Europe holidays

Travel

Serene summer in Finland’s centenary national park

The Nordic country’s newly opened Hossa national park has all the wilderness an adventure traveller – or a bear – could desire

In a hide two miles from the Russian border in Finland’s Suomussalmi region, we watch and wait. For centuries, the European brown bear has been pushed by deforestation into increasingly remote areas, to do what a bear proverbially does in woods. Luckily, in Finland, where 76% of the land mass is dense forest, a bear doesn’t have to go very far for a little private time.

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Travel

East Sicily: what to see plus the best bars, beaches, restaurants and hotels

With baroque palaces, fine beaches and Mount Etna, the Ionian coast is home to most of the island’s crown jewels – underpinned by glorious local food and drink

Light reflecting off churches and palaces, views of craggy mountains and blue sea, smells of orange blossom, oregano and mint … Sicily is an inspiring place, particularly for northern Europeans. “To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all,” said German writer Goethe in 1787.

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Travel

Just chillin’: welcome to Iceland’s wild, wild Westfjords

Iceland’s popularity with tourists doesn’t mean that solitude is hard to find. Head west to its fjords and splendid isolation and nature are close at hand

There were no boats in the bay, no ships on the horizon. Underneath my feet was black sand that stretched a few hundred metres either side. The mountains of Deilir and Öskubakur were behind me and together we took in the sea view from Skálavík bay in Iceland’s Westfjords. The Denmark Strait was the water we watched and many miles north lay the east coast of Greenland.

Skálavík’s population is zero, the last residents having admitted defeat in 1964 in the face of weather that demanded more than a snug fleece and a decent pair of boots. Even in its pomp, in the 1890s, only 100 people toughed it out trying to make a living from the sea and the land. Now there are just hiking trails, plus a smattering of summer holiday homes and static caravans that sustain against the elements, courtesy of fences that rise above window level. Swings, a pushchair and toys on a porch or in a garden provided an eerie touch: a sort of presence amid absence.

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Travel

10 of the best new summer activitiy holidays in the Alps

From ziplines in Switzerland to walking holidays in Italy and France, plus mountain bike breaks and an outdoor festival, the Alps are worth a ‘peak’ this summer

Car-free family ski resort and outdoor activity base Arc 1950 has opened another bike route for the summer, one that goes through the centre of the village – so if staying in the resort, you can pedal right back to your apartment. Buying a mountain bike pass provides access to 180km of marked trails for all levels; that’s 23 trails with nine downhill runs and two cross-country circuits among the count. A short drive from Chamonix, the village enjoys spectacular views of Mont Blanc.
Half-day mountain bike pass €15 adult, €12 children, arc1950.com

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Travel

All in a roe: the secret of Sardinia’s bottarga

Cabras lagoon in the island’s south-west is home to prized bottarga, cured and air-dried grey mullet roe that’s perfect as a nibble or grated over pasta

Still think spaghetti carbonara is best made with bacon – or pancetta if you’re being authentic? One taste of the Buzzi brothers’ version at their A Galaia restaurant in Carloforte, Sardinia, and the piggy version will probably never cut it again. That’s because they make their carbonara with bottarga, the cured, air-dried roe of grey mullet (in Sicily they use tuna).

Thought to have been introduced by the Phoenicians 3,000 years ago, bottarga (from the Arabic battarikh) is made in several places around the Med, but the variety made in the Cabras lagoon in the west of Sardinia, is regarded by many as the best.

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Travel

Learning to sail on the Côte d’Azur

A week exploring France’s Mediterranean coast offers a touring holiday without a bus, a sailing trip without millionaire prices, and Riviera beaches without crowds. Plus: more sailing trips for softies

Several superyachts are bobbing in the warm sunshine in Cannes’ Vieux Port. Europe’s largest boat show has just been to town and among the hulking shadows of the multi-millionaires’ craft sits our more modest 15-metre sailing boat, Aruba.

I’d always envisaged yachting in the south of France as the preserve of the rich and famous, but I’m on an eight-day trip sailing between Nice and Marseille to sample, “a champagne lifestyle on a sparkling wine budget” (the trip, with Intrepid Travel, is on offer for less than £750pp in June).

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Travel

Top 10 restaurants and bistros in Zagreb

Croatia’s capital is bursting with good-value places to eat and drink. And new flights from the UK have made getting there cheaper too

The epicentre of Zagreb’s bistro revolution is busy Nikole Tesle street, whose pavements almost exclusively contain restaurant terraces. Bistroteka particularly excels at breakfast. For health, order millet flakes, chia seeds, apples and cinnamon; for indulgence, poached eggs on toast beside cream cheese, spinach and bacon.
• From £2.50, Nikole Tesle 14, +385 14837 711 on Facebook

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Travel

10 of the best restaurants near Rome’s major attractions

Eating near the Eternal City’s famous landmarks needn’t mean tourist menus and pricey pizza. These handy trattorias and wine bars will still leave some change for the Trevi fountain

Carb-load at Be.Re. before a visit to the Vatican Museums, the largest and most physically demanding monument in town. Be.Re.’s gleaming copper bar pours craft beer from Italy and abroad, while the adjacent annex serves trapizzini (around €4), a recently invented take on the pizza: a trapizzino is a thick slices of sourdough bread filled to order with typical Roman dishes such as simmered oxtail, chicken alla cacciatora, and tongue with parsley sauce. The hearty innovation is the perfect embodiment of Rome’s modern food traditions: economical, thoughtfully prepared, and rooted in the flavours of the past.
Via Vespasiano 2, on Facebook

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Travel

Top 10 wine bars in Bordeaux – chosen by experts

It’s arguably the world’s top wine city. So where do local insiders head for a good glass of red or white with food to match?

A year after the opening of the Cité du Vin, visitors to Bordeaux are spoilt for choice when it comes to appreciating one of France’s premier wine regions. They can ride through the vineyards on a bicycle, tour them in a London taxi, or take a tasting cruise on the Garonne. The tourist board has created a handy downloadable tour of Bordeaux’s latest wine bars, but where do those in the know go for a verre de vin? I asked 10 connoisseurs to let me in on their favourite places.

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Travel

Croatia’s remotest island

After canoeing round deserted coves and spearfishing with the lighthouse keeper, Kevin Rushby is tempted to stay on beautiful Lastovo island forever

Mladin, keeper of the lighthouse, was outside his cottage, cleaning his speargun. It was a beautiful scene: rocky headlands and blue sea, deep and mysterious. Mladin pointed to the bay below. “In spring, I’ve seen dolphins herd thousands of fish in there and then go crazy eating them.”

The lighthouse, Struga, sits on cliffs at the end of a narrow peninsula that curves around the bay, almost separated from the rest of the island by a deep, dark sea-filled gorge.

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Travel

Venice world heritage status under threat

While the local population dwindles, passengers from giant cruise ships continue to flood into La Serenissima. So how are locals trying to save the city?

A monster cruise ship meets a giant octopus and crashes into the Rialto bridge, provoking a tsunami. It’s an apocalyptic vision of Venice. The message of Stop the Madness, Philip Colbert’s pop-art-with-a-purpose at the current Venice Biennale, is echoed by Lorenzo Quinn’s Support, a large-scale installation of giant hands reaching out of the Grand Canal to prop up the crumbling Palazzo Sagredo.

Venice’s mayor Luigi Brugnaro could also do with a helping hand. Under-populated and over-touristed, Venice is facing threats from all sides. Its status as a world heritage site is slowly sinking, with Unesco threatening to slap the city on its in-danger list, a fate normally reserved for war-ravaged ruins, under-funded third world sites and, er, Liverpool. Unesco’s concerns about cruise ships, mass tourism and damage to the fragile lagoon ecosystem “have been met with empty promises but no concrete proposals”, according to Italia Nostra, the country’s influential heritage body.

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Travel

Europe’s hidden coasts: the Maremma, Italy

This stretch of southern Tuscany is chic but discreet – disappear into the dunes, discover beguiling coves and stay on rambling estates amid stunning scenery

Italians were born for beaches. Summer means serried rows of sunbeds and regimented beach games. It’s all about bonding and strutting your stuff in matching tangerine mankinis.

But relax: it’s not all like that. Southern Tuscany makes a more stylish splash. Sugary sands are framed by pine groves and low-slung hills, revealing serene, post-impressionist landscapes. In the Maremma, south of Grosseto, set designers are seemingly in charge of the sunsets and rosemary-scented scrubland running down to the sea.

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Travel

Europe’s hidden coasts: the Deep Mani, Greece

Few tourists venture beyond the Mani’s spectacular Diros caves, but further south lies a dramatic coastline of sleepy fishing coves and fortified villages

The Mani, the central southern prong of mainland Greece, is divided into two halves. The Outer Mani, with the pretty coastal villages of Kardamyli and Stoupa, is now well known for offering a more authentic holiday experience than many of the islands. The Deep Mani, further south, is a different prospect, with its rugged coastline broken by only the occasional cove. Far fewer people visit here, and even fewer stay.

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Travel

Europe’s hidden coasts: Costa Maresme, Spain

The coast just north of Barcelona is often overlooked by visitors. But with miles of sandy beach, great restaurants and a coast-hugging train, it’s a perfect escape

I love Barcelona but sometimes you have got to get out of town. Sitges? Lovely, but it can be as rammed as the Ramblas. The Pyrenees? Yes, but in summer I need a beach! OK then, the Costa Brava. But have you seen the queue of cars down to the “secret” beach that only grandma Lola knows about?

Hmm, perhaps the city’s not so bad. Barceloneta beach is just 10 minutes from the centre and there’s at least 10 square centimetres of sand per person.

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Travel

Europe’s hidden coasts: the Côte d’Argent, Landes, France

This wild Atlantic coast, south-west of Bordeaux, is backed by forests and nature reserves and includes the finest sandy beach in France. Yet even in mid-summer you can have it to yourself

Halfway between the great sand dune of Pyla and the posh surf and golf resort of Hossegor, is the finest stretch of sandy beach in France. South-west of Bordeaux, the Côte d’Argent begins at Mimizan Plage, where a river splits the beach in two.

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Travel

Europe’s hidden coasts: Costa de Prata, Portugal

Central Portugal’s pristine beaches are pounded by the Atlantic and dotted with simple restaurants, but barely touched by tourists, making it a haven for those who crave space – and great seafood

Theo and I saunter along the road from Aveiro that crosses its wide, shiny, tame lagoon, and arrive in north Africa, or so it seems. We find scissored-leaf palm trees and heavy white sand dunes on the march, and the relentless wild rumble and roar of the unquiet Atlantic.

Portugal’s Centro region is baffling. It’s between Lisbon and Porto, thus easy to get to and easy to get around. It has peerless beaches, a treasury of gorgeous historic towns and villages, and endlessly lovely people. The pristine coastline, horizons and skies go on forever. Yet there’s almost nobody here. This isn’t spooky: indeed we feel privileged, transported to earlier, more innocent times when Theo was a kid and I was a new, naive dad. So we spend timeless days basking in the richness of space, and soaking in the luxury of simplicity.

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Architecture

Le Havre, a short break built on concrete chic

Le Havre is celebrating its 500th anniversary, but its architectural gems are modern masterpieces built from the ashes of war – and now a world heritage site

Few cities make you want to stroke their walls, but in Le Havre it’s hard to resist caressing the concrete. All but obliterated by allied bombing in the second world war, France’s second-largest port city was entirely rebuilt according to the meticulous vision of Auguste Perret, supreme master of liquid stone and tutor of Le Corbusier.

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Travel

Kickin’ Kiev: Why the Ukraine city is looking to Eurovision to jump start tourism

Ukraine’s historic capital may be preparing for the pop and ‘nul points’ of Saturday’s Eurovision but, kitsch aside, it is developing its edgy creative atmosphere

Kiev is sparkling and radiant as spring sunshine sets the gilded baroque churches ablaze. Snow banks begin to melt; shoulders drop and faces soften. The city, and its people, look newborn.

Kiev may have a reputation for political unrest (gained during the Maidan protest-cum-revolution of winter 2013-14) but today’s visitors are unlikely to see it. Instead, this city offers tourists a taste of bar life with an edge, softened – this week at least – with a dollop of Eurovision kitsch.

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Travel

Volcano and earthquake museum to open in Iceland

The Lava Centre, a new interactive attraction in the shadow of the infamous Eyjafjallajökull volcano, will bring to life the ‘fiery heart of Iceland’

A new attraction exploring Iceland’s unique and volatile geology is to launch next month. Lava, the Iceland Volcano & Earthquake Centre, is an interactive museum that examines the natural forces that led to the creation of Iceland over millions of years. It opens on 1 June.

Located in the town of Hvolsvöllur, one hour’s drive east of Reykjavik, the centre is in the shadow of three of the country’s most prominent volcanoes, Katla, Hekla and Eyjafjallajökull. The latter became a household name in 2010 when it released an ash cloud that shut down European air space.

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Art

Art from the Alps: a journey to Giacometti’s homeland

Switzerland’s mountains are stunning but the art of the Giacometti family enriches the cultural landscape, too. With a retrospective of sculptor Alberto opening at Tate Modern next week, our writer tours the area that inspired him

Chugging to the Landwasser Viaduct through the village of Filisur on the Glacier Express, it’s hard not to laugh at the views. Switzerland is unbelievably good-looking. The vistas almost look fake – the lakes too scenic, the villages too chocolate-box. Even the goats look like they should have agents.

A country this beautiful is always going to be about the outdoors, but if you visit the region of Graubünden this summer (and more than 1 million people will, for the hiking, the biking, to swim in the lakes or dance at the festivals), make sure you don’t just stare at the mountains – Graubünden has a surprising art heritage, too.

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