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Cool, creative and bubbling with so much culture it's little surprise this is where empires were forged and artists inspired, Europe is a land you can’t – and shouldn’t – say no to.
1. Matera is European Capital of Culture
Thrown into the cultural spotlight, Matera, an ancient cliff-straddling city in Italy’ south, is the official Capital of European culture for 2019. And it’s clear to see why.
Between the crumbling streets and narrow lanes, Matera’s hidden stairways lead to secret caves converted into boutique hotels and charming restaurants. Centuries ago, the town’s sassi (cave dwellings) were mere limestone and rock face, but then the residents chose to build into the cliffs; carving churches, and as only the Italians could, fashioning beautiful buildings out of simple stone.
Not solely a city on a rocky outcrop, Matera boasts a southern Italy address, which means the food boasts rich flavours, and dishes built around the Italian concept of Cucina Povera – great food made from ingredients that are cheap, accessible and above all, local. Dip into a romantic cavern, or family run trattoria, and gorge on regional produce. Don’t miss the delicious Matera bread, and of course, pasta recipes only the Italians know how to take from simple to sublime.
2. Guided coach holidays aren’t a ‘one size fits all’ vacation
It’s 2019 and guided coach tours have fine-tuned their holidays into highly personalised journeys. Trafalgar, for example, have eight travel styles that are designed for different holiday-makers, such as in-depth one country tours, multi-country, slower-paced, smaller groups, and even family based tours.
Every guided holiday offers unique experiences that really bring a destination to life. For example, guests can enjoy a private dinner at the Vatican Museums with Trafalgar, or try their hand at sabrage (slicing the cork off a Champagne bottle with a sword, to you and I) with Globus. You could go and watch a local Croatian oyster farmer pull in his nets from the dazzling blue waters of the Adriatic with Insight Vacations. It’s a smorgasbord of adventure and opportunity and European travel’s never been so rich in experiences.
3. Train travel is cheaper
With an extensive rail network, riding the rail across Europe is fast, easy and reliable. Almost all major train stations are located in the heart of a city so you’ll be a mere hop from convenient accommodation.
For 2019, Eurail have increased their 31-country Global Pass to include three extra goodies: Lithuania, Great Britain and Macedonia. It’s up to 37% cheaper than 2018’s prices, and there are now second-class ticket options for all adult Global Passes. With so many countries covered, you could be in France’s Biarritz by morning – enjoying a surf in the legendary Atlantic waves – and in Barcelona by evening, devouring several plates of Catalan tapas. Unlike a plane journey, train travel is all part of the adventure. Many of the carriages are traditional and six-person in design, so you could be facing one another (just like yesteryear) which is perfect for travel games.
HOT TIP: Consider travelling overnight in a sleeper carriage. There’s nothing better than waking to views of Europe skimming past your window frame.
4. Europe is accessible by cruise
We have already seen a huge surge in cruise popularity and we predict it’ll only get bigger in 2019. With all-inclusive prices and a variety of European destinations to discover, you’ll explore a wealth of different places and benefit from superior on-board facilities.
The astounding scenery, history, culture and of course, culinary masterpieces never change in Europe, but the cruises do. In 2019 ships of all sizes, whether that’s ocean liners or river boats, are breaking new ground. From award-winning entertainment to chef-led cooking classes, you can experience both Europe’s finest attractions and a stellar line up of on-board facilities.
From the Mediterranean to The Balkans, whether you want to float down idyllic rivers or discover the ancient worlds of Athens, Rome and Malta, there’s a cruise to accommodate every wish list. Discover Iceland's bewitching Northern Lights, circumnavigate the entire UK, or island hop along Croatia’s famed Dalmatian Coast, whatever you choose, there’s a cruise.
5. Barcelona is beautiful
He was described as an unsociable, unpleasant and arrogant man of gruff reactions, yet his architectural wonders are scattered mainly throughout the city of Barcelona and include everything from schools to grand cathedrals. Of course, we’re speaking of Antoni Gaudí. His jaw-dropping and monumental Sagrada Familia is astounding even though it remains unfinished. The estimated year of completion is now 2026, 100 years after the architect’s death.
From art to aperitifs, find a Spanish bar in the heart of Barri Gótic; Barcelona's Old Town and settle in for fresh tapas, jazz and of course, Cava. Dimly lit interiors are seductive so order a drink and give in to Catalan charm.
Work off any churros you’ve gobbled by taking a day hike to the Montserrat Mountain range. There are numerous tours available, all led by experienced guides. Roughly 50km out of Barcelona, wind through craggy mountainside, much of which resembles animals and objects. Look out for the cat, elephant and a pregnant woman!
HOT Tip: Tipping is considered good etiquette in Spain. In bars, round up your total to the nearest Euro. In restaurants, add 10%, unless a surcharge has already been added to the receipt.
6. Edinburgh gets better with age
The Edinburgh Military Tattoo attracts thousands of visitors to the historic Scottish city, but with so much else to see and do, why not stick around for a while.
Wander up to the castle for stunning views across the city. The route to and from is equally captivating; absorb the stony architecture of the infamous Royal Mile and its many narrow side streets, replete with cafes, bijou stores and more tartan than you could throw a highland stag at.
Possibly one of the only few places on earth which looks just as beguiling in a cloak of wintery grey, as it does in a summer’s glow, is UNESCO World Heritage Site, Calton Hill. Particularly impressive come nightfall, the eye can stretch as far as the sea, while Edinburgh’s enchanting landscape, complete with church spires, clock towers and brick chimneys, erupts into a blanket of street lights and magic. The hill’s also home to several iconic structures, including the Greek style National Monument, which was modelled upon the Parthenon and the main reason why Edinburgh’s is often dubbed "The Athens of the North.”
For relaxation, Princes Street Gardens bask under the cliff on which the castle stands, with a long stretch of green lawn, multiple flowerbeds and whimsical trees. In spring, the park is flush with cherry blossom and in summer, hordes flock to the grassy knolls for lazy mornings and languid afternoons.
2019 is YOUR year to Europe and we can make it all happen. Simply Click Here for the latest UK and Europe deals.
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