Ticked off Florence, Paris and Lisbon? Sometimes it’s worth looking past the capitals and tourist hotspots and looking at some of the less obvious names in Europe – where some of the liveliest cultural scenes thrive. We’ve rounded up some alternative ideas for a European city break, from intriguing Bratislava to the vibrant Bordeaux.
Also known as Iraklio, this ancient city is one of Crete’s most underrated gems. As well as being the fourth-biggest city in Greece, Heraklion is brimming with a rich and fascinating history. It’s just 5km north of the Palace of Knossos, the largest and most important Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete: make sure your put a few hours aside to explore it thoroughly during your visit. Art buffs will also find themselves enthralled in the life and works of the famous El Greco, who was born in the city. The Historical Museum of Crete in Heraklion showcases two original works by the obscure artist.
Once you’ve got your history and art fix you can enjoy the modern side to this Greek wonder: there’s a booming foodie scene, great nightlife and a pretty waterfront to stroll on. Elevate your stay in the Cretan city with a night at the Kalimera Archanes – a cluster of three 19th-century houses boasting quaint private gardens, original period furniture and warm hospitality. The hotel is just kilometers from Knossos in the village of Archanes, where the first Greek wines were produced and the oldest piece of fabric was discovered.
The port city of Bordeaux is bursting with more than enough to compete with Paris for a European break, but without having to exhaust yourself around tourist traps. Lonely Planet have listed it as one of their 10 top cities to visit in 2017. Little wonder because it’s renowned for it’s UNESCO World Heritage sites, with some 1,810 hectares (half the city) listed. Architecture lovers will delight in strolling through Bordeaux’s streets, encountering buildings such as the 11th-century Bordeaux Cathedral, Gothic bell tower Tour Pey Berland and the sumptuous Palais de la Bourse.
Thanks to the city’s ultra-modern public transport system, it’s simple to work your way round discovering the food, coffee and exceptional wine that La Belle Bordeaux is loved for. For more wine-based delights, book a night in the heart of the Saint Emilion vineyards, just 40km from Bordeaux. Four-star hotel Relais Franc Mayne is an unforgettable experience – with elegant rooms, a natural swimming pool and, of course, wine tasting galore.
Modra: Bratislava, Slovakia
Modra – city famous for pottery and wine
Nestled among the foothills of the Malé Karpaty (Little Carpathian mountains) in the Bratislava Region of Slovakia is Modra – a pretty city famous for both it’s pottery and it’s wine. Outside the main town, other hamlets such as Harmónia and Piesok make for peaceful mini-breaks. And then of course there is the city Bratislava itself: an amalgamation of wild and urban scenes, from it’s green parks which are perfect for hiking and biking to the rooftop bars, ideal for sipping cocktails as the sun goes down. Spend the weekend at Hotel Sebastien – in the heart of Modra – where you’ll find yourself in the cosy atmosphere of this family-run haven. Luxurious rooms, a wine cellar, and a fine restaurant sit within the walls of this 16th-century building.