As regular readers will know, each time I visit Europe I incorporate both new destinations and some old favourites in my itinerary, and 2015 was no exception.
My seven week European holiday included stays in three countries - France, Italy and Greece - and I ticked a few places that I’d been wanting to visit for a long time off my list (which is getting no shorter, by the way!).
During our stay at the holiday house we part-own in Languedoc, we enjoyed a ‘mini break’ to Collioure. I’d read a lot about this town on the Mediterranean and I wasn’t disappointed. Lovely pastel-coloured buildings surround the small harbour where fishing boats bob up and down.
The Old Town is a jumble of narrow, cobbled alleys and its close proximity to Spain means that Collioure has a real Spanish feel to it. The town was abuzz in early June but retained a real laid back vibe. We were really glad we visited.
Menerbes and Roussillon, France
A five night stay in Cabrieres d’Avignon was the perfect base from which to explore the villages of the Luberon in Provence. My two favourite villages were Menerbes, a gorgeous hilltop village with stunning views over the Provencal plains below and Roussillon, the red ochre village. I loved the old world charm of both villages, despite the fact that they are tourist meccas and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay in the Luberon.
Lake Iseo, Italy
This was definitely an unexpected delight. On our drive from Lake Como to Lake Garda, I decided to go via Lake Iseo to see what it was like. To be honest, I only discovered the lake existed when I looked at a map to decide where we could stop for lunch on our drive and Lake Iseo seemed as good a place as any. We only spent a couple of hours at the main town, Iseo, where we enjoyed a lovely lunch right by the lake, but it was somewhere that I could definitely see myself returning to.
Lake Iseo is a lot less touristy than Lakes Como and Garda but, I would say, is equally as pretty. Before leaving the lake to rejoin the autostrade, we took a quick drive along the lake to Sulzano from where we had great views across to Monte Isola, an inhabited island. A ferry service operates all year round between the lakeside villages and Monte Isola.
Porto Venere, Italy
After two days spent exploring the five villages that make up the Cinque Terre, and walking some of the Cinque Terre trails, we decided to spend our final day visiting Porto Venere on the recommendation of our B&B landlady. Reaching Porto Venere was part of the attraction - the ferry service that connects the Cinque Terre villages travels on further to Porto Venere and La Spezia so we were able to enjoy a picturesque ferry ride that took about an hour and a quarter.
The arrival into Porto Venere (also spelt Portovenere) was spectacular. We rounded a steep cliff face, upon which perched a 12th Century gothic church, and entered the pretty harbour lined with gelato-coloured buildings. We loved it! There were plenty of people around, including the local school kids who were enjoying a warm summer’s day on the harbour front, but because Porto Venere is not built into a narrow cliff frontage like the Cinque Terre villages, it felt much less crowded.
A delicious fish lunch, a visit to the church, a climb up lots of stairs to the hill top castle, and a wander amongst the shops in the narrow streets easily filled our afternoon. We could happily have stayed longer but alas, the last ferry back to Monterosso was about to leave. I’m sure we’ll be back.
Val Gardena, Italy
Without doubt, the biggest highlight of my 2015 European holiday was the day I spent at Sass Pordoi in The Dolomites. I loved the whole Val Gardena region but when I stood on the mountain plateau at Sass Pordoi and saw the views all around me, I was mesmerised. There weren’t enough superlatives to describe the beauty that I saw in every direction. We were blessed with a perfect day of clear blue skies which were the ideal backdrop to Mother Nature’s stunning landscape. I still can’t put into words the feeling I had when I first took in that view - it has to be seen to be believed.
It's always hard to whittle the list of amazing places that I've visited down to just a few, but these were easily the highlights of my 2015 European travels. Have you visited any of these places?