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A jewel, by its very definition is precious, and Southern Europe is simply that; the jewel of the south. With hundreds of sun-soaked haunts and thousands of glistening landmarks, it’s polished to perfection and eternally beautiful.
Wine, tapas and double kisses, if you’re going to learn a Spanish phrase, make sure it’s ‘una mas’ and ask for more of these. Then, do as the Spaniards do, and be spontaneous. It’s summer. The heat is balmy and the nights are light, the sun doesn’t even set until ten. And neither should you. Streets from small villages to feisty cities are alive with chatter. Children play in the plazas and bars are packed with friends ordering another bottle of the ‘three euro red’. Barmaids deliver beers with fresh bowls of olives, traditional aioli and toast – tapas are almost always served (complimentary) with a drink, especially in the south. Meet, greet and enjoy your two kisses (in Spain it's known as dos besos) with the locals. Get acquainted with a tinto de verano; a far less fancy version of sangria and take ‘no way José’ out of your vocabulary. It’s summer, this is Spain and you can sleep when you’re muerto.
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Montenegro. You think you don’t know it but you do. A Mediterranean beauty wedged between its larger Balkan brothers, it’s the realm of coastal cities and red roofed houses; tiny churches on their own private islands and cathedral spires that poke the mountainside. Scenery you already love, but perhaps couldn’t place. Montenegro so often slips under the radar and stays, maybe purposely, well out of sight. From fjords that will render you speechless to the second deepest canyon on earth, this fascinating landscape remains under explored. And under exploited. Kotor Bay splits east and west, with flamboyant monasteries and elegant mosques enjoying a dalliance within one another's presence. There’s 300km of unspoilt coastline and even in summer, when the entire country is drenched in Mediterranean sunshine, there’s a distinct lack of cruise ships dropping off their sightseers.
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You’ve heard Croatia's star attraction is Dubrovnik. A walled, cobblestone town clinging to the Dalmatian coastline. The editorials gush over its dazzling shoreline and striking medieval architecture, including its charming red-tiled roofs. They’ll tell you to explore the seashore by kayak and to take a boat to islets that litter the shoreline, and sure, you’d be a fool to ignore their advice, but many argue Croatia’s premier showpiece lies elsewhere. And that’d be in the kitchen. From grilled sardines and jet black risotto to a mid-morning meal known as marenda (when you'll dine on a platter of artisan meat and cheese) Croatia is a gourmand’s dream in an idyllic setting. Italian influence is rife, from the handmade fuzi pasta to a national obsession with coffee - and due to a cold northerly wind (perfect for drying meat) some of the most sought after prosciutto in the world. The views from the table are profound, but it’s what’s on your plate that will really impress.
Greece’s beauty lies in its simplicity. From a dazzling coastline which is nothing more than azure water met by angel sand, to a simple platter of feta and figs, it’s the fuss free nature of this nation that makes it so attractive. Timeless and scenic, the villages are beautiful, purely because of the white or brightly coloured houses that decorate the cliffs. The inhabitants are gorgeous just because they smile. Food is exceptional, yet uncomplicated; is there anything more delicious than fresh tomatoes, a shake of salt and a drizzle of oil? Observe the Greek people and you’ll notice life pleasures are just as straightforward. Meeting family and spending a day by the ocean, watching their children swim in the naturally calm bays, daily siestas for the parents. Can we argue that Greece’s many ancient remains are also simplistic? Probably not. Millennia-old architecture and lasting legacies of ingenuity. Simply phenomenal perhaps.
Malta makes you feel good. Fact. Whether it’s the 300 days of annual sunshine, a diving scene which is considered the best in Europe, or the rows of brightly painted balconies in its capital of Valletta, Malta looks as attractive in the flesh as it’s described in all the hearsay. An archipelago found just south of Sicily, sun and sea are dished out generously, but so are the stunning historic artefacts. With a 7000-year history, temples that pre-date the Pyramids and some of the oldest stone buildings in the world, the density of historic sites is so great, that Malta almost creaks under the weight of its own antiques. The architecture is profound; crumbling to the point of no return or meticulously restored, it’s all beautiful. And that’s just what lies above. Step into Malta’s dazzling water and discover a golden seabed scattered with shipwrecks, some of which have been sitting silently since World War II.
THE VERY DEFINITION OF ROMANTIC
"What is your name?” (said name-ay) is asked with signature rhythmic vowels. And whatever you say, whether it's Maria or Marmaduke, they'll tell you it's the most beautiful name they've ever heard. Such is the charm of an Italian. From the Firenze market vendors, who sweet talk their way into your purse (quite literally, good luck telling those dark brown eyes you don't want an Italian handbag) to Verona, and the very balcony that inspired Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Italy is romantic. Sunsets are watched from Piazzale Michelangelo; the square on a hill with sweeping views across Florence. Mornings are spent in chaotic café bars, sipping 'un caffè' and flirting with the idea of moving to Milan. Fall in love with Michelangelo’s impressive skillset, lock lips with a towering gelato and then embrace your love/hate relationship with carbs. Pizza and pasta are friends, not foes. And anyway, Italians love a temperamental affair of the heart, that’s why they’re always shouting and/or kissing in the street.
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