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Finding the Best Romantic Getaways in Bulgaria

Romantic Bulgaria Getaways

From colorfully unique summer festivals and outdoor adventures to spa getaways at chic adults-only locales, the options are endless within one of the formerly overlooked gems of southeastern Europe. Here are only a few of the options to consider for anyone targeting Bulgaria as the perfect romantic escape.

A variety of romantically-tinged options along the Black Sea at places like Golden Sands.

The Black Sea coast is where many couples from around the world come to spend nights of romance. In the energetic resort town of Golden Sands, romance-seekers have an assortment of options at their disposal, from secluded getaways lapped in luxury to an exciting nightclub scene that can be a perfect fit for the right couple. There are also miles of beaches featuring locally famous tiki bars, water activities, and world-class restaurants that make Golden Sands one of the most popular destinations in Bulgaria.
The many highly rated hotels and resorts cater to just about any type of couple there is, with the panoramic Black Sea views offering peerless backdrops for romance. Some of the most popular hot spots hold pool parties all summer long, befitting a great place for couples that moonlight as beach partiers. But for those looking for a more subdued experience with a loved one, there are plenty of accommodations that offer a more tranquil and intimate oasis far from the party scene.
With more than 230 miles of the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, however, Golden Sands is also far from the only beach town worth considering, as other standouts like Nessebar also have plenty of great opportunities for romance. No matter what a couple considers paradise, the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria is sure to have a place that fits the description.

Go rose-picking in Rose Valley.

One of the classic Bulgarian traditions is on full display each May/June outside the town of Kazanlak in central Bulgaria. Amid the warming weather of late spring, the famed Rose Valley is flush with festivals and activities as locals and visitors alike hit the countryside looking for the perfect rose. While you can link up with groups for a customary rose-picking ritual that involves traditional Bulgarian dancing and music, many couples prefer to head off on their own to hit one of the countless rose fields that dot the area, spending afternoons getting lost in colorful rows of Bulgaria’s national flower. The enormous Rose Festival Parade is also a sight to see, as locals dress up in vintage Bulgarian garb and take onlookers on a trip into the country’s national pastimes.
While nearby Kazanlak has some character of its own and is a fun place to stay during the festival season, heading a little north will take visitors to hike the Shipka Pass for some exquisite views of the mountainous region. History lovers will enjoy learning about the unique Buzludzha monument (better known as “The Spaceship”) and the battles that took place there between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, but it’s also an ideal place for romantics to escape for afternoons of fresh air and sprawling green countryside. 360-degree panoramic views from the top of Freedom Monument are one of the highlights, and couples can cap off a Shipka Pass hike by heading to a rose brewery to try local brews made from rose water.

The treasures of Bulgarian wine country.

The many vineyards of southwestern Bulgaria are a major draw for couples looking for a tranquil romantic excursion. A flourishing region once again on the rise, Bulgarian wine country has a series of great towns and small cities worth visiting, most notably places like Melnik and Plovdiv. A cozy town nearly hidden by the neighboring Pirin Mountains, Melnik is technically the smallest town in Bulgaria by population but also has a variety of great resorts and independent boutique hotels that act as stepping stones for exploring the regional vineyards.
Offering a slightly different experience, Plovdiv in the Thracian Valley is the perfect starting point for a wine tour whether you rent a car and do it all yourself or join a group heading out to the best vineyards. The second most populous city in the country, Plovdiv has a spread of great wine bars exclusively featuring local nectars, letting you enjoy one of Bulgaria’s cultural hubs in between winery visits. Widely acclaimed restaurants like the jazz-infused Vino Culture offer a world-class wine-tasting experience along with an impressive menu that will make you forget you’re in a wine bar. As a city with a true international feel, Plovdiv offers of other luxury dining experiences featuring cuisine from around eastern Europe and beyond, and it’s known for being a great walking city for visitors who prefer to use two feet whenever possible.
The wine in the area also taps directly into the recent history of Bulgaria, a country that faced a major transition at the end of the Cold War. After becoming the fourth biggest wine-producer in the world by the 1980s, Bulgaria wine had a major decline in the 1990s as vineyard ownership was shuffled, but that gave way to a major resurgence over the last two decades that has brought back the romanticism of the area. These days, travelers from around Bulgaria join plenty of international visitors who come to southwestern Bulgaria to peruse nearly 150,000 of pristine vineyard acres.

Final thoughts before planning a romantic trip to Bulgaria.

Bulgaria is definitely a country where weather can be a significant factor, which is why you will want to do your research about what to expect from the region you’re targeting. Inland at places like Melnik, visitors can expect average highs in the low-to-mid 90s (°F) during the peak of the summer, which means that you’ll want to get up and get moving if you’re planning a trip in July or August. Nearby in Plovdiv, you can expect cooler weather and the same goes for the Black Sea coast, where temperatures rarely rise above 85 (°F) even during the hottest parts of the year.
Bulgaria is also well-known for being one of the most affordable European destinations, which it’s particularly attractive to couples looking to splurge a bit on high-end accommodations without the sticker-shock you would expect elsewhere. With an abundance of natural beauty and romantic possibilities all over the country, exploring Bulgaria is simply a great option for anyone looking for a unique romantic holiday.

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The Thrillseeker’s Guide to Iceland

Iceland Adventure Travel

Iceland is a country full of natural beauty but also extremely rugged terrain. Anyone who wants to walk on the wild side will get their fill in Iceland, given that its location along a volcanic seam of the Mid Atlantic Ridge has produced truly stunning natural formations worth exploring.

Climb Inside a Crater

When approaching Kerið from the main road of the Golden Circle, it doesn’t appear to be much. However, when you look over the lip of the crater lake, you realize just how amazing this volcanic caldera is. The rock surrounding the lake is deep red, with the water itself a crystalline blue. While many simply hike around the top of the crater lake, there is also a twisting and switchbacked path down to the water itself. Looking out across the unearthly water makes you wonder if there might be a monster in its depths. Even though many caldera lakes are incredibly deep, this one is actually only 7-14 meters deep (23-46 feet).

Walk Behind Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Even from the road, you can see the 60-meter high Seljalandsfoss waterfall, but it isn’t until you get up close that you see that there is a trail that goes behind and under the waterfall. Be forewarned: wear your raincoat for this trek, as well as some mud-proof shoes with good traction! A small cave opens up behind the main waterfall, and the rainbows that are thrown off by the falling water can be spectacular.
While many stop at the most frequented major waterfall, the ridge continues down a beautiful path. Along the way, there are more waterfalls and overlooks you can scramble atop to see everything for miles around. There are no handrails or specific handholds, so watch your step and hold on tight as you scale the craggy surface.

Trek Up a Glacier… or Snowmobile Over!

Glaciers cover a large area within the interior of Iceland, and hiking along the crest of one, with the proper equipment, can be quite the rush. These treks are best done in a group with an experienced guide, since few people outside of Iceland can put “experienced glacier walker” on their resumes. Along the way, you’ll learn more about the geological history of Iceland, the way that glaciers expand and contract, and the relationship between the icy glaciers and the fiery volcanoes around the country.
If you cannot get enough of the glaciers, one way to cover a lot more ground is to go on a snowmobile tour. The interior of Iceland is crisscrossed with “F-Roads,” or roads that frequently sustain extreme weather that normal cars usually cannot cope with. These roads are used by extreme weather vehicles, which can transport you and other tourists to spots where you can snowmobile over frozen terrain and along large expanses of glaciers. While relatively comfortable because you won’t be doing any manic downhill tricks, snowmobiling definitely is a rush and helps you to see even more of this unique landscape without having to walk for days to cover it all.

Enter the Ice Caves

One result of the seasonal changes in temperature and the underground geothermal heat is that ice forms in unique ways around Iceland. The natural seams in the glaciers Vatnajokull and Langjokull, in different parts of Southern Iceland, create amazing ice caves that will look like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
A few tips for seeing these brilliant sights: plan as far in advance as possible, basically as soon as you book a trip to Iceland, because the tours that are available tend to get booked very quickly and completely. Also, the experience is pretty much all-day, so trying to do an ice-cave tour as a day trip out of Reykjavik is a poor plan. Instead, choose a town closer to the caves you are visiting and spend at least one night there – you’ll get to know what smaller-town Iceland is like and you’ll not have to rush quite so much. Believe me: spelunking in an ice cave is more than tiring enough! You don’t need a round trip drive on top of that. Lastly, consider doing a package deal that includes a glacier walk and the ice caves along with lodging and possibly meals: the touring companies know the area well and will choose places you are likely to enjoy.

Hike to the Hidden Swimming Pool

Selljavallalaug is not a typical swimming pool with a cabana and maybe some umbrellas for shade. In typical Iceland fashion, it is both much more difficult to get to, but also much more rewarding as a location. In 1923, there was a fear that locals in Iceland couldn’t swim despite living near and fishing in the ocean. They built a swimming pool that was fed by a natural hot spring, meaning that it was always a comfortable temperature even in cold weather. It’s amazing that there was a time when Icelanders weren’t proficient swimmers, since pools are one of the most popular recreational activities now, with multiple large pool complexes in Reykjavik.
If you make the many turns necessary to find Selljavallalaug’s sparse parking area, you will be confronted with about another 20 minutes of walking over rocky terrain and on hard-to-find paths. Sure, it takes a little while to earn this swim, but trust me, the view alone is worth it. The simple dressing rooms give you space to change into a swimsuit, and the pool itself is mossy and green from the algae that grow in the warm water. A whole wall of the pool is a rock face and you can watch the steaming water drip down it; on the other side of the pool is a magnificent valley that truly looks like something from a fantasy film of another world. The swim is a nice relaxing moment after the drive and hike, and usually, the spot is not very busy, especially in the morning.
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How to Make the Most of Your London Trip

Thanks to its iconic buildings and impressive combination of different cultures, London remains a must-see for anyone hoping to explore the greatest modern-day metropolises in the world. With so many highlights to cover and never enough time, however, figuring out what to see and how to get around beforehand is crucial to fully enjoy a city that has as much to offer as anywhere in Europe. Tilting back and forth between celebrating tradition and pushing forward into the future, London is also much more than just a staging point for a European or English adventure. Consider these tips when figuring out your plan for maximizing the potential of a once-in-a-lifetime trip to London.

Getting Around London

There’s a reason why the Romans chose to set up a foothold in present-day London nearly 2,000 years ago. A natural port connected to the North Sea as well as the heartland of England thanks to the Thames, London has grown into a modern-day masterpiece that is as eclectic in its food and culture as it is with its visual design. With the importance of the Thames being so central to London, leaving the city without taking a ferry or river cruise would also border on malpractice, as traveling by river is both scenic and practical.
For those who want to delve into a traditional experience, you can enjoy English cakes and teas (or champagne) as you make your way along the east-west river, where you can get excellent views of city staples like the London Eye, Palace of Westminster (also known as Houses of Parliament), the Tower Bridge, and plenty of other icons as well. While a variety of cruises are available to get a visitor acclimated to the city, getting around with the Thames Clippers can save you considerable time while bringing you right to the heart of the city. Many locals also commute on the Clippers, although you’re always likely to see quite a few out-of-towners looking to soak up an organic London experience.
The Clippers also easily connect you to a variety of different Tube stations, which are either right by a pier (e.g. Embankment) or just a short walk inland (e.g. St. James’s Park, Waterloo). By mastering the Clippers and the Tube, you’ll find that London has earned its reputation for being one of the easiest cities in the world to get around, and the modes of transportation can even be fun in their own right.

The Must-Sees

Though you could easily spend a summer in London without getting to everything, there are a few areas that are absolute must-sees for any visitor. To experience a little local flavor, places like Piccadilly Circus and Covent Garden are flooded with homemade arts/crafts, talented street performers, and unique shops, which makes them natural gathering points of central London. This area, loosely called the West End, is also where you can find all kinds of world-class theatrical productions to go with a staggering variety of different restaurants, from English staples to renowned restaurants featuring food from just about anywhere in the world.
Not only could you easily spend an entire afternoon soaking up with the West End atmosphere but you will also be extremely close to many of the city’s other highlights. A well-known rule for exploring London is that you typically pay for admission to the churches and get to enjoy the museums for free. For anyone who loves digging into the past, Westminster Abbey and the British Museum–both easily walkable from Covent or Piccadilly–tend to live up to expectations thanks to their incredible collections of artifacts from both English and world history. Also nearby is the National Gallery, another renowned museum where you can find famous artworks dating back to the 13th century.
Of course, few visitors make it to central London without shooting over to Buckingham Palace, which sits a short walk west of Westminster or south from Piccadilly Circus. The changing of the guard ceremony is a popular event for visitors, but merely wandering around inspecting the neighboring areas can be a terrific experience. Green Park, Hyde Park, and St. James’s Park offer rolling green spaces somewhat akin to Central Park in New York City, making them ideal spots for a picnic lunch or just for catching your breath before plunging back into the busy city epicenter. If you keep pushing west from Buckingham, Kensington Gardens is a gorgeous area that feels airlifted from the 17th century, with perfectly manicured hedges, explosions of colorful flowers, and tranquil ponds that sit just a stone’s throw from the residence of Prince Harry and the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton.
Other ways to get acquainted with the city include taking a spin in the 443-foot London Eye, one of the biggest Ferris wheels in the world, or taking an elevator ride up to the top of The Shard, which towers a thousand feet above the ground and is located just south of London Bridge. Anyone interested in medieval England also needs to find their way into the Tower of London, an 11th century castle built by William the Conqueror that currently houses the Crown Jewels. The Tower of London is one of four different UNESCO World Heritage Sites within the city limits along with the Palace of Westminster (which includes Westminster Abbey and St. Margaret’s Church), architectural wonder Maritime Greenwich, and the stunning Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Beyond the City’s Main Icons

It’s true that London has quite a few worthwhile landmarks to peruse, but that’s really just a launching point to experiencing what life in London is really like. One of the best areas to stay or visit is Canary Wharf, a bustling business center that is perfect for waterside walks, shopping, grabbing a meal at one of the many great restaurants near the Thames, or just inspecting London’s amazing cityscape. Although it can be packed during festivals or special events, it also can be very tranquil on weekends or business holidays, making it one of the most unique places in the city. It’s also well-known for its modern architecture and vast public artworks, which gives it a little extra flavor in addition to the more buttoned-up atmosphere you might expect from a business-heavy area. From Canary Wharf, you’re also an easy ferry or Tube ride to the other highlights of London.
After a day of hopping around the city, one of the best ways to enjoy the city is actually to get high above it at a place like the Sky Garden. Right near St. Paul’s Cathedral and London Bridge, Sky Garden is a place for cocktails or dinner as you look out over the city lights. Although it’s also available to walk-ins, it’s best to get a reservation to avoid a long wait or getting turned away, and travelers are typically dazzled by the scenery coupled with the great pubs and restaurants.
To continue the local experience, borough-hopping is also a great way to get away from the more tourist-heavy areas of the city. In Camden, you can see a little bit of London’s underground hipster scene to go with all kinds of international restaurants, comedy houses, and popular dance clubs. Meanwhile, Hampstead is a terrific little village within the city that is famous for its list of artists and writers, and you can even take a dip in one of the bathing ponds in the summer. Other popular boroughs worth considering include Notting Hill, where you can find plenty of quaint cafes and boutiques, as well as the historic district of Greenwich to see the rows of centuries-old buildings that give the neighborhood its fame.
Visitors also might want to check out one of the many markets scattered throughout London, starting with the extensive open-air Borough Market in Southwark. Borough Market is known for its spread of street vendors showing off organic local produce and English delicacies that make it the perfect pit stop for lunch. For vintage shoppers, both Alfie’s Antique Market and Brick Lane show off an impressive slate of items from different eras and are especially known for their unique collections of second-hand clothes and furniture.

Choose Your Own Adventure

There are plenty of great cities and towns that don’t really require much of a plan, places where wandering is the key to the best possible experience. Although spontaneity and self-discovery are always important for a traveler, London just isn’t that type of city to tackle without at least a loose game-plan thanks to a nearly overwhelming collection of things to do. The good news is that transportation is very user-friendly for outsiders and it’s easy to find some local flavor hidden right around the corner from the city’s most popular landmarks. If you find the right balance between experiencing the famous mainstays of the city and exploring local life, it usually isn’t very hard at all to fall in love with London. Whether you come for the history, the architecture, the world-class entertainment, or a little bit of everything, London is a true international marvel that continues to live up to its billing.

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Living Like the Locals in Germany

German Town

Where to Stay

The ideal way to get the local experience is to stay with a family. If you know people where you’re going, ask if that’s possible. There’s a good chance they’d be thrilled to have you as a guest and show you around.
If not, at least avoid the big hotel chains. A smaller hotel will get you a more distinctive experience. A “Pension” (that’s German for “bed and breakfast”) can be best of all. Keep in mind that it may not have 24-hour access. Be sure to know the hours you can get in, and get the phone number for being let in late.

The Language

You won’t have trouble finding people who speak English in any major German city. Until you get really good with the language, they’ll likely switch to English quickly when talking with you. Still, making a slight attempt at the language will earn you a lot of points. Here are a few expressions you need to know.
Guten Tag. “Gooten Tahk.” Good day. Use it in formal situations.
Guten Abend. “Gooten Ah-bent.” Good evening.
Hallo. “Ha-lo.” Hello. You can use this in most situations.
Auf Wiedersehen. “Owf veedersayn.” Goodbye. You can use it in formal or informal situations.
Tschüss. “Chewss.” This one’s tricky to pronounce right. It’s a less formal goodbye.
Danke. “Dahnk-uh.” Thank you.
Vielen Dank or Danke sehr. “Feelen dahnk,” “Dahnk-uh sayr.” Thank you very much.
Entschuldigung. “Ent-shool-dig-oong.” Pardon me.
Tut mir leid. “Toot mere light.” I’m sorry.
It’s OK if your accent is terrible; you’re just showing the willingness to try. But there are lots of free YouTube videos where you can learn German pronunciation and if you don’t know any German at all, spend some time with them so you can pronounce those expressions a little better.

Money

The best way to get money from day to day is with a “Bankautomat” (ATM). You can go to a bank and exchange currency, but you won’t get as good an exchange rate. Keep an eye on the euro exchange rate in any case, so you know how far your dollars go.
If you still have an old-style bank card with just a magnetic stripe, you’re likely to have a hard time finding a Bankautomat that will accept it. See if your bank will upgrade it to one with a chip before you go on your trip.
Not all stores take Visa and MasterCard. Find out before trying to check out a big purchase. Acceptance by hotels is much higher, but verify what they accept in advance, especially if you’re staying at a Pension. Smartphone payments like Apple Pay are still looking for acceptance, so skip them during your trip.

Where to Go

The tourist attractions are certainly worth seeing, but there’s much more to Germany. Many towns have open-air markets once a week or more. You can find great food and interesting stuff to buy.
Speaking of food, you can go beyond Hasenpfeffer and Schnitzel while saving a bit of money. Every city has stands selling all kinds of sausage. Currywurst has become a national favorite, and you should definitely give it a try. It isn’t super-hot; German tastes don’t run that way. Also, try one of the many Döner Kebab shops. That’s Turkish food, similar to gyros. Check the quality of the place first, though; some are more greasy than great.
There’s lots of other ethnic food, so you can branch out in many directions. The national meat for pizza is salami rather than pepperoni, and other ethnic foods likewise have a distinctive German style.
Coffee shops are another fine way to get out and spend time with friends or colleagues. Remember that refills aren’t free. Tipping tends to be lighter than in the US since the employees are better compensated, but it’s still very much appreciated.
You can also go shopping for your own groceries if you prefer. Just remember to bring your own bag, or you can buy a reusable bag at the register.

Getting Around

German cities have excellent transit systems. The systems include buses, Strassenbahn (streetcars), U-Bahn (subway), and S-Bahn (light rail). It’s the best way to get around quickly. The important thing is to understand the prepaid card system.
You can buy a card for one day or several at a dispensing machine, located at the stations or the main railroad station (Hauptbahnhof). It’s an honor system, but employees will randomly ask riders to show their cards. Someone caught without a valid card is called a Schwarzfahrer (literally “black rider,” but it has nothing to do with Lord of the Rings) and has to pay a fine on the spot. Try not to let it happen to you. If it does, explain apologetically in English that you’re a visitor to the country and didn’t understand. That may get you off.
The important thing with a day or multi-day card is to stamp it in a machine the first time you use it. That shows when your period of usage begins. You don’t have to stamp it every time you board a bus or train unless you get a per-ride ticket. Those are a bit cheaper, but they’re more confusing if you aren’t used to them.
Germany is a very bicycle-friendly country. Think about renting a bike as an alternative to crowded public transit. City sidewalks include marked bike lanes, but be careful about them when you’re on foot; if you wander into one, a rider may yell at you.
Renting a car is certainly a possibility, but try it only if you know enough German to read the road signs without reaching for a dictionary. The German reputation for being speed demons on the Autobahn is well deserved. They’re good drivers, but they come up behind you much faster than you’d think. Stay in the right lane if you don’t have the nerve to keep up with the faster ones.
Finally, there’s always just getting out and walking. That’s really the best way to discover new things in a strange city. Just make sure you can find your way back. Most places are safe, but it’s always good to think ahead and have a plan for getting back to where you’re staying.
For getting between cities, check out Bahn.de. Click on “Deutsch” near the top of the page and you’ll get the English-language version. The cheapest way to get tickets is to buy them in advance on the website. Trains run on time, except during strikes, and they’re clean and fast. Make sure you get on the right train, though! Signs in the station indicate where along the track the train stops. Some trains split along the way and go to two different destinations, so pay attention to which end you should be on.

Have Fun!

If you take a few chances, you can discover a lot more of Germany than if you stick to the guided tours and big attractions. Just do your homework in advance and keep your locally-enabled phone at hand if anything goes wrong. Viel spass! (Have lots of fun!)

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A Guide to the Most Romantic Getaways in Hungary

Romantic Hungary Getaways

Balancing quaint, lakeside getaways with renowned wine regions and beautiful cities that combine the medieval with the modern, Hungary is as great of a place as any other in Central Europe to stoke a little romanticism. Here are only some of the reasons why you should consider making Hungary your next destination.

A waterfront retreat to Tihany on Lake Balaton

Couples come from all over Hungary and beyond to experience the serene brilliance of Lake Balaton, which can be best experienced from the cozy little resort town of Tihany. The emerald green Lake Balaton bursts to life beneath the red roof and sterling white walls of the Benedictine Abbey, a national icon that has was founded nearly a millennium ago and rebuilt in spectacular, baroque fashion in the mid-18th century. Visitors pick their way around the town’s cobblestone streets that cozy up to the enormous lake and there are countless little locally run shops, restaurants, and cafes to inspect along the way. Many who come to Tihany also fall in love with the reed-thatched roofs of some of the buildings, particularly the museum connected to the abbey that feels lifted directly from a different century.
Romantic backgrounds are also very easy to find at the many great places to stay throughout Tihany. Along the waterfront, there are a wide variety of cozy bungalows that are ideal for any couple seeking some a little privacy while remaining connected to all the top sites in town. It’s easy to pick up a couple bikes for a leisurely ride through the exquisite countryside or to find a variety of entertainment options that cater to couples.
Couples looking for activities are also in luck, as the lake offers an enormous slate of water options great for those from all adventure levels. The popular local beach, Gödrös, is also a great place to live like a local and sprawl out for a sunny afternoon along the lake, which will typically be peppered with swimmers during the warmer months. Hungarians also tend to come to Tihany in the spring to experience the almond trees in bloom and by summer the air turns sweet with lavender, another of the region’s staples.

Finding the romance lurking in Budapest

There are terrific little romantic havens scattered all over Hungary, but sometimes it’s best not to overthink it. Budapest is a wonderland for just about any type of traveler, and that certainly holds true for anyone seeking romance from the Danube-spanning gem in central Hungary.
A natural place to start for the proverbial lovebirds would be the Szechenyi Baths, a sprawling series of indoor and outdoor pools/baths built into a century-old Neo-Baroque palace. Although daytime can be packed with other visitors (particularly families), the baths turn into an ideal place for romance once night settles in, and they’re also very conveniently located to many of the city’s other popular attractions. As a country famous for its baths, which have been a tradition since the days of Roman occupation and later the Turks, you certainly aren’t limited to the famous Szechenyi Baths either. The Rudas baths are known for their range of therapy pools and art-deco architecture that was originally built in the middle of the 16th century. A significant renovation over a decade ago brought them into the modern era.
There are all sorts of other thermal baths in Budapest that are regularly popping with couples, but there is one caveat: some baths (like Rudas) alternate between being gender-specific and co-ed, making it a good idea to check out the details on a specific bath’s website before embarking.
While the baths can certainly spark romanticism, the same goes for finding the best places to view the Danube around the city. The views from Freedom Bridge are as spectacular as advertised (especially around sunset), as visitors capture perfect glimpses of Buda and Pest’s iconic buildings hugging the Danube. Cruising down to Budapest through the Danube Bend on a river cruise is also a naturally romantic experience, although more adventurous romantic-seekers can try renting bikes and trekking along the Danube Cycle Trail for an endless carousel of tranquil picnic spots and sublime scenery just outside Budapest. While looking for a great atmosphere, visitors come to City Park for picnics and pontoon boating beneath the Vajdahunyad Castle in warmer months, although ice skating beneath a castle can also yield an unforgettable experience in the winter.
A wonderful collaboration between the old world and a modern metropolis, Budapest is also crawling with romantically-tinged accommodations. Rooftop cocktail lounges are a natural draw for couples looking to take in the cityscape, particularly in the shadow of St. Stephen’s Basilica on the eastern shores of the Danube, just across from the also-beautiful Széchenyi Chain Bridge. While you’re looking for romantic views, Fisherman’s Bastion atop Castle Hill offers a must-see glimpse of the Danube and the Houses of Parliament on the Pest side of the city.

Eger and the Tokaj wine region

Tokaj is where the wine flows like the Danube thanks to the perfect combination of soil and sunlight, making it a haven for wine lovers for centuries. Wine enthusiasts could easily spend a romantic holiday cruising the region’s 28 villages and 27,000 acres of vineyards, which specialize in producing the aszú and eszencia varietals that the region is famous for. Much like many other Eastern Bloc countries, Hungary has been back on the rise as a major wine producer since the end of the Cold War.
The region has also exploded with great places to rest up in between trips to wineries, with standouts offering chic indoor spas, saunas, and sprawling pools to keep guests entertained in between legs of a wine tour. Anyone who loves the charms of a vintage small town might also want to consider staying right in the actual town of Tokaj, where you can find plenty of authentic Hungarian food, centuries-old wine cellars, and spend afternoons kayaking atop the Tisza River.
If you can’t make it all the way out to Tokaj wine country, fear not; a trip to historic Eger can let you tap into the best flavors of Tokaj while enjoying the comforts of one of Hungary’s major (and most beautiful) cities. Not only is Eger known for its eye-catching medieval castle and surrounding fortress but it boasts many different local wineries that showcase Tojaji wine at its best. Meanwhile, the old town section filled with hidden taverns and cafes along the curvy cobblestone streets is a favorite for romantic travelers. Eger is also a natural launching point for going directly to Tokaj.

Other experiences to consider

As with any trip to a diverse and unique destination like Hungary, researching based on your own personal vision of romance is crucially important, as there are far too many great spots for romance to be compiled in a neat list of options. While some will love what Budapest and Eger offer, others could just as easily fall for the many charms of places like Tihany or Lake Hévíz, a world-renowned spa town that touts the largest thermal lake in the world. Hiking into the Alps from medieval masterpiece Sopron – another great place for wine lovers – can also yield countless great romantic experiences, as can a trip to Pécs, a delightful city known for its mild climate and outstanding architecture. Thanks to such an eclectic set of options and the countless ways to find a romantic backdrop, Hungary is a destination not to be overlooked.

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Best Romantic Getaways in Belgium

Romantic Belgium Getaways

Belgium is rich in its heritage, history, culture, art, and architecture, making it a must-visit location for any romantic tourists with a passion for anything and everything history, culture, arts, and architecture. Along with all of these amazing attractions, Belgium offers all of the traditional comforts of Western European traveling.
Belgium is a wealthy nation with a high-income economy that provides its citizens, as well as tourists and visitors, with a comfortable lifestyle. The standard of living and healthcare systems all rank “Very High” on the Human Development Index (HDI). Belgium is also ranked as one of the safest places in the world to visit, as it has a very low crime rate.
This makes Belgium the perfect romantic getaway to a Western European land where you can learn about the heritage, history, culture, art, and architecture of the area as well as enjoy a romantic, quiet get-away with your partner.
While there are many places in Belgium that are comforting, relaxing, and resort-like, there are some that stand out as particularly romantic and relaxing and are places you should definitely consider when you are looking for a romantic trip away from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Stay At the De Witte Lelie in Antwerp

The De Witte Lelie is a 17th-century style gabled house and a beautiful, eclectic boutique hotel. The De Witte Lelie is conveniently located within a 10-minute walk of a variety of attractions such as the Meir shopping street and the 17th-century Rubenshuis museum, as well as a variety of other must-see attractions in the Antwerp area.
Your stay at the De Witte Lelie is guaranteed to be comfortable despite the hotel being a 17th-century style gabled house. The De Witte Lelie is full of modern amenities and conveniences that will make your stay more comfortable, including Wif, air conditioning, full laundry services, room service, and parking that is within close proximity of your hotel. A complimentary continental breakfast will help you get off to a great start each day while saving you the time, hassle, and money of having to go out to find something to eat before you start another day of romantic adventures and explore attractions throughout Antwerp.
Combining its beautiful history and modern amenities, the De Witte Lelie is a perfect spot to enjoy a peaceful, quiet, romantic getaway with your partner. Let go of all the worries of the world and spend some time exploring the beautiful, historic city of Antwerp while also appreciating the comfort and style that the De Witte Lelie provides during your stay in Belgium.

Visit Chateau D’Hassonville – Marche En Famenne

The Chateau D’Hassonville is built on what used to be the hunting grounds of Louis XIV and today is a 55-hectare acre property that is home to this beautiful, classic, palace-like hotel. The Chateau D’Hassonville is a romantic, secluded oasis where you and your partner will enjoy a peaceful, quiet getaway away from the hustle and bustle of reality and daily life. Enjoy quality time together for just the two of you.
Enjoy the Chateau D’Hassonville in style as the hotel offers a variety of modern amenities that ensure that you have a comfortable stay while also enjoying getting away. Your stay will be made more comfortable with free parking, complete laundry services, room service, complimentary Wifi, and an on-site restaurant for you and your partner to enjoy.
In addition to all of these great amenities on-site, the Chateau D’Hassonville is located within 10 miles of many other tourist attractions including Wallonie Expo, Rochefort Chateau, and the City Centre. Many outdoor activities from enjoying hot air balloon rides to Jeep Safari tours offer a variety of ways to see the area while allowing guests to appreciate the beautiful nature that Belgium has to offer, which offers an intimate experience for both you and your partner.

Enjoy a Luxurious Stay at the White Rooms in Burges

The White Rooms in Burges add a bit of a different feel to romantic getaways as they offer stylish lofts and apartments to stay in rather than just a typical hotel room. These beautiful lofts and apartments at the White Rooms are located in the beautiful, romantic city of Burges. All lofts and apartments were designed and furnished by the award-winning designer Natalie Haegerman who added a strong Flemish culture to each and every individual design. These apartments also come with all of the modern amenities you would expect at an upscale hotel/resort including complimentary Wifi, heat, air conditioning, laundry services, apartment (room) services, and plenty of available parking.
If you choose not to rent or use a vehicle while you are on your getaway, the White Rooms are close to a variety of tourist attractions for you and your partner to enjoy while on your romantic getaway. The White Rooms are close to the Burges city center where you can visit historic landmarks such as the Basilica of Holy Blood and the Groeninghe & Gruuthouse Museum that is home to artists that date back as far as 300 years.
Moreover, the city center of Burges is quite compact and close by as the entire city center is compact enough to walk around in about one hour. The concept of so many interesting things to do being within about an hour’s walk of the White Rooms at Burges apartments makes these apartments the ideal place to stay no matter what you want to experience in the town of Burges. Easy access to activities and attractions draws many people to stay in these luxurious apartments while they are on a romantic getaway trip with their partner.
No matter what your personal preferences may be when it comes to a romantic getaway with your sweetheart, Belgium is sure to please any traveler looking for history and adventure.

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Thrillseeker’s Guide to Finland

Adventure Travel Finland

Whether you’re into scenic wintery escapades or want to explore the immense green expanses Finland is known for, there are plenty of options when it comes to tackling the northern Europe standout. Look for these highlights, must-sees, and lesser-known gems as you put together a plan for a trip to Finland.

Helsinki: Cathedrals, Fortresses, and Nordic Voyages

Whether you’re coming or going to Finland, chances are you’ll end up spending a bit of time in Helsinki at the very least. The capital and most populous city in Finland, by far, Helsinki has most of the architectural landmarks in the country to go with an assortment of popular museums and markets. Helsinki’s unique collection of different cathedrals and chapels make them natural gathering points for visitors, particularly the red-bricked Uspenskin and the neoclassical Helsinki Cathedral. Uspenskin also yields impeccable aerial views of downtown Helsinki – perfect for profile photos as well as getting oriented with the city at the beginning of a trip.
With its spot on the Gulf of Finland, which connects to the Baltic Sea, Helsinki has also been a strategically important location for centuries. Unsurprisingly, one of the top attractions within the city is a fortress, the Suomenlinna. Spread out of over six small islands in the gulf, Suomenlinna is definitely a hot spot for tourists but it’s also so scenic that it regularly draws locals for picnics and afternoon hangouts as well. For museum enthusiasts, the Ateneum Art Museum shows off mostly Finnish masterpieces and takes you deep through the country’s history via some of the best artists in Finland.
But Helsinki is also known for being the perfect jumping off point for other adventures, from day trips to longer excursions. While cruises that connect through Helsinki are good options for getting around, you can also take a two-hour ferry across the Gulf of Finland to the picturesque town of Tallinn, Estonia, a UNESCO World Heritage site that barely looks like it’s aged since the 14th century. Day trips out of Helsinki let you peruse an ageless town filled with cobblestoned streets and rows of restored medieval architecture. For those who can’t get enough medieval scenery, the famous old town area of Porvoo, Finland is only an hour by car or bus from Helsinki and is another photographer’s daydream.
Others to consider: Kamppi Chapel of Silence, Natural History Museum, Rock Church, Esplinadi Park.

Get Outside Early and Often in Finland

Even with quite a few architectural wonders throughout the country, chances are you’re not heading to Finland for the buildings. That’s because Finland has some of the most pristine land in the world and can be enjoyed at any time of the year, depending on your tolerance for cold weather. From August through April, the Lapland region in northern Finland is where you can find a full spectrum of outdoor activities during the day and have a great chance at catching Aurora Borealis at night. Although there are plenty of places to do activities like night snowmobiling under the Northern Lights, the central hub of Lapland is Rovaniemi, the regional capital and a thriving city about 10 hours by car north of Helsinki.
From Rovaniemi, you’re positioned to enjoy a variety of Finnish classics in the small villages spread out around Finnish Lapland. During the winter, snowshoeing and dogsledding are great ways to soak up the clean, crisp air the Arctic Circle and surrounding areas are known for. By summer, the icy paradise melts into a sensational blend of green hills, gently rolling streams, and tranquil lakeside hangouts perfect for disconnecting from the world for a few days (or weeks). You can also maximize your daylight in the northern region of Finland, as some areas get up to 24 hours of sunlight during the peak of summer and there are plenty of activities to do under the Midnight Sun. For those with families, Santa Claus’ Office in Rovaniemi can also be a great stop and operates year-round.
You also don’t have to make it all the way to Rovaniemi to experience the Finnish outdoors, as there is fantastic skiing and hiking all over the country. Nuuksio National Park is only 45 minutes down the road from Helsinki and is complete with blue lakes, thick forests, and friendly reindeer. You can even find a terrific little beach in Pori (Yyteri Beach) in western Finland, about two hours north of Turku.
For more daring adventurers: Sitting near the Russian-Finnish border, Hossa National Park is another gorgeously sprawling space that opened in 2017 to celebrate the centennial anniversary of independence from Russia. For those not afraid of a long car or bus trip, the town of Saariselka in the north has world-class winter sports and neighbors a couple of worthwhile national parks (Urho Kekkosen and Lemmenjoki).

Turku and Tampere

While it could be difficult to carve out time in Finland’s other most prominent cities, they’re certainly worth seeing if you have an opportunity. The oldest city in the country, Turku dates to the 13th century and was the Finnish capital for hundreds of years. Today, Turku is only the sixth most populous city in Finland, but remains a great place to dig into Finnish culture thanks to its peerless history and string of impressive landmarks. The Turku Castle is generally considered a must-see with its panoramic views of the Aura River and is one of the oldest buildings in Finland that still functions. Another popular hot spot is Turku Cathedral and history lovers tend to gravitate to the Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova, which showcases medieval ruins to go with renowned art displays.
Down the road in Tampere, it’s all about getting well above street level to see a vibrant, modern city sitting between the Näsijärvi and Pyhäjärvi lakes. Pyynikki Park and Observation Tower provide an unbelievable view of the Tampere cityscape, as does the Nasinneula Tower on the other side of town. At the Vapriikin Museokeskus, you can find a couple different museums in one place, covering everything from archeology and architecture to the importance of ice hockey in the region. More than just the standout sites, however, Tampere is simply a great city to get a feel for modern-day Finland.

Food and Culture

While Finland is certainly known for its outdoor activities, the Nordic country is also known for its fresh seafood, interesting cultural trends, and for being one of the best places in the world to grab a sauna. To dig into the food preferences of the country, places like the Hakaniemi Market and Old Town Hall in Helsinki will let you sample delicacies like salmon soup and are known for being particularly great during the weeks before Christmas. Though you can find plenty of terrific restaurants in the major cities and towns of Finland, perusing a thriving marketplace filled with locally caught fish and produce is the easiest way to find the pulse of the country as far as food goes.
After a long day of Finnish adventures or sightseeing, the perfect way to relax is, of course, to find a sauna and have a good steam. Saunas were originally used as a way to clean during the bleak winter months and today remain wildly popular, which is why you find them in many hotels and the president even has an official sauna. To get the full understanding of the sauna phenomenon, there isn’t a more Finnish experience than finishing a steam by literally rolling around in the snow – an old custom that cuts right to the roots of the region. Thankfully for less adventurous visitors, there isn’t a stigma on taking a shower instead.

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Don’t Leave Italy Without Exploring Tuscany

When you think of Italy, Florence is probably one of the first places that come to mind. Of course, you have to see Florence, and so it seems does everyone else. Enduring crowds is part of the Florentine experience along with being stunned and amazed at its glorious art and architecture and the gleaming gold shops on Ponte Vecchio that spans the Arno River. When you need some breathing room, it is time to explore the less crowded treasures of Tuscany.

Siena

Siena, just 30 minutes from Florence by train, is an ancient hill town famous for the Palio, the centuries-old horse race in the shell-shaped Piazza del Campo. The yellow-brown buildings that line the campo gave the name to the color “sienna.” Walking the ancient streets, you can see neighborhoods defined by the different flags flying from buildings. Each neighborhood has its Palio team, and competition is fierce through the generations.
The green and white marble 12th Century Siena Cathedral is one of the best examples of Italian Romanesque-Gothic architecture. Its Gothic octagonal pulpit is supported by lions. Inlaid in the floor is a mosaic labyrinth where penitents walk contemplating their sins. Its Piccolomini Library has frescos by Raphael and other artists from the 1500s, and the ceiling scenes shimmer with gold.
You can take a bus from the train station to avoid the arduous uphill walk. Or, try the series of escalators that take you from the station to the center of the city in less than five minutes.

Lucca

Lucca, an hour train ride from Florence, is a walkable medieval city surrounded by 800-year-old walls. The walls are so thick, they are topped by a park with benches, large trees, and paths. A favorite pastime is walking or biking around the city on the walls. The old Roman forum is the main square now lined with shops and restaurants. Old signage must be preserved, so a pharmacy sign is carved in 16th Century stone above the entrance to a shoe shop.
The town is best known for its native son Puccini who composed many of his famous opera here. He lived in a mid-19th Century apartment that has been made into a museum filled with his memorabilia and showcasing costumes from some of his operas. In the apartment, his family tree, drawn on a wall, goes back to the 1700s and includes several musicians.
An ancient deconsecrated church has free musical performances nearly every night, many featuring the music of Puccini. The 1846 Belle Epoch style Antico Caffé di Simo, Via Fillungo 47, serves great cappuccino and fresh pastries, and also served Puccini and literary luminaries such as Ezra Pound. A piano sits where the piano Puccini used to entertain friends was placed. At night the café is a wine bar.
The cobblestone streets can get crowded during the day because it is a popular tour stop. However, the village has too few hotel beds for most tours to stay overnight. Laws keep the town authentic, and large hotels are not allowed. In the evening, Lucca is quiet and peaceful.
During town’s annual Puccini Festival, you can enjoy one of Puccini’s operas in the outdoor theater on the lake where he composed some of his music. You can park across the lake and take a boat to the opera. During the ride, you experience the watery and waterfowl sounds that inspired the maestro

Lucca’s Countryside

With a car, and it needs to be a small car, you can drive along narrow twisting roads up hills to the hamlet of Celle in Pescaglia to see the ancestral house where Puccini was born. The Puccini progenitor Jacopo was born here in 1712. The house contains original artifacts and furnishings including Puccini’s crib and the bed where it is rumored he was conceived. Celle’s two-block-long main street has a small restaurant serving the rustic Tuscan food Puccini would have grown up on. The restaurant overlooks a bucolic valley.
A hamlet near Vettriano has an 1889 theater constructed in a barn. It is the world’s smallest historic theater still in use. It seats 99 because one more seat would require the installation of fire safety features that would spoil the ambiance. The only way to reach its two tiers of balconies is through the roof. Seats are padded kitchen chairs that retain the character of the times when the townsfolk had to bring their own chairs. Contemporary performances include classical plays and concerts. Puccini attended a performance here, and the townsfolk were so honored, they sang to him. He ungraciously replied, “If I knew you were going to sing, I would have brought my rifle.”

Pietrasanta

Pietrasanta, which means “sacred stone,” is 30 minutes from Lucca. The village is dedicated to sculpture and, to a lesser extent, other arts. The Carrara marble quarries are close to the town and have been mined since ancient Rome. Michelangelo lived in this village while he was searching for the marble he needed for his masterpieces. The Church of Sant Agostino was built in the 14th Century and has been deconsecrated. It is now a museum showcasing contemporary sculpture. Walking around the small town and its gardens, you will see displays of sculpture in surprising places and doors to artists’ studios invitingly open. Visitors enjoy their espressos at outdoor tables in the main piazza with a view of the white marble 14th Century Duomo, or main church, that has a marble rose window dating back to the 14th Century and lunettes with scenes of the Life of Christ over the three portals. The Eno-Trattoria Da Beppino. Via Valdicastello Carducci 34, serves hearty Tuscan food and offers indoor and outdoor seating.

Viareggio

Viareggio is on the Tuscan Riviera. It was a medieval fishing village developed as a seaside resort area in the 19 Century. The tree-lined promenade has boutiques, upscale shops, discos, restaurants, cafes, and art galleries. Pine forests on both sides of town offer a green respite. The town is best known for its “furnished” beaches. With a one-day pass, you can have a place of your own on the sand furnished with a blanket, beach chairs, and beach umbrella. Changing rooms, lockers, and showers are available plus a bar and restaurant.
Adventurous travelers find there is more to Tuscany than Florence and vineyards. Exploring little towns, finding hamlets you have never heard of, and enjoying a beach day enrich the Tuscan experience.

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Biking Through Paradise in Sweden

Bike Trips Sweden

Thanks to its well-posted cycling routes and minimal traffic, it’s also exceptionally easy for visitors to maneuver, making it far from a place only for the pros. Here’s a breakdown of why you should seriously consider Sweden if you’re looking for the perfect cycling escape.

Stockholm: A Natural Launching Point for Cyclists

It’s safe to say that not every country in the world has the same commitment to bikers as Sweden does, particularly in Stockholm. The Swedish capital has lanes that are very clearly marked and cycling is embedded right into the city planning, offering a variety of different ways to get around on two wheels. For biking Stockholm itself, it’s extremely easy to rent a bike from a local shop and shoot around the various urban paths, which include waterfront parks, bridges that come with full city views and even rolling gardens on grounds that used to be the king’s personal hunting reserve (Djurgården). The city also has terrific bike-share program great for local rides, and a new and expanded fleet of electric-assist bikes promises that biking will be an even bigger part of Stockholm’s future.
But even though you could have a nice little biking holiday just cruising around Stockholm, it’s also the perfect start for a countryside adventure. Heading west out of Stockholm, you can expect rolling hills and forests of deep green in the spring and summer as well as dynamic splashes of red and orange during the fall. You’ll pass through pine-needled forests and cruise along the quiet dirt paths of Lake Klämmingen on the way to the town of Mariefred, another great staging point about 70 kilometers from Stockholm.
South of Stockholm, you can also find some of the most beautiful vantage points in Sweden while you work up a sweat. In the archipelago just below the city, you’ll encounter more thick forests, crisp lakefront air, and even a few sandy beaches along hundreds of kilometers of trails. You can also easily grab ferries in between many of the spots, allowing you to go island-hopping between stops in places like Dalaro, Uto, and Orno. This area also has some sensational hikes as well as plenty of worthy camping sites, which can easily be combined with a biking holiday.

Create Your Own Adventure

Although there is more than enough outstanding scenery along the popular route to Mariefred or the southern archipelago, they can really just serve as tipping points for a much grander adventure. For castle lovers, there’s a built-in excuse to shoot past Mariefred, which also has an impressive castle, and go all the way to renovated medieval fortress Orebro Castle. Overlooking the Svartan River, Orebro Castle is about 140 kilometers by bike from Mariefred but has a variety of great stops to break up the trip. Eskilstuna and Arboga are both natural resting places along the way, showcasing small-city living and an opportunity to dig into authentic Swedish culture. Seasoned riders might even want to keep heading west and go all the way to Kristinehamn, a small town near the shores of Lake Vanern, the biggest lake in the European Union.
Heading north from Stockholm will also yield a journey that can essentially be as long as you want it to be, with the curvy coastline along the Gulf of Bothnia taking courageous riders more than 1,000 kilometers north of Stockholm. Thanks to a series of villages dotting your trail map, there are all kinds of options when it comes to putting together a long and challenging cycling tour that takes you through the heart of small-town coastal Sweden by way of quaint country roads. A northern route is also ideal for the summer, as you can have up to 20 hours of sunlight as you head further and further north.
While more than 2,000 kilometers roundtrip is probably a bit of a stretch for most sane cyclists, a shorter trip to Sundsvall is much more manageable and the city is a draw in its own right. Although it’s still not for the faint of heart – it’s more than 400 kilometers away from Stockholm – it’s only three and a half hours by rail back to Stockholm. Hudiskvall and Gavle are also easily within biking distance from Stockholm and offer lake-hopping bridges and lush green countryside paths to enjoy.

Taking Advantage of the Weather

Chances are you’re not looking to bike it through the frozen tundra of Sweden in the middle of winter, so you’re likely looking at the spring, fall, or summer for all the obvious reasons. All three seasons are tremendous opportunities for biking enthusiasts, particularly those not afraid of the chilly morning air in the spring and fall when you’re likely to start the day in the mid-to-high 30s Fahrenheit (about 1-4°C).
But Sweden is also the quintessential summer country, which all point to it being simply an amazing place to be out in the great outdoors. Unlike other European countries that are known for biking, Sweden’s summers rarely have heat waves and typically sit around 70°F (21°C) during the heat of the day. That makes for perfect temperature conditions for bikers, who can also cover much larger distances thanks to a sunset that doesn’t come until 10 or 11 p.m. during the peak of summer. Although you do have to be ready for a bit of rain if you go in August, the wettest month of the year, it’s also not an insurmountable amount either. As the driest month of the year, March tends to be on the cooler side, but you’ll have mostly rain-free weather forecasts to go with about 40 °F (2.8 °C) during the warmest part of the day.
Thanks to a biking culture that is ingrained in the national persona, Sweden is an opportune spot for cycling enthusiasts of any experience. Although everyone would love to bring their own bike with them, local bicycle shops are also very used to renting to visitors and the country’s intuitive infrastructure will have you comfortable with your surroundings in no time. For biking adventures both small and large, you’ll simply have a hard topping a cycling trip through the sprawling natural wonders of Sweden.

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Don’t Leave Greece Without Visiting Ikaria

You really have to want to visit Ikaria, the Greek Island where the mythical Icarus is buried, for getting there is rather challenging. One plane a day lands and takes off on the one runway beside a luggage belt in a barn. It takes so long for luggage to arrive, you may as well take it off the plane yourself. A bus may stop or a taxi may idle outside. The information desk is manned for a short time after landings, and the attendant can advise when the next bus might stop or call a taxi; which is more certain to arrive. You can also pre-book a rental car but read on before you settle on that transportation option.
It is easier to take the ferry, which leaves from Athens. Ferries have nine sailings a week. Book ahead for the six-hour sail. You may end up ticketed, but confined to the deck that has some uncomfortable seats that are under a canopy and access to a greasy, little bar. With a reserved seat, you will be in the belly of the boat in seats similar to airline seats back in the day when flying was glamorous. They are roomy and comfortable with tray tables. The floor is carpeted, and drinks and meals are served in a gracious lounge area. Or, you can book a room and enjoy hotel amenities including privacy, room service, and a comfortable bed.
You will sail by islands where the Beautiful People booze and bathe, but you are headed for a more dramatic beach and an adventure. To fund your adventure, bring euros. Credit cards are not widely accepted, and ATMs are as chancy as slot machines. In one of the larger villages, where ferries dock, one ATM was broken and the other was out of cash. Banks will change money, but make note of the bank holidays before you sail or fly to Ikaria.

The Ride is Worth It

The little village of Armenistis on the Aegean Sea is a good resting place for beach lovers. It has many inns and small hotels, some located on cliffs above the beach. But the adventure begins as soon as you leave the dock or airport. The landscape with barren hills and sheep is Biblical; the roads are hell. After a hundred or so hairpin turns on gravel, mountain roads, you may realize why every hamlet with five or more houses has a tire repair shop along the main road. If you have braved a driving a rental car, you may feel assured that if you have a flat, help is just an uphill hike away.
The inn I booked is Livadi Beach Hotel in Armenistis. My room was clean, simple, and forty feet above crashing waves. The hotel’s terrace restaurant has a similar ocean view. John (pronounced I-o-an-nis) grew up on the island and cooks from dawn until midnight. His moussaka is splendid. White beans with a spicy tomato sauce is another delicious choice. Pay 2 euros for a generous cup of tzatziki, which is cucumber sauce used on gyros, to slather on bread. The restaurant serves dishes made from generations’ old recipes. As the island has had to be self-sufficient for eons, the dishes use local products: produce from the inn’s farm, locally made cheese, locally baked bread, and locally bred and slaughtered goat. John does not serve dessert. He offers melon and calls it a “finish.”

Mythic Waves

The beach is forty stone steps (no railing) down from the inn and has concessions including beach chairs and thatched umbrellas, snacks and cold drinks. Eating, drinking, reading, sunbathing, and yawning are popular pastimes. As for the water, the surf is deadly. Wading to the knees feels like flirting with danger. The waves are so mythic, Homer could have written the Iliad here. For the souls who brave the surf, a catch rope is strung from the beach to some off-shore rocks for swimmers to grab to avoid being smashed to bits on the jagged cliff.

Easy Living

Meals do not have to be restaurant meals, particularly if your room has a little refrigerator. One day you can hike ten minutes to a mini-mart (make that micro-mini) for crackers, local cheese, local olives, local yogurt, Nutella, and local peaches. Yogurt and Nutella and make a great breakfast. It is delightfully Grecian to lunch on cheese, olives, and peaches on the beach. You can stroll twenty minutes in the opposite direction to the picturesque village of Armenistis for provisions and postcards.
Ikaria is, in a word, relaxing. This laid-back lifestyle may account for the unusually long life-span of Ikarians. The island is one of the few “blue zones” according to best selling author Dan Buettner. Nearly one out of three Ikarians celebrate their 90th birthdays. In fact, Ikaria has the highest percentage of 90 plus-year-old people in the world.

If You Tire of the Sea

The hotel owns a small cottage so remote, it is a two-hour hike and requires a guide. The guide will pack in provisions for a night or two of rustic living and return to see you safely back to the hotel.
Ikaria’s other attractions include radioactive mineral springs in the village of Therma. Since the 1st century B.C. this has been a known center for hydrotherapy as evidenced by numerous references in historical texts and by archeological discoveries. Situated on a hill which was the ancient citadel of Oinoe, the first capital of Ikaria, the Kampos Archeological Museum displays more than 250 local relics including Neolithic tools, pottery and clay statuettes, columns, and carved headstones. The courtyard contains the island’s oldest church, The Church of St. Irene from the 12th Century which is built over a 4th Century church which was built over an ancient temple to Dionysus.
The ferry back to Athens docks around midnight, but taxis are abundant. Even so, try to get off the boat with the first passengers departing so you will not have to wait. Pre-book a hotel in Athens, preferably in the Plaka. There you will awake in the midst of Ancient Greece, ready to mount the Acropolis before it gets too hot.