Unique European Destinations
The Vienna Woods, Austria
Famous in story, song, and legend, the Vienna Woods now sit in the midst of suburban Vienna. While still a pleasant walk, viennawoodsthe woods are no longer even close to being wild, and the mostly paved walking paths wind through vineyards and along small creeks. Then suddenly, you’re on a residential street or at the top of the hill with a restaurant and parking lot.
Nonetheless, a visit to the Vienna Woods is one of the best getaways in the city. The woods are generally uncrowded, and are accessible via the city metro system. The kahlenbergmain entrances from the metro lines can be a little confusing to find, so make sure you get some directions or have a good map.
At the top of the hill within the woods, stop for a beer at the Kahlenberg Inn, where Mozart composed The Magic Flute, and enjoy the vista over the city and across the Danube. The Kahlenberg Inn can be also reached by car, but the food and beer taste so much better if you build up an appetite by walking there.
Avebury, Great Britain
Everyone’s heard of Stonehenge, and everybody goes there. Yes, it’s spectacular, and a wonder of ancient engineering. Yet not far from Stonehenge is a much larger, much less overdeveloped similar wonder – Avebury.
The standing stones at Avebury form a circle many times larger than at Stonehenge. In fact, a small village sits partially inside the circle itself. Atsalisbury Avebury, sheep and the few people who visit can wander right up to and through the stone circle – not kept at bay by ropes and guards as at Stonehenge.
The jumping-off point for Avebury is the town of Salisbury, which has one of the finest Gothic cathedrals in the world. Spend some time absorbing the history of England reflected in the walls, the floors (where many famous Britons are buried), and the incredible 12th-century workmanship. Salisbury and Avebury are a few hours west of London, and are easily accessible by car, or by combination of train (to Salisbury) and bus (to Avebury).
If you’re a fan of the world’s great cities, it’s hard not to like Paris. Paris has shopping, museums, cathedrals, art, food; and everything you’ve ever heard about it is true. Nonetheless, Paris is a big city, and your best bet is to narrow your Ferris options – choose two or three things to see or places to visit each day, and don’t become overwhelmed.
Paris has a fine metro (subway, tube) system, and the easiest and most economical way to travel around the city is to buy a “carnet” of 10 tickets. As we’ve said elsewhere, do not throw away your ticket until you’ve completely exited the system – you’ll need it to exit most stations.
For a first trip, hit the big sites – the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame. We also like the smaller museums (the Cluny, for example) and the Montmartre area. Montmartre has a more bohemian feel with small restaurants serving great food, street artists, and narrow medieval streets. Paris is popular, so we’d recommend you visit from September through May, and avoid the summer crowds.
Bled looks like a travel brochure – a spectacular alpine lake with a church perched on its peak, a castle on a cliff, and soaring peaks just outside the small town. Bled is in northwest Slovenia, near the base of the Triglav Alps and bledskithe Austrian border. The town has some nice restaurants and small hotels, but also suffers from a slight bit of the “ugly-growth-architecture” seen in too many parts of Europe.
But spend a few days here, and you’ll enjoy hiking above town on the small ski hill; seeing the spectacular Triglav Gorge; and eating the best Gelatotriglav outside Italy. (Slovenia, especially farther south and west along the coast of the Adriatic, was once part of the Venetian empire.)
Bled is beautiful, quiet, and offers a wealth of things to do and see. With the opening of eastern Europe in the past decade, Slovenia presents a wonderful and cheaper alternative to more well-known western European destinations. Slovenia is also very modern, so travel, logistics, money (Slovenia has converted to the Euro), and even language (many people speak English) make it easy for U.S. visitors.
Isle of Skye, Scotland
sheep Skye is Scotland in a microcosm. Sheep, austere landscapes, Atlantic Ocean smells in the air and fresh-caught Atlantic seafood on the table. For a small island, it takes a surprisingly long time to navigate around. It has ancient ruins – castles from 1,000 years ago, stone circles from 3,000 years ago, and abandoned “clearance villages” from a mere 150 years ago.
Cow Road signs are half in Gaelic and half in English. People are reserved, but also very friendly. You can have a meal at a restaurant that should have Michelin stars (the Three Chimneys) or hike (hill-walk) the heather-clad peaks and valleys. There are a couple of small communities, and seemingly innumerable self-catering cottages and B&Bs. You will definitely need a rental car on Skye.