I love Europe. You could say it’s in my blood. Born in Australia to Dutch parents, I have always yearned all things European.
As a child, I was intrigued that everything was so “old”. I marvelled at the historical tales, loved the character of the buildings, the homes, the cobblestone streets. I enjoyed the distinct seasons and the landscapes from ancient forests to pebbled beaches.
And I am still pulled by all things European. Maybe that is why I have found such an affinity with the Blue Mountains because although uniquely Australia there is a European feel here, particularly in winter.
I have a lot still to see in Europe. The list is long and seemingly endless. Time is an ongoing factor to consider, especially when you run businesses. But I am determined that in the next ten years there will be a lot of ticks on that bucket list.
But for me, it is more about spending quality time in places, so I am happy to see fewer places and spend more time getting to know them than seeing those ticks accumulate. For now, though, these are the places (or countries) that I have already fallen in love with. Some were a complete surprise, others pleasantly confirmed or exceeded my expectations, but all of them I highly recommend you visit.
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My Recommended European Destinations
1. Cortona, Italy
I felt like I was coming home in Cortona. I had not been here before, but I certainly didn’t want to leave. It is everything an Italian town should be. Quaint, historic and full of character filled with friendly people.
During the week, and even on the weekends to some extent, the tourist crowd wasn’t a problem. I was staying with my group at the Villa Marsili (which was perfect!) for six nights. After a few days, the locals began to recognise our faces and treated us like friends.
I love the Italian way of buying produce in season, buying fresh daily and cooking with what you have. For this reason, the meals in every restaurant (except one) were excellent, fresh, authentic and delicious.
Perched on the side of a hill the views out to Lake Trasimeno are stunning. Our early morning walks were filled with vistas of mist-laden valleys, cobblestone streets and strong, heart thumping espresso.
I’m not entirely sure why Cortona stole my heart and fills my dreams of owning a villa and living there, but it has. I do not doubt that I will go back to Cortona many times.
Each article includes a Complete One Day itinerary for you to download, although I highly recommend you stay longer than a day.
Forest paths at Le Celle, Cortona
2. Santorini, Greece
If you have followed my posts, you will know that Santorini was the place that started a massive change in my life. I found myself there.
Starting our time in Greece with four days in Athens before heading out to Santorini, we enjoyed everything from warm spring afternoons lazing around the pool to a private cruise and swimming in the clear turquoise waters of the caldera to exploring the laneways of Oia. I found freedom.
Although it can get very crowded and touristy in some of the towns, particularly, Fira it is a magical place to explore.
I loved everything about Santorini and was intrigued by its architecture, its history, and its uniqueness. Where else can you cruise and swim in the top of a volcano?
I spent a week in Santorini staying in Oia and found it easy to get around the island on the public buses. Everyone was friendly and helpful, and the food was delicious with Greek yoghurt and honey a real treat every morning at breakfast.
It can be expensive to stay there, but there are budget-friendly options. I would recommend, however, paying that bit extra to get a room with a caldera view. There is nothing like waking up in the morning and seeing that glorious view from your window.
You can read more about my experience in Santorini here – Falling in Love in Santorini.
You will notice that I have included Slovenia and not a particular place. Although we didn’t see all of Slovenia we did see quite a bit in our week there and I was taken by all of it.
Using our campsite in Lake Bled as a base we drove around Slovenia seeing: Ljubljana, Skocjan Caves, Lake Bled, Vingtar Gorge, Lake Bohinj and Bovac (for whitewater rafting).
Slovenia is a stunning country. Picture perfect with friendly locals, good roads, and the best part is it hasn’t been overtaken by tourists, yet! Don’t get me wrong, there are tourists, obviously. And particularly in places like Bled, but it still is a country that allows you to explore and enjoy without being inundated with people.
The most crowds we found were at the caves, but even that wasn’t too bad.
I would highly recommend you include Slovenia in your European Itinerary and see as much as you can of the country. There are places we only visited for a day, and I would love to spend more time exploring like Ljubljana, and we did miss Predjama Caves and Castle, but all in all, I was happy with what we managed to fit in.
And Lake Bled is everything you see in pictures. Being on the opposite side of the lake to the town of Bled, it was quieter. You can easily walk around the lake in an hour or two, depending on how many stops you make.
Vingtar Gorge (a short drive from Lake Bled) was one of the most stunning areas I have seen and well worth taking the time to walk along its paths and take in the fantastic scenery.
You can read more about Slovenia here – Slovenia Travel Guide
Lake Bled Castle
4. Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland
When we drove into the Lauterbrunnen valley, I cried. Unashamedly cried, much to my family’s horror.
I had never seen scenery like that before. I will admit to being a little worried though as we drove through the village to the camping ground where we had rented a cabin for the week, that I had made a grave mistake. Everywhere I looked there were hikers. People with walking sticks and tiny backpacks. People who loved to exercise. That was so not us.
Yes, we like to go out for a walk. But hikers we were not. So I was worried that we would not get to see a lot of the glorious sights that surrounded us. But I needn’t have worried. We had a fantastic week. Not only did we recharge our batteries after a month of travel, but we enjoyed a lot of what the area had to offer, which was plenty.
Lauterbrunnen, the valley of 72 waterfalls, does not disappoint. Even a small walk from the campground to the village took in the view of Staubbach Falls cascading to the valley floor, and the village itself with its quaint buildings was a joy to explore. But our favourite was Trummelbach Falls.
The trains took us out of the valley if we wanted, even though we had a car, and then more walks and cable cars took us to some extraordinary villages high above. We saw glacier-fed waterfalls twisting inside mountains, rivers filled with ice blue water fed by the many waterfalls and glacial runoff.
Lauterbrunnen is stunning. It is easy to explore other villages, towns, and areas nearby and we all enjoyed our trip to Jungfraujoch – The Top of Europe.
Our cabin in the only camping ground was comfortable and included a kitchenette, which enabled us to cook for ourselves thereby keeping down the cost of travelling in Switzerland which is expensive.
You can read more about our time in Lauterbrunnen here – Things to do in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland.
5. Venice, Italy
The first time I went to Venice I thought it was magical, the buildings, the canals. It was unlike anywhere I had been before and I was completely and utterly sold.
The next time I went to Venice I wondered what the hell I had loved so much about it. This time all I saw were crowds and crowds of tourists. It was too busy to walk anywhere. St Mark’s Square was appalling, filled. Time was taken pushing through crowds of people instead of being able to stand still and absorb its beauty. I was so disappointed.
But then we started going for early morning walks. And I found the Venice I had fallen in love with. The quiet, magical, ethereal Venice of my memories. Thank goodness.
I realised that the first time I had visited, we had stayed in a little B&B off the tourist track. This time I was with my group, and we stayed in a hotel closer to St Mark’s Square so of course, it was going to be busier.
I am so glad I found the Venice I loved. It is such a shame about the crowds, but that’s Venice. Don’t let the crowds put you off discovering its beauty. Workaround them, and you will find a place that will draw you back time and time again.
Oh, and the other time of day we loved doing was to go at night, after dinner, and sit on the steps in St Mark’s Square listening to the music playing, and watch the water rising in the square. Magical!
You can read more about my experience in Venice here – Seeing the Real Venice.
St Mark’s Square at night. Photo courtesy Kathy Karas
Obviously, there are plenty more places that I thoroughly enjoyed visiting, but the places that I have mentioned here earned a spot in my heart.
I understand that we are all different, but I hope that if you do visit any of these destinations, you too will be left awe-inspired and changed.