The desire to lie on a beautiful beach doing nothing but get a sun tan has rather lost its appeal as I’ve grown older. I find cities and towns have more to offer – there’s the architecture, museums, art galleries … fun shops … cafe life and interesting history.
“Which is your favourite country?” I am often asked. Close to home I would say Scotland, for its spectacular scenery. Further afield, Alaska in winter is, as American’s would say, “awesome”. The bears are hibernating but beware moose on the road and wrap up well!
And of course Italy because it has just about everything.
If I had just a week there are many places I would happily return to .. here are just three … all in Europe.
Bruges is an exquisite city – in the 13th century one of the richest in Northern Europe. A whole day could be spent in just the Burg and the Markt, the medieval squares in the centre, visiting the Stadhuis (the Gothic Town Hall) and climbing the 300 foot Belfry. I’m ashamed to say I postponed that for my next visit. Sipping one of the 750 beers Belgium is so renowned for in a delightful canal side cafe, I also refreshed my knowledge of many of the major conflicts of the last few hundred years as I read up on the city’s history.
Lace was an ancient industry and beautiful but expensive pieces can be bought all over town. The Lace Centre is the place to see demonstrations of this delicate work. The modern Groeninge Museum displays Flemish paintings.
A Tourist Information booklet suggests several walks to the more peaceful outer edges of Bruges. Only three kilometres from one side to the other it is the perfect city to see on foot. But a warning, try and avoid a visit at half term!
Mayrhofen in Austria, not far from Innsbruck, was the first time I had been to a ski resort in summer. At first the village seemed disappointingly low at 650 metres but mountains surround the village so it’s a dramatic setting. The town is very pretty with many wooden buildings decorated in the typical Tryolean style.
Higher than 3000 metres there is always snow on the mountains and there is a glacier for all year round skiing but I had come to walk. Peter Habeler, the famous climber who has broken many records, including Everest in 6 hours without oxygen, lives in the town and runs his own climbing business.
The Penken lift takes you up to glorious views and cafes where you can relax and enjoy the mountains. Four main peaks are hiker’s peaks for fit climbers where no ropes are needed but there are lower easier walks and I noticed lots of walkers in their 60s and 70s.
The hotel I was staying in did accompanied walks and there are many organised treks in the town that can be joined if you want guidance. I greatly enjoyed a lovely walk one day to a reservoir called the Stilluper Stausee and beyond.
Viareggio stretches along twenty kilometres of flat straight coastline on the North West coast of Tuscany. The long sandy beach is neatly divided into bathing establishments, each with its own name and colour scheme and for a small fee you have use of their facilities. It seems rather regimented but is actually rather charming and well ordered.
The promenade on the beach side is lined with great shops and cafes and this is the place to be seen early evening. Or rent a bike and cycle down the designated palm lined path. A fashionable resort at one time there are some glorious ornate Liberty style and later Art Deco buildings.
The stunning back drop of the Apuane Alps relieves the flatness of the coast and a short bus ride takes you into the hills to Pietrasanta where sculptors, including Michelangelo, have worked for centuries. Lots of exhibitions and great galleries to browse in. Lucca is near and Florence only 80 kms away.
And a few miles inland is the lakeside village of Torre del Lago where Puccini had a home (today a museum). During July and August the Puccini festival takes place and every night a different Puccini opera is performed in the open air theatre built in his honour. Bordering the lake and with the Alps as a backdrop it is quite magical.
More about Valerie
Valerie Singleton OBE, is a television and radio presenter best known as a presenter of the popular children’s series Blue Peter, and who went on to present the BBC Radio 4 PM programme for ten years as well as a series of radio and television programmes on financial and business issues
For short breaks, celebrations and anniversaries to European towns and cities, Silver Travel Advisor recommends Kirker Holidays.