The cradle of Western civilization, Mediterranean Europe boasts an unparalleled cultural legacy. Prehistoric paintings reveal the preoccupations of France’s primeval cave dwellers; Greek Roman monuments testify to the power and ambition of the ancient superpowers; Islamic art tells of Moorish sophistication; Gothic cathedrals, Renaissance palaces and baroque facades record the great artistic movements of history. The region’s celebrated galleries and museums are pretty special too, housing a considerable chunk of the Western world’s combined art collection.
The region’s passion for the finer things in life extends to the kitchen. Eating well is part of parcel of everyday life in the Mediterranean, as well as one of its great pleasures, and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Picnicking on a loaf of freshly baked bread with cheese and olives and a bottle of wine bought from the local market could well turn out to be a holiday highlight. For dedicated foodies, France and Italy are the obvious destinations but each country has its own culinary specialities – think tapas in Spain, Kebabs in Turkey, souvlaki in Greece. And for wine buffs, the Mediterranean cellar is really quite something, with everything from world famous vintages to thousands of cheerful local labels.
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There’s a huge diversity of natural scenery: rugged Scottish Highlands with glens and lochs; Norway’s fabulous fjords, seemingly chipped to jagged perfection by giants; the vine-raked valleys of the Loire; and the steppe-like plains of central Spain. If you’re looking for beaches, a circuit of the Mediterranean’s northern coast reveals one gem after another. Or strike out to lesser known, yet beautiful coastal regions such as the Baltic and Black Seas. Mountain lovers should head to the Alps: they march across central Europe taking in France, Switzerland, Austria, northern Italy and tiny Liechtenstein.
Europe has some of the best nightlife in the world. Globally famous DJs keep the party going in London, Berlin and Paris, all of which also offer top-class entertainment, especially theatre and live music. Other key locations for high-energy nightlife include Moscow, Belgrade, Budapest and Madrid, while those hankering for something cozier can add Dublin’s pubs or Vienna’s cafes to their itinerary. Continue to party on the continent’s streets at a multiplicity of festivals and celebrations, from city parades attended by hundreds of thousands to intimate concerts in an ancient amphitheater.
Once you’ve ticked off the great museums, panoramic vistas and energetic nightlife, what’s left? A chance to indulge in a culinary adventure to beat all others, that’s what! Who wouldn’t want to snack on pizza in Naples, souvlaki in Santorini or even haggis in Scotland? But did you also know that Britain has some of the best Indian restaurants in the world; that Turkey’s doner kebab is a key part of contemporary German food culture; and that in the Netherlands you can gorge on an Indonesian rijsttafel (rice table)? Once again Europe’s diversity and global reach is its trump card.