat 6, marktkantine.nl
Nicky Elisabeth, DJ, soundcloud.com/nicky-elisabeth

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Travel

10 of the best things to do in Tallinn

There’s a lot more to Estonia’s capital than cheap beer. The 1,000-year-old city has a modern vibe, with architecture, museums and cafes to match

Tallinn, one of Europe’s newest capitals, boasts a rich mix of architecture and culture in a small geographic area. Its Old Town was almost untouched by war and remains perfectly preserved. And outside the city walls there are beguiling districts of brightly painted wooden houses, parks, redeveloped docks, beaches and forests.

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Travel

Beara of glad tidings: south-west Ireland’s other great peninsula

The Beara peninsula is less popular than nearby honeypots such as the Ring of Kerry – and all the better for it, says Philip Watson, who discovers rugged scenery, stone circles and great little bars

The vast majority of visitors to south-west Ireland head out to fashionable foodie West Cork, loop round the famous Ring of Kerry, or strike out for Dingle and its resident dolphin. They bypass, however, the best bit in between: the staggeringly beautiful Beara peninsula, Ireland’s foremost hidden travel gem.

“The peninsula’s remoteness has been more a blessing than a curse,” says Marc O’Sullivan Vallig, artistic director of the summer Beara arts festival. “Not only has Beara been fortunate enough to miss out on the kind of coachload tourism that has become synonymous with the Ring of Kerry, but there’s also nowhere else quite like it on the entire Wild Atlantic Way.”

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Travel

10 top tips from our Brussels correspondent

Belgian beer isn’t the only thing to raise a glass to in Brussels, the city serves up art nouveau architecture, surrealist art, nature on the doorstep – and the stand where Angela Merkel nips for chips

Charlotte Brontë was famously rude about Belgium, after living in Brussels for a couple of years from 1842. But don’t let that put you off the Brussels Brontë society’s fascinating walking tours, which offer a window into a vanished world. In a couple of hours you can unlock a few secrets, from a hidden bust of Peter the Great, which marks the spot where the drunken tsar fell off a fountain, to the long-demolished boarding school where Charlotte lived, worked and dreamed up novels. Check online for dates. Tours (around €10pp) may be possible for groups of 10 or more.
thebrusselsbrontegroup.org

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Travel

How paella got punked – and the Valencian chefs trying to save it

Paella is the history of Spain on a plate, so why did aficionados have to start Wikipaella to protect it? In this extract from his new book, Matt Goulding heads for Valencia in search of the perfect dish

If you look closely enough, you will find the entire history of Spain within the perimeter of a paella pan. Olive oil, the golden film that forms the base of every paella, adding depth and a gentle sheen to the bed of grains, is the story of a hungry ancient Rome expanding its empire across Iberia, one olive tree at a time. Tomato, the heart of the sofrito that lends colour and a savoury-sweet baseline to a proper paella, is the story of Spain’s own vision of empire and conquest, and the unexpected treasures it pillaged from the New World. And the heart of paella – the rice, saffron and vegetables that fill out the pan – speaks of 700 years of Moorish rule leaving a footprint on the Iberian peninsula; one that informs how Spain eats, drinks and lives to this day.

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