Sometimes, the countries closest to us are often overlooked. So many of us dream of travelling to exotic destinations on the opposite side of the world, where for a mere few weeks we can leave our old lives at home and immerse ourselves into a new one. Point taken, that feeling is irreplaceable. But there are so many breath-taking cities on our doorstep which can also provide a short escape from reality. Italy and France are prime examples of this. Whether you are lucky enough to live a short distance away, or even if you live outside of Europe, it is absolutely worth the trip.
Rome does not disappoint as a capital city. The city is full of beautiful architecture, from the iconic Coliseum to the prestigious Vatican. Every site you visit has a deep rooted history, but has been preserved to the highest standard. There is a clear air of affluence in parts where the streets are filled with high end designer shops and small Italian boutiques. The food is, as predicted, the best Italian food you have ever tasted. After the second or third restaurant you begin to wonder how you’re ever going to be able to eat Carbonara anywhere else again. If you’re lucky enough to stay in the centre of Rome everywhere is easily accessible. Most sights are within walking distance, but if not then it is just as easy to use the local transport. The locals are extremely friendly and welcoming and it is clear that they love their city just as much as you will by the end of your trip.
Lake Garda is the ultimate Italian break. It’s the type of place where within the first few days of your visit you have that lovely breakthrough of “I could live here”. From the stunning beaches to the quaint towns you are transformed into both cultures. Due to the high number of locals in Lake Garda it’s not somewhere which strikes you as a tourist destination. Yes, there are the rows of restaurants and bars, but you truly get the feel that the families who own them enjoy doing so. I have stayed in both Riva and Garda, which are the opposite ends of the lake, but they still share the same sense of tranquillity. You come home feeling utterly refreshed and already eager to plan a return visit.
Famous for it’s romance, Verona is a city which I can only think to describe as peaceful. There is no sense of urgency or the need to rush. Everything is calm, pristine and well looked after. From the famous balcony of Romeo and Juliet, to the outstanding opera house it is easy to see why this city attracts so many tourists each year. There is no doubt that Verona is one of the most idyllic places you will ever visit, but once you have seen the main sites and lusted after even more designer shops, there is little else to do. My take on Verona was that it was more of a city to appreciate for the day, rather than a long weekend.
Venice is both an exciting and interesting city. With no transport except small boats and the traditional gondola, you feel as if you have entered a completely different world. It is extremely hard to portray Venice as everyone has a different opinion. For me, I absolutely loved everything, from the beautiful buildings to the endless streets full of traditional bars and restaurants. If you decide to take some time out from sightseeing for a glass of wine, then sitting in St Mark’s square is the only place to do it. You find yourself gazing towards packs of tourists taking pictures of the pearly white buildings to glamorous Italian women dressed from head to toe in couture. Venice is surprisingly hard to navigate around, so joining a tour, even if it is just for half your trip, is beneficial in order to be able to understand the true beauty of this city.
Paris is the ideal place to visit if you love romance, have expensive taste and live for Chardonnay. Personally, I would describe Paris to have a strong “artsy” feel. The Eiffel Tower could be described as a monumental piece of art itself, alongside the extremely modern Louvre. But this isn’t what I mean. By feel, I mean walking alongside the River Seine to find countless stalls offering portraits, landscapes and abstract pieces alongside the hotels proudly showcasing piece after piece in their corridors. Art is also widely visible in a fashion sense. Designer shops are scattered all over Paris, alongside expensive bars and restaurants aligning the Champs-Elysées. It really is a place of taste, and I imagine the more times you visit Paris the more intriguing the city becomes.
Without a doubt, Cannes is a city dripping with luxury. Located in the highly reputable French Rivera the sheer volume of yachts and helicopters give you a good indication of the area’s affluence. Cannes is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited, and after experiencing the feeling of sunbathing on a jetty in the middle of the sea, whilst tucking in to a beautifully spread lunch, it soon becomes addictive. If you manage to tear yourself away from the clear blue sea then a nice way to spend an afternoon is wandering further into the town, where there are colourful fruit markets and quirky, local shops. Cannes is just as glamorous at night, where low lighting cocktail bars draw in lavish crowds fresh from the infamous casino. If you want to experience the life of the super-rich for a short while, then this city is exactly where you need to be.
Monte Carlo is yet another conforming city to the South of France’s reputation. With a marina full of million pound super boats, coupled with Ferraris lining the entrance of hotels, Monte Carlo attracts those of a whole new wealth. What was so special about this city to me was that within such a short distance you could find yourself leaving the likes of Prada and Gucci to visiting a historical castle overlooking the sea. Yes, Monte Carlo is a shoppers dream but you can tell they are also exceptionally proud of their unique history. In my opinion, the best way to really discover the city is to wander around for yourself, but you can take a tour of the Formula 1 race track route which is definitely worthwhile. It is so easy to fall in love with Monte Carlo, not just for the extravagant lifestyle, but for the beautiful culture too.