Category Europe

The place to be

The Swiss village of Gstaad is a luxurious getaway for celebrities and Hollywood A-listers.

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In the 1960s, TIME magazine summed it up when describing it as “the place to be”. Gstaad, a small settlement in the municipality of Saanen, south-western Switzerland, had already attracted personalities such as Grace Kelly and Roger Moore. Others included David Niven, Peter Sellers and Elizabeth Taylor. They fled to the Alps to escape busy lives.

Half a century later, little has changed. The village’s high-life society today includes people such as Roman Polanski, Mick Flick and Bernie Ecclestone. One writer called it ‘Monaco with snow’ which is entirely appropriate...

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Living lakes

In Croatia’s Dinaric Alps, spellbinding lakes have gradually formed over thousands of years. Still today, their appearance is in constant evolvement.

Artur-Bogacki

‘Paradise on earth’ may be an inflated phrase, but there are some places that do it justice. One such destination is Plitvice Lakes National Park, where 16 interconnected lakes have been carved out by nature herself. There are heavenly waterfalls, pristine forests and quiet, crystal-clear rivers. The lakes’ colours change from azure to green, grey and blue. Wooden trails follow the waterstream. It is an idyllic place to be.

The Croatian government safeguarded its natural pearl already in 1949, dedicating an extensive area around the lakes as national park. UNESCO followed suit in 1979...

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Halfway to heaven

The Metéora monasteries were built atop of giant stone pinnacles in an era of no technology. Here there have been Monasticism, bombings and James Bond scenes.

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At some point in the 14th century, on the plains of Thessaly in mainland Greece, a group of monks are likely to have debated the location of a new monastery. They had a habit of preferring remote, inaccessible places, but this time they took it to the extreme: they settled on a series of 400-metre high sandstone pinnacles close to the town of Kalambáka; a near-inaccessible location designed for prayer and spirituality. A few centuries later they had built 24 monasteries on the site, making Metéora the second largest Greek monastic area after Mount Athos, in Macedonia.

The building process was anything but easy...

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The monarch of mountains

With the trekking season fast approaching, we take a closer look at the Tour du Mont Blanc – the classic hiking trip of Europe.

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“Mont Blanc is the monarch of mountains,” Lord Byron, the English poet, wrote in his 1817 poem Manfred. “They crown’d him long ago, on a throne of rocks, in a robe of clouds, with a diadem of snow.” Exactly when this unofficial crowning took place, only Byron will know. But as far as hiking is concerned, Mont Blanc remains the undisputed king of mountain walks; the quintessential tour of the Alps.

The mountain is the highest in western Europe, standing at 4,810 metres. But that is only part of its charm. Its classic tour, which circumnavigates the massif, goes via three countries – France, Italy and Switzerland...

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Made of stone

In the quiet Andalucían town of Setenil de las Bodegas, a series of houses are built into large rock caves along a river gorge. It’s a stunning sight, but one that tourists are yet to discover.

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Not many people know about Setenil de las Bodegas. Even fewer visit it. In the province of Cádiz, near the Spanish south coast, the town’s inhabitants have for centuries lived quiet, agricultural lives, liberated from the relentless tourism drive in nearby cities. Instead of showing off their houses, built into rock overhangs along the Trejo River, which runs through the city, the 3,200 inhabitants – or ‘Setenilenos’ – thrive off wineries, fruit, vegetables and meat production, which is sold to nearby villages. Strangers make a rare sight...

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All at sea

Far out into the North Atlantic Ocean, an archipelago of nine islands offers a secluded getaway for relaxation and natural activities.

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When Plato in 360 B.C. wrote of the ‘Sea of Atlantis’, a group of scientists believe he referred to the Atlantic Ocean. Citing various theories and recovered material, they insist the Azores is at the exact location of Atlantis, the fabled island Plato said was swallowed by the sea 11,000 years ago. The current settlement, they argue, is based on the mountain tops of the lost civilisation.

Whatever is true, the nature of the Azores does possess a mythical element...

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Bubbling with energy

With its vast hydropower and geothermal resources, Iceland is drawing envious looks from the rest of Europe. 

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For locals relaxing in the famous Blue Lagoon spring just outside Reykjavik, sustainable energy comes without compromises. The lagoon’s warm, natural, bacteria-free seawater, sourced from two kilometres underground, is partly why Iceland’s 300,000 residents can afford Europe’s highest energy consumption per capita and still be among the most eco-friendly places on earth. And, if you wondered, the resources are far from running out.

The country’s unusual ecology is owed to its location over the Mid-Atlantic ridge, a rift along the Atlantic seafloor where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates – the shells covering the earth’s surface – meet and friction...

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Lavish feast

The Carnival of Venice was once an extravagant centrepiece for the rich and festive. Since its revival in 1979, its role is has been truly restored.

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If you had a fortnight left to live and wanted to spend your last pennies on a feast of joy and indulgence, you could do worse than attending the Carnival of Venice. For 11 days, people enjoy the finest of food, wine and entertainment; some with a guiltless smirk concealed only by the symbolic Venetian masks and costumes. Elegant balls, gala dinners and private parties are enjoyed in hotels and private suites to the backdrop of the San Marco Square – with artists and musicians providing entertainment well into the morning hours. ‘Luxury’ per se doesn’t quite do it justice...

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The institution

The Viennese coffee houses served as home to Austria’s chief literati for decades. Today they are still recognised as one of the country’s finest cultural treasures. 

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There is one rule to remember when entering the spacious rooms of a classic Vienna coffee house: never order ‘coffee’. The days when Nobel Prize winners filled the Thonet wooden chairs and debated contemporary issues in smoke-filled chambers may be over, but, casting a look at the bow-tie-and-jacket-wearing waiters, the rich selection of continental newspapers and journals, and the thick menus containing only variations of coffee and cakes, the sense of sophistication is still very much present.

The attention to detail that stems from the coffee houses’ history of housing Vienna’s literati – writers, philosophers and ...

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A place to chill

Since the first ice hotel opened in 1992, Northern Europe’s frostier resorts have increased in popularity. Now, a part of the industry is targeting a ‘carbon-positive’ future.

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In the 1980s, the remote Swedish village of Jukkasjärvi had a problem. White water rafting, fishing and canoeing would attract visitors in the summer but, despite pristine, snow-clad mountains, nobody came in the winter. One day the village’s tiny tourism group, led by Yngve Bergqvist, invited a couple of Japanese ice sculpturers on a seminar, which later culminated in the creation of a snow house. Three years later, when Berqvist struggled to house a visiting client company, he suggested they sleep in it. So they did, and Jukkasjärvi had its first winter attraction: the Icehotel.

Today there are at least ...

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Swimming with predators

Killer whales have come to Norway’s north-western coast to feed for the last 20 winters. For the brave, it is a chance to watch a natural predator at (very) close range. 

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The scenario may make you uneasy. In an ice-cold fjord in northern Norway, surrounded by snow-covered mountains and trees, you float just below the surface, armed only with a wet suit and snorkelling gear. The only escape route is the rubber boat you just jumped off. Below, a six-metre, five-tonne killer whale – known for feasting on seals, sea lions and even whales – glides so closely you can almost touch it.

Swimming with these so-called ‘wolves of the sea’ may not be the world’s most relaxing experience, but it is surely among the most exciting ones...

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Buried in time

On 24 August in 79 A.D. the eruption of Mount Vesuvius condemned the Roman city of Pompeii to 1,700 years under ash and debris. Today it is a unique gateway to life in ancient times.  

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Nobody could have predicted what happened. On a summer morning, a pillar of ash rocketed into the sky, branching out over Pompeii, plunging it into darkness. Volcanic rocks soon hit the rooftops like meteors. Houses started to shake. The ground trembled. People ran for their lives.

“You could hear women moaning, children howling, and men shouting,” Pliny the Younger, an author and witness, later wrote in his letters. “Some were lamenting their own misfortune, others that of their families. A few in their fear of death were praying for death...

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Becoming Eco-Gozo

The Maltese island of Gozo has embarked upon an all-encompassing project to become an eco-island by 2020. For conscious travellers, destinations don’t come much better.

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It makes an unlikely habitat for new environmental measures. Casting a look at the azure, crystal-clear water, the rugged coastline, the small, secluded beaches and the rustic, wavy countryside of slow-paced, charming towns, the need of a long-term eco-project seems anything but apparent. However, such a scheme is exactly what Gozo, a sunblessed, 30,000-strong, nine-by-five-mile island of the Maltese archipelago, is applying.

Conceived in 2008, the Ministry of Gozo’s ‘sustainable development’ strategy has completed its first phase, with a series of schemes implemented between 2010 and 2012...

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