With 1,244 islands and 97 Blue Flag beaches along its Adriatic coast, Croatia has long been a favorite of sun-seeking Northern Europeans. But its fabled beaches are still little known to Americans, and its historic and natural sights rarely make the tourist must-see list.
It is late afternoon in the tiny town of Hofn, Iceland. I have some time. The hotel receptionist suggests a swim in the outdoor pool. What? The pool may be heated but it’s 45 degrees with about a 25 mph wind. Too cold. But not for Icelanders. They are a unique bunch. So is their unpronounceable language and their wildly desolate landscape.
How many people ask you, the travel expert, what’s the hottest trend in travel? The answer you’re going to hear most often is trips that incorporate a particular theme or hobby. Look at the enormous success of “Downton Abbey” tours that are sold out as soon as they are announced. Recently, one of the most popular trends is wine and food centric trips. The NY Times and Food and Wine Magazine devote multiple pages to describing the delights associated with sampling various kinds of wine and local food right in the vineyard. Although Napa Valley does a great job of promoting itself, there’s really no place like France to sample such a wide variety of excellent wines, especially when you can pair it with gourmet food.
I first learned of this easternmost city in Germany in the days when it was a nearly forgotten place in the German Democratic Republic. Though lining its winding streets and spacious squares were more than 4,000 architectural monuments of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Art Nouveau and other 19th-century architecture, they had long been neglected. But then, 25 years ago when Germany was united and UNESCO recognized Goerlitz as an architectural treasure, federal funds were allotted for its restoration. Today, it has become not only a prime tourist destination, but a prime site for film-makers, too.
The Baltic has long attracted adventurers, from Hanseatic League merchants, who first plied its waters six centuries ago, to modern-day visitors, who now cruise its harbors on ferries and luxury liners. Emerging triumphant from World War II and later Communist domination, the Baltic capitals offer some of Europe’s most dazzling cultural attractions as well as innovative, locally sourced cuisine.
Why you may wonder, are Belgium’s city of Mons and the Czech Republic’s Plzeň (or Pilsen as Americans would recognize it), marketing their distinctly different cities together? Yes, you could combine visits to both Mons and Plzeň via Eurail or Rail Europe rides taking seven hours, or a less than a two-hour flight, but no, that is not the link, at least not this year.
Until last spring, it had been two decades since I had seen Venice. I had forgotten how beautiful it is - with its grand piazza and winding canals; its palaces and churches, its gondolas and hump-backed bridges.
“We have food, wine and festivals and families with strong ties to their heritage and tradition,” stated Mekhak Apresyan, Deputy Prime Minister of the Ministry of Economy, Tourist Department for the Republic of Armenia. “We want to share these with visitors making Armenia their destination,” he said, adding, “the country is stable and safe.”
In 2013, Armenia’s tourism and technology sector grew by 13%, “conditioned by increasing the quality of services and skills,” said the Deputy Prime Minister. The banking sector is open to foreign competition. The country has improved its investment, trade and fiscal strategies since gaining independence from the Soviets in 1991.
Whether it’s freezing winters or sizzling summers clients want to escape, Portugal has an answer. One is its southern coast, the sunny Algarve, a long-time favorite for European snowbirds. The other is a mid-Atlantic archipelago, closer to your US clients and almost undiscovered by tourists - the Azores.
Those nine volcanic islands offer beautiful land and seascapes, from the white beaches and terraced vineyards of Santa Maria to the waterfalls and dazzling volcanic lakes of Flores. In between are windmill-studded Graciosa, the colorful marina and lunar landscapes of Faial, and São Miguel, the largest island with geysers and hot springs.
Starting in mid-November, Europe’s Christmas Markets light up historic town squares and castle courtyards with traditional hand-made folk art crafts and home-baked goods, along with holiday performers in traditional hand-made costumes, even Medieval dress. It’s an ideal time to re-visit favorite cities or discover new ones, and combine the holiday experience with sightseeing, concerts, and, of course, shopping.