Summer might have bowed out now for another year – in the UK, where I live at least – but there’s definitely time for an autumn/fall break before the ski season starts (no rest, it’s a big world to explore….!) Reading some of my favourite travel blogs recently I’ve been getting some great ideas for a short trip for Lorna and I before winter sets in – my only stipulation is that there has to be the outside chance of blue skies and a great mix of interest and relaxation on offer. I’ve narrowed it down to a shortlist of five destinations that inspire me. Hopefully they will inspire you too….and if you have any great suggestions of your own I’d love to hear them. Tweet me your tips on @normanpeires…
Cracking Krakow (globalgrasshopper.com)
Eastern Europe is opening up on the tourist map, and it’s really worth exploring some of its cities. But you’ve done Prague, Budapest and Dubrovnik – and the crowds that go with them – then think about a visit to Kraków, one of Poland’s oldest and most picturesque cities. Elle Croft lays out a convincing case for why you should head here – from chowing down on pierogi (local dumplings) and drinking flavoured vodka, made here since the Middle Ages (try the cherry vodka, Wiśniówka for a sweet, yet potent experience) to the grandeur of Europe’s biggest medieval town square and the charm of its UNESCO-listed Old Town. But it’s not all ancient history here, Krakow is now a buzzing spot for arts, culture and nightlife – sample the Polish spirit at haunts such as Forum Przestrzenie (ul. Konopnickiej 28, Kraków), a former hotel now a cafe/club with a small beach by the river, which organises regular concerts, workshops, food, fashion and music fairs.
Istanbul – (intheknowtraveler.com)
East meets West in Istanbul (not Constantinople – I defy you not to start singing the song…), chokk-full of historical influence from its many occupants over the centuries, including Greeks, Persians, Romans and Venetians. Ottoman mosque Aya Sofia, with its distinctive double minaret, is a great starting point from which to orientate yourself in the city – start here and follow Steve Smith as he takes you on a journey through the city’s archaeological delights. From the vast Basilica Cistern to the Hippodrome. The layers of history rest on top of each other like sheets of tissue paper in this ancient treasure trove here – even the busiest weekend break will leave you feeling you haven’t quite seen enough…and ready to come back for more.
Roaring Reyjkavik – (shandypockets.com)
By turns curious, fun and a sensory jolt, Iceland’s capital is a couple of hours flight – and a world away – from the UK (and a handy stopover on many trans-atlantic flights to the east coast of the US). It’s a strange mix; part giant fishing village, part hub of quirky cool – don’t expect grand buildings or ancient monuments, rather trendy bars, interesting little shops, a good sense of humour from locals with impeccable English and the general sense that you’re not quite sure what’s going on and where. An invigorating mix, all cradled by some of the most dramatic and uncompromising scenery in the northern hemisphere; all glaciers, volcanoes and the thrashing Atlantic. Richard Asher paints an evocative and humorous portrait of his visit to Reykjavik that perfectly sums up the contradictions and curiosities of a first visit to this fascinating city.
Sensational Seville – (travelblat.com)
If there’s anywhere in Europe that you’re likely to get some autumnal sun in it’s got to be southern Spain, and Seville is a great choice for a destination to top up the rays. Think of the ancient capital of the Andalusia region and the first things that come to mind are flamenco dance (if you want to see the best, head for the Triana neighbourhood), its Moorish history, exemplified physically in the ornate Alcázar castle complex that dominates the skyline, and oranges – ripened to sweetness by it’s scorching summer weather. But there are so many other layers to the city to uncover. Lily Berns lays out five unusual things to see and do in Seville, from the stunning Art Deco Plaza de Espana, with its rowing boats to the Metropol Umbrella installation and the cool shade of the Maria Luisa Park. All in all, the city is the perfect love letter for a romantic weekend away.
Spectacular Snowdonia – (britainoutdoors.co.uk)
By contrast, probably the least likely place in Europe to get some last autumn sun is North Wales, but we’ll forgive it that for its incredible beauty; jagged mountains (including the eponymous Snowdonia, the highest mountain in Wales and England), soft sandy beaches, glassy lakes, rugged cliffs and valleys cut deep into local stone. Lowenna Pascoe extolls the virtues of Snowdonia for those who want an active break and some of the freshest air around. The National Park offers all manner of energetic pursuits – from white water rafting to climbing. But if you just want to relax, take a gentle stroll or two to take in the scenery (the area is superb for all types and lengths of walks) and then try out Britain’s longest heritage railway – the Talyllyn Railway, passing the breathtaking Dolgoch falls. Round off your day with a glass of wine by a roaring fire in one of the area’s boutique hotels (http://www.rarebits.co.uk/ offers quality properties with character throughout Wales) – well, if you can’t beat autumn, then join it!