Fancy a summer holiday in Europe? A Tuscan villa stay? Sunny city break in Lisbon? Santorini, say – or even a week in the Swedish wilderness? Either way, you won’t be stumped for ideas here…
1. Snap a Santorini sunset
Sunshine, stargazing and souvlaki: dreamy little idylls are hidden in every corner of Greece. Arguably, the best of them all are in Santorini. Esperas Santorini is a magic retreat for loved-up couples, with its turquoise pool carved into the rock and intimate spots for canoodling over cocktails as the sun goes down. Sunset chasers can do no wrong checking into Aigialos Hotel. You’ll feel like you’re at the centre of the universe, watching the silky sky and sea lazily wind down and change colour.
2. Follow the Sun Trail in Norway
Time moves slowly in Norway. You find yourself noticing more things – like the sun. It’s a special talking point in Rjukan – a town that doesn’t see it for three full months a year. As a result, the locals have built giant mirrors on the mountainside to reflect natural light in. It’s a truly unique place, where you can take a northern Europe’s first cable car, Krossobanen, to the rays above to the Sun Trail (Solstien).
Where to stay: Rjukan Hotel Admini is a remarkable stay built in a splendid art nouveau style. The handsome wooden building was built for the founder of Norsk Hydro in 1908 and is in walking distance of Rjukan and the Sun Trail.
3. Sleep in a 13th-century castle in the Netherlands
Castle stays needn’t cost a king’s ransom. Utrecht-located Sterkenburg Castle is grand enough to catch the beady eye of some property developer, but (luckily for travellers) the 13th-century castle is actually a grand and stylish stay. The regal haven has all the castle characteristics you’d crave: an authentic moat, pond you can swim in, pristine gardens, fancy furnishings, high ceilings, large windows, stunning cuisine and mature trees galore.
4. Experience festival season in Galway
Galway loves celebrating. From foodie bonanzas to Irish regattas, it seems every weekend boasts something fun and out-of-the-ordinary to do. Music, crafts, gardening, ponies, poetry, oysters: you name it, Galway will have a festival for it. Don’t miss the Galway International Arts Festival between the 15th and 28th of July – an eye-popping extravaganza of visual arts in this Irish city.
Where to stay: There is an unmissable historic hotel near Galway: Gregans Castle Hotel pampers you with elegant 18th-century guestrooms and award-winning breakfasts.
5. Ride the last steam railway owned by British Rail in Wales
Aberystwyth is home to the last steam railway owned by British Rail before being privatised in 1989. Today, the Vale of Rheidol Light Railway is the most peaceful way to chug through the picture-perfect points between Devil’s Bridge and Aberystwyth.
Where to stay: The Welsh seaside is even prettier when the sun’s rays drench every inch of it. Shining out on the Aberaeron harbour is a Georgian-inspired cluster of multicoloured buildings. Among them is Harbourmaster, a Grade-II-listed building the media go mad for. Arty, luxurious and bursting with character, you’ll want to move in the moment you arrive.
6. Hike the Ladder of Kotor
Once you’ve explored the UNESCO-protected Old Town and walked the medieval walls, a more adventurous way to “do” Kotor in the summer is to hike the legendary Ladder of Kotor. Zig-zag your way to the top and view the medieval town from more than 3,000 feet. If you’re not one for all that thigh-work, take the trail from the top-down.
Where to stay: The award-winning Hotel Cattaro is the perfect sanctuary to sleep off an action-packed day in Montenegro. In the heart of Old Town, the 18th-century gem mixes back-in-time charm with luxurious comfort.
7. Escape to a Swedish mountain spa
Storsätra Fjällhotel is a gentle and homely way to experience life in the Swedish mountains. Straddling the border of Sweden and Norway, you can take your pick from three national parks close by. Ski, hike, fish, or even play mountain golf. Once the day is done, melt away your worries in a soak with the whispering river in the background. You can bathe in it if you wish – like guests did in the old days – but the traditional sauna and wood-fired hot tub are usually more desirable for less hardier types.
8. Stay in an olive oil hotel in Tuscany
Handsome, peaceful and comforting, Villa Campestri like stepping into an old Italian postcard. But this gorgeous 18th-century stay is very real. It’s the first olioteca in Italy, where you can sample the the highest standards of olive oil, whether drizzled on a Tuscan dish or as part of a stress-melting massage.
9. Visit the teeniest city in the world in Croatia
This is the perfect place to move if you’re done with people. With barely 20 inhabitants, the dinky town of Hum in Istria is the smallest city in the world. The legendary tales say it was built with the leftover stones of giants. Keep the storybook vibes going by staying at Hotel Villa Astra. The exquisite stay is just over an hour’s drive away, with seven cosy guest rooms and its very own secluded beach.
10. Wander Krakow’s sunny botanical garden
Image: Botanical Garden
It’s only open between mid-April and mid-October, so the Botanical Garden of the Jagiellonian University is a must-see in the summer. Bursting with thousands of plants over nearly 10 hectares, the 18th-century garden is a wonderful spot to snap your holiday photos. South of Krakow awaits another treasure: Hotel Dwór Sieraków, a four-star wonder hailing back to the 19th century. It’s been cleverly renovated, but still retains its charming English style.
11. Ski in a swimsuit in Switzerland
Zig-zagging down Zermatt’s spacious glaciers at heights of a heart-stopping 3,800 metres is a dream come true for adrenaline seekers. It’s even more of a bucket list must-do taking to the slopes in a bikini, soaking up those Matterhorn views as you glide before kicking back among the resort’s après-ski scene.
Where to stay: Alpine-based beauty Hotel Monte Rosa does more than wink at the past. Opened in the centre of the village by Alexander Seiler, this award-winning ‘Belle-Époque’ hotel welcomes guests through a luxurious door to 19th-century grandeur.
12. Stay in a historic monument in the Alps
Discovering Alpinhotel Grimsel Hospiz feels like landing upon an extraordinarily well-kept secret. Located in Guttannen in Switzerland, it was the first electrically heated hotel in Europe and dates back to 1142. A former miner’s home, the stay is now a seductive sanctuary in a natural paradise. Rugged mountains, ancient gorges and azure lakes are on your doorstep, as well as the famous ‘Sherlock Holmes’ waterfall.
13. Wake up in an Irish lighthouse
Ordinary folk may have visited lighthouses on a school trip, but a visit to Clare Island Lighthouse allows you to go a step further and stay in one. Experience the golden age of homely Irish hospitality within this historic haven – the only difference is that guests are no longer sailors looking for sanctuary, they’re you. For sea views in Ireland, it’s hard to beat.
14. Stay in Vienna’s oldest hotel
From Schonbrunn Palace to The Hofburg, there’s Baroque beauty to be found in masses in Vienna. You can also pile your plate high with Austrian delights, ride a 19th-century Ferris wheel, and attend an opera for the same price as a cup of coffee. Make your break even more unique by staying at the oldest hotel in the capital – Hotel Stefanie. Astonishingly, guests have been coming to this time-turning wonder since the year 1600. Still, its elegant rooms and suites pack in many modern comforts – even Sky TV.
15. Stuff your face at the Time Out Market in Lisbon
Also known as the Mercado da Ribeira, the Time Out Market is a curated wonder of tastes. It’s the first market in the world where each restaurant and stall has been chosen by an independent panel of experts. From sparkling Portuguese seafood and prego-dedicated spaces to American-style hamburgers and Lisbon’s first and only croquette store, if it doesn’t get four or five stars in Time Out, it’s out.
Where to stay: Take your pick of historic Lisbon hotels in the heart of the city. Those more inclined to decorative havens within a medieval castle village will adore Solar Do Castelo. Or, if an award-winning 17th-century stays with chic modern updates sounds more to your taste, try Heritage Avenida Liberdade Hotel.
16. Have a beach day in Chania
Blue-flag awarded Agii Apostoli is one of the most stunning sandy beaches in Chania, Crete. The serene spot is a rare natural beauty that’s ideal for swimming, water sports and beach volley. But one of the most pleasant things to do in the summer is laze in the sun with a book, lifting your head now and then to gaze out at impossibly blue waters.
Where to stay: Everything you’d want in a Cretan stay is within the walls of Serenissima Boutique Hotel. No two rooms are the same, but all have ultra-luxe mattresses, rain showers, complimentary wi-fi, top-range amenities and flat-screen TV. From the Venetian-meets-Ottoman architectural style to the elegant gastronomy, this 16th-century manor house is worth taking a flight to Chania for alone.
17. Admire the good looks of Groot Begijnhof in Leuven
Leuven is lovely in the summer. Once you’ve ticked off the birthplace of Stella Artois (complete with customary pint), see what the city was like 300 years ago with a wander to the UNESCO-protected Groot Begijnhof. This 13th-century ‘village’ was built for the Beguines and remained in this historic quarter for centuries before a complete restoration.
Where to stay: The Fourth/Tafelrond is within walking distance of Leuven’s world heritage sites. It’s quite the historic monument itself: dating back to 1479 and spending its life as everything from a theatre to a bank before becoming an impeccably stylish hotel.
18. Meander the cobblestone streets of La Petite France in Strasbourg
Seriously photogenic, La Petite France is a quaint collection of buildings from the 16th century. Fishermen, tanners and millers once plied their wears to this district of half-timbered houses.
Where to stay: Once you’re filled-up on historic sights and Alsatian delights, rest up in one of the exceedingly homely rooms at Bouclier d’or. Think exposed beams, spiral staircases and 15th-century frescoes.